Responding to a request for proposals is time consuming and, yes, tedious at times. However, your proposal is your opportunity to demonstrate to the government 1) that you understand their need, and 2) that you can meet, and perhaps exceed, their expectations. Consequently, it is not enough to tell them that your business can do the job. You must provide concrete evidence that you have what it takes to meet their demands.
While reputation, prior experience, and good will may get you additional business in the private sector, this is not true in government contracting. Even companies who have exceeded performance expectations for years must provide details commensurate with the RFP in order to maintain their position as the government contractor providing the service. Finally, a key difference between private sector work and government contracting is that the government’s decision is almost always subject to scrutiny. Consequently, even if your proposal satisfies the government and you win the bid, you still run the risk of losing the award due to a properly filed protest, if the reviewing body determines you shouldn’t have received such high scores.
Below we offer some tips, based on years of defending award winners, protesting awards to others, and hands-on experience in government contacting. In our work, we have seen certain detrimental mistakes repeated – time and time again. While proposals include some subjective criteria, by implementing these tips, you can increase your chance of achieving a higher score which, in turn, increases your chances of an award, and increases your likelihood of surviving a protest later.
1. Structure Your Proposal with Evaluation in Mind
Each RFP clearly delineates the specific evaluation process. The government is legally obligated to follow the evaluation criteria as listed and may not rely on any other criteria when evaluating proposals. As such, creating a proposal with the evaluation criteria in mind is essential for success. Consider using the evaluation criteria as your outline. Insert your offeror specific information within the outline you have created. This way, you ensure you don’t inadvertently leave out an area of evaluation. (You’d be surprised how often this occurs.)
The second benefit to the outline approach is it clearly delineates for the reader how each part of your proposal is consistent with the evaluation guidelines. Remember, humans perform proposal evaluations – and they don’t do this in a vacuum. They read all proposals submitted and score each one. By using the evaluation criteria as headlines in your proposal, the evaluator doesn’t have to guess whether your paragraph on Six Sigma goes to “streamlining processes” and “reducing costs” versus one or the other. A simple headline, like “Streamlining Processes,” “Reducing Costs,” or “Streamlining Processes, with the Added Benefit of Reducing Costs” alerts the reader of the purpose of the paragraph. By using specific evaluation criteria words, you send a subtle message to the evaluator’s brain to turn to the portion of the scoring sheet on streamlining processes and/or reducing costs and give you points in the relevant category or categories.
2. Back Up Your Statements
Experience matters. In fact, sometimes the years of experience or type of experience of a given employee can make or break a proposal. All too often, contractors use a “one size fit’s all” resume or curriculum vitae. Use these at your own risk. While a contractor may have 12 years of experience running a call center, if this experience is not clearly delineated on their resume, it won’t count. Do not presume the government, or more likely, the reviewing body, knows your contractor as well as you do. You already made sure your proposed employee has the required level of training and experience. Now back it up by providing a resume which clearly details their relevant background.
3. Double Check Your Math
Unless your proposal’s math is clearly erroneous (such as inserting $1.00 for the cost of supplies in a major building contract proposal), agencies are not permitted to allow bid modification. Instead, your only option, should you discover the error post submission, is to withdraw your bid from consideration. Make absolutely certain that each data point is entered correctly.
Additionally, be advised that incomplete proposals can result in a finding the proposal doesn’t meet the minimum requirements. When proposals don’t meet the minimum requirements, agencies cannot consider the proposal – even if the rest of it is brilliant. Check and double check your proposal, ensuring each data point is entered. Failure to provide all information requested results in a finding the proposal is technically unacceptable.
4. Seek Clarification
If you feel the RFP is inconsistent, or have a question about the Statement of Work (SOW), don’t hesitate to ask. It is your responsibility to gain a full understanding of the requirements before submitting your proposal. It may be hard to hear, but, if your proposal is rejected because you didn’t understand the requirements, that is your fault, not the government’s.
Sometimes, the requirements are inconsistent, or unclear. However, many times, the objection to the RFP and SOW are untimely. This results in a dismissal of the protest, without addressing the concerns. In other words, in certain situations, offerors must seek clarification before the proposals are due. Failure to do so constitutes a waiver of the issue.
5. Understanding the “Three C’s”
At the end of the day, evaluators review proposals for the “three C’s”:
- Consistency; and
- An understanding of the Contract requirements.
“Completeness” refers to the proposal as a package. Does the offeror respond to all requirements? Has the offeror answered all questions posed by the government? Does the submission address all the challenges detailed in the RFP?
“Consistency” in this context refers to all the elements of your proposal package. Are your figures consistent throughout? You might be surprised how many awards are lost because, in their technical proposal, an offeror lists a cost for a given line item at $50,000, for example, but in their budget worksheet, the line item is listed at $74,987. A lack of consistency leads to doubts, and can put your award – and even your consideration for an award, in jeopardy.
“Contract Requirements” A demonstrated understanding of the contract requirements is essential to evaluators. It is not enough to simply repeat the words of the Statement of Work (SOW). Rather, an offeror must provide sufficient detail about how they will attack the problem, address the issue, and meet the needs of the government. This assures the evaluator that the offeror knows what is needed and can deliver a solution that meets those needs. Another common error offerors make is when they simply assert, “We will meet the requirements of the RFP.” – without detailing how. When this happens, the evaluator has no way of knowing whether you understand the real issues and needs of the government or whether you can meet the expectations of the contract.