An RFP amendment can throw a proposal out of compliance with a couple of words. Track amendments and filter the words like they were the RFP itself. And then update the proposal outline for any requirement changes. The consequences of missed requirement changes in an amendment can be financially disastrous and demoralizing.
Organize to Win
The evaluators tell you how they want the proposal to be organized in Section L of the RFP; that’s the way they want it. Don’t dream up your own organization structure because you think it’s better. Your better organization structure can be the kiss of death.
Don’t Write to the Statement of Work
Writers new to proposal writing often think they have to write technical approaches to tell evaluators how you are going to meet all of the work requirements. This is impossible if the statement of work is 200 pages and the page limit for the Technical Approach is 20 pages.
Proposal writing projects invariably turn into a crisis. Involve top management in an effort to minimize the crisis.
Management typically assigns the project and then goes into hiding; except for the final review on the last day before submission. Management must stay involved in the proposal scheduling and review process and make a focused effort to support proposal managers.
In particular, management needs to make sure the proposal manager is getting the required support from technical writers. Most technical writers hate writing proposals will avoid proposals like the plague. Again, management must stay involved and make sure that technical people know the importance of proposals, acknowledge their efforts, and if possible provide monetary incentives for wins.
Loses are demoralizing; “I worked all weekend and we lost”. The key to minimizing demoralizing loses is to bid wisely.
Use an Executive Summary as a tool for win theme development. Write the Executive Summary first using customer insights, your experience with similar work, and contract performance and management insights. Then refine and rewrite it as the proposal progresses.
Again, start the Executive Summary on Day 1 of the proposal project. Many of Fedmarket’s customers say; “we can’t do this.” But you can; it depends on who is writing it; ideally a project person, a unit manager, someone who knows the technology required or the customer. And if you can’t then maybe take a pass on the opportunity.
Break the Executive Summary up, when you think its complete insert all of its content in scored Section L responses if an Executive Summary is not asked for in the RFP (has no evaluation points assigned to it). Move:
- Technical content into the technical approach
- Experience points into the experience volume
- Personnel points into the personnel volume
- Management points into the management volume
You may have to change the context a bit to make it fit each win theme in the right place.
Try it, it works.
Evaluators tell you what they want in the RFP. That’s all they want.
They want a practical, low cost solution as reflected in the RFP technical proposal requirements. More sophisticated solutions are not wanted and may in fact result in a reduced technical score.
They don’t want more than they requested in Section L including:
- Sales pitch about how great you company is.
- More corporate experience summaries and resumes than they asked for.
- Management plan information beyond what they requested in the RFP.
- Fancy formatting and graphics.
- They want you to make their job easy and save them time
Evaluators also want clarity and conciseness to make their job easier. Government proposal evaluators do not like evaluating lengthy tomes and demand clarity and conciseness.
- Use simple declarative sentences and short paragraphs.
- Explain how your organization will meet each and every requirement in a clear, concise manner.
- Describe why your organization is unique, but only when you can be convincing and the uniqueness stands up to scrutiny.
- Use appendices for detailed material.
- Use simple, easy–to-understand language.
- Avoid long-winded sentences. Use simple, declarative sentences. Keep paragraphs concise and short.
- Avoid subjective adjectives that sound boastful.
Avoid letting your CEO throw in self-serving sales pitches without backup and clear evidence relevant to the requirements. An example of this: “ABC Co is a World Class or Best of Breed Company.” Proposal evaluators laugh at such statements; they are the polar opposite of clarity and conciseness. Avoid the “You have got to be kidding pile” – the trash pile – for proposals that start with such language as: “Our firm is a world-class, best-of-breed company that is eminently qualified to serve your organization.”
Complete compliance with every requirement of the RFP is a necessity because any compliance flaw in your proposal can cause an immediate proposal rejection. This makes their job a lot easier if they have 20 plus proposals to review by tomorrow at its already after 11 pm.
Most evaluators want to make the trash pile large and the “read completely” pile as small as possible. The evaluator typically will read just as much as necessary to put a proposal in one of the two piles.
Don’t end up in the wrong pile!
Proposal writing is the Achilles heel of federal proposal writing. Most companies wish there was an easier way and evaluators dream of it going away altogether. The recent trend of “project experience based” Multiple Award Contracts (MACs) is a start on an easier way but are far from the solution. Proving project experience through contract documents and corresponding performance evaluations can complicate RFPs even further than a traditional RFP. But they do solve the technical writing requirements that plague many small businesses.
The art of proposal writing consists of providing a compelling solution that addresses all of the requirements specified in the RFP. And then avoiding the trash pile by being completely compliant with every requirement in the RFP. Don’t try to think for the customer. Give the customer everything asked for in the RFP, down to the minutest of detail. Write to each and every solicitation requirement, even if it appears to be meaningless on the surface. Evaluators love to eliminate proposals to save time and effort or, sometimes, to help their favorite organization,” and not addressing all of the specified requirements can deem a proposal destine for the trash pile.
Give evaluators precisely what they asked for in the simplest, clearest and most compelling way.
Don’t just parrot back the RFP requirements. You should rephrase the requirements and add insights that demonstrate an understanding of what you are proposing to do. Why are we doing it this way? What are the benefits of our approach? Why does it reduce costs and minimize the risk of failure?
Develop, name, and store model text, so you can retrieve and reuse what you have written from previous proposals. Model text is particularly effective for management plans but it can also work for repeatable technical approach content. Don’t reinvent the wheel in each proposal- you want to have a system where proposal writers know what model text is available. Always tailor model text to the RFP requirements. Evaluators can spot untailored model text from a mile away.
Don’t use broad, unsubstantiated claims like “Collectively our company has 100 person-years of experience . . .” or “Our company is a world class . . .” You will make the government evaluators guffaw and they’ll end up subtracting evaluation points. Be subtle and if you are going to boast back it up with evidence. Summaries, the evaluators want three of your best. If the RFP asks you to submit a key person’s resume only, that is what the evaluators want.
Pack the proposal with an understanding of the customer’s needs and with compelling solutions. Write to the evaluation criteria and put the emphasis on sections that count the most. Consider not bidding if you can’t provide point-scoring content that’s clearly based on the customer’s needs. There is nothing wrong with abandoning a proposal in the early stages of writing. Be brutal and get out early if it appears that you cannot score evaluation points.
What it boils down to is this: make it easy on the evaluator. Keep it concise and to the point. Don’t give them more than they asked for in the RFP. Cut out the puffery. Show the customer you understand their problem and present a practical, risk-free solution laden with insights and benefits.
OK. Let’s Write! Your boss has tried hard to establish relationships without much luck. And he finally says let’s go for this one because we will perish if we don’t get a contract soon. Ideally, he saw something that could cause your company to stand out from the pack of proposals received by the government.
Writing a Complaint Proposal
A compliant proposal is one that meets every requirement in the RFP and provides evaluators with precisely what they asked for in the RFP. No frills, no extras, no sales puffery.
Your proposal must be compliant to win, but even compliant proposals often lose because they are not good proposals.
Writing a Good Proposal
A good proposal is a compliant proposal that provides all of the information requested in the RFP; namely:
- A solid technical approach and management plan
- Pertinent experience summaries
- Responsive resumes
- A good price
Good proposals sometimes win but not always.
Writing a Winning Proposal
Winning proposals can come out on top based on superior content.
- The technical approach differentiates itself from the pack by innovation, creativity, great writing, etc.
- A management approach that show how you will minimize the government’s risk.
- Highly tailored and responsive resumes.
- Highly tailored and pertinent experience summaries.
- A competitive price.
A proposal may have one or more or all of the above content but still lose for any number of unpredictable reasons.
- Someone doesn’t like you.
- They wanted someone else.
- They wanted the incumbent back to minimize risk even though their performance was a B.
- The winner low balled the price and the government was so cheap that they let them get away with it.
- Your benefactor switched jobs.
- Or ………….
The government has all the cards and they win the game for many reasons.
Federal RFPs are supposed to show Proposal Writing Instruction in Section L and Proposal Evaluation Criteria in Section M of an RFP. Many do and some don’t. Proposal instructions and requirements can sneak into other parts of an RFP even in RFPs that follow the Federal Section L & M Standards. That’s why filtering the RFP is so critically important.
Proposal evaluators want:
- Just what they asked for in Section L. Other content that you chose to write beyond the requirements in Section L will not be evaluated
- Succinctness, clarity, easy to read text, with no frills. Write at a high school level.
- Quick ways to get through proposals; less is better, clear tables of content, compliance matrices.
- 100% compliance, any less will result in a rejection.
- Sales puffery like: ABC Co is a world class service firm with collective experience exceeding 100 person years. Tone down your CEO’s sales pitches. Limit graphics that say nothing, company logos, and fanciness in general. Do not try to impress except in the compelling content you write in response to Section L.
- Evaluators typically say: “the sales pitch and formatting beauty is clearly done to avoid telling me the low risk solution in simple terms”.
Do not develop your own proposal organization structure because you think that’s its better than the structure shown in Section L.
It can be the kiss of death.