The cost of submitting a proposal to the government for a small business is huge, especially when you consider all the people who are involved in developing a proposal. There are proposal managers, tech writers, proposal coordinators, subject matter experts, pricing support, contracts managers – all these people play a part in doing proposal support.
So depending on your company, in terms of its size, your resources, your existing employees, your existing contracts, you may or may not have those subject matter experts and proposal professionals on hand – someone who can “shred” a proposal, meaning they take all the requirements the government has put in the solicitation or RFP, and put them in a document that will be the outline for your submission back to the government.
In the case where you do not have all these resources at the ready, and you’re without the staff members with the expertise necessary to submit a proposal, you have a decision to make. Can you hire all these people and make them a permanent part of your staff? And by the way, these people are not cheap; they’re experts at what they do.
Another thing to consider in hiring a proposal manager or technical writer is, do you have enough throughput in proposals to keep those folks busy and justify those costs on an annual basis? They’ll have expectations that they’re going to be around longer than just this one proposal. This is their career; they’re in for the long-term.
So that is one option, to hire full-time employees, which is very expensive but may be the right decision depending on your circumstances. Or do you count on some other company to help you out, who may be willing to provide or lend you those resources, such as a partner company or friend, at least until you grow?
Or, as a third option, do you reach out to a consultant or proposal resource organization? These companies, like our friends at Proposal Helper, have proposal experts on their staff, and essentially rent them to you for a period of time while you work on your proposal.
Those are big questions that you have to ask, and it all depends on the depth of your wallet, and your needs. If it’s a small task order, you might not need all of those resources, but somebody still has to write a compelling document that meets all the requirements of the solicitation that the government has put out. So you have to figure out where those people are coming from.
Do you have the expertise on staff, or can you hire the experts you need? Can you phone a friend? Is there another company that has those resources and are willing to let you use them? Or will you make a friend? Do you reach into your wallet again, on a temporary basis, to hire the services of a proposal resource organization?
These are all good options but you have to figure out which fits your small company.
Government contractors often outsource proposal writing and proposal management services, which means the company you use for your proposal support is part of your supply chain and must meet established security standards.
The folks at ProposalHelper have documented and ingrained security processes and practices in every aspect of their operations, and their information security processes have been independently audited and verified to meet ISO 27001:2013 standards.
The following is a guest post by Dr. Troy A. Tyre, Vice President U.S. Operations/Delivery Solutions, ProposalHelper, LLC.
Businesses focused on government contracts for significant amounts of the company’s revenue face unique challenges as we move into 2020 and beyond. The cybersecurity industry faces unparalleled changes, more so than other industries. The status quo will no longer meet the requirements. Key changes include:
- Business requirements: Federal agencies are now evaluating cybersecurity preparedness and maturity of programs in awarding new contracts. Cybersecurity preparedness is now a competitive advantage.
- Regulatory complexity: New regulations, imposed by federal and state agencies, are either already in effect or going into effect in 2020. Some of these regulations are clear while others require interpretation, making compliance difficult.
- Liability increasing: Several new elements of liability impact Government contractors. Government contractors are now held accountable for cybersecurity deficiencies in products/services under the False Claims Act. The Government contractor may also be liable under new and existing state laws, which are more frequently being enforced.
- Evolving threats: Cybersecurity threats are increasingly working their way down the supply chain. Vendors are often seen as the “weakest link” and the easiest way to infiltrate the government.
Understanding the changing landscape is a real requirement and can provide first adopter differentiation, at least initially. In 2019, the Department of Defense (DoD) identified cybersecurity weaknesses in supply chains as a critical threat to the economy and national intelligence. DoD’s response was the development of the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC), which sets standards for cybersecurity preparedness and documents the process for all DoD contractors.
Large and small, primes and subs, all contractors are required to be third-party certified for cybersecurity preparedness in order to bid on new contracts and re-competes with the DoD. The DoD has deemed cybersecurity to be a foundational element in their procurement process. In other words; if a contractor does not meet the required level of preparedness, they cannot bid on any DoD contracts or re-competes. The DoD is the first agency to mandate third-party audits for their entire supply chain and to remove the ability to self-certify.
The military sees the importance of cybersecurity as well. In March 2018, the Marine Corps took the next step in growing cyber forces with the creation of the new officer military occupational specialty (MOS) focused on cyber operations. Senior leadership intends for the new cyber officers to lead within both the Marine Corps Cyberspace Command and across the wider Fleet Marine Forces.
The new officers will integrate the capabilities and effects of offensive and defensive cyberspace operations at the tactical level, supporting troops on the ground; the operational level, supporting commanders at every echelon; and the strategic level, supporting policymakers across the DoD. On November 21, 2019, the Naval Academy Class of 2020 received their first cyber warfare community selections, including six highly qualified candidates who were designated as Marine Corps cyber warfare officers.
Cybersecurity is one of the most eminent requirements for companies, regardless of whether you provide services, construction, commodities or products.
Dr. Troy Tyre, Vice President of Delivery Solutions at ProposalHelper, brings over 35 years of industry experience in project and proposal management. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 571-449-6071.
Our friends at Winvale offered this post from their client Andrea Davis, Director of Contracts at Govplace, who shared these top 15 tips that she’s learned in her 20 years working for government contractors, in no particular order:
1. Late is late.
Electronically submit your competitive proposal at least 24 hours in advance to be safe. Case law is not favorable for contractors who submit their proposal less than 24 hours before the due date, even if the late delivery is the Government’s fault (e.g., the Government’s network is down).
2. Small Businesses with sub-categorizations (e.g., Women-Owned Small Businesses, or HUBZone Businesses) count TWICE OR MORE for small business reporting.
So, if you are wondering why your large business is so excited about subcontracting to a woman-owned small business (WOSB), where the owner happens to be a service-disabled veteran (SDVOSB) doing business in a HUBZone, it is because the dollars subcontracted to this entity likely count towards the subcontracting goals for: 1) Small Business, 2) WOSB, 3) SDVOSB and 4) HUBZone.
3. The subcontract type does not have to match the prime contract type, and the subcontract NAICS code does not have to match the prime contract’s NAICS code.
If I had a dollar for each instance when I heard someone state the opposite of the above truths, I’d be a millionaire.
4. Generally, concerning Government data rights / Intellectual property (IP), even if a company develops software using Government funds under a Government contract, the Government doesn’t own the software.
The Government does have unlimited rights in the software, but so does the company who developed the software.
5. You’ll never regret having a solid process in place for comparing job candidates’ resumes to GSA Labor Category minimum qualifications for education and experience.
For both your company’s employees and any lower tier subcontractor’s employees. People charging to a GSA labor category for which they are not qualified is a compliance issue that can bite you years down the road. By then, people have moved on, resumes cannot be located, the subcontractor is out of business, etc.
6. In Government contracting, ‘realism’ and ‘reasonableness’ have opposite meanings.
When the Government is checking to see if labor costs/prices are too low (i.e., if they are worried about the company being able to retain employees during contract performance), they are evaluating for ‘cost realism,’ but if they are checking to ensure prices/costs are not too high, they’re evaluating ‘cost/price reasonableness.’ It is not correct to use these words interchangeably.
7. FAR 9.6 defines prime-sub relationships, partnerships, and joint ventures as contractor team arrangements (e.g., a classic teaming agreement resulting in a subcontract once the prime contract is awarded).
But a GSA Contractor Teaming Arrangement (CTA) is entirely different. A GSA CTA is a when two companies who each have their own GSA Schedules, join together to co-prime an opportunity. Interesting fact: since all GSA CTA partners are considered co-primes, if any of the GSA CTA partners are ‘other than small’ in the solicitation’s NAICS code, the entire GSA CTA is considered Large.
8. There is a difference between regulation and law.
The FAR is mostly regulation, but it also references statutes/laws. Understand that you can influence regulation by submitting comments when the proposed regulation is posted for public comment.
9. Many non-Federal (state and local) government entities and even commercial companies performing due diligence on a company, will check for SAM.gov active exclusions (formerly, the Excluded Party List System or ‘EPLS’).
Therefore, if you are debarred from Federal contracting, some of your other future non-Federal business may be at risk as well.
10. The protest ‘effectiveness rate’ percentage (in recent years ranging 43-47%) is the best way to gauge how often a protester gets some sort of relief in response to their bid protest at GAO.
If you only look at the sustain rate percentage, which is much lower (ranging 12-17%), you are not getting the full picture. Many protests are dismissed as ‘academic’ before the 100-day time frame at GAO (often because the agency chooses to take corrective action to remedy a procurement flaw) so you can’t just look at the protests that went to a full GAO decision.
11. Post-award obligations in teaming agreements (TAs) (i.e., the requirement to enter into a subcontract) are generally not enforceable in Virginia because Virginia courts have repeatedly interpreted a TA as ‘an agreement to agree in the future.’
But some of the case law highlights things that would have potentially made the particular TA at issue enforceable. Like replacing this language: “The parties will negotiate a subcontract after prime award,” with “Prime shall award a subcontract to the subcontractor after prime award.” If you’re in the subcontractor role, try removing any language where a TA will terminate if negotiations haven’t concluded within x days of prime contract award. Virginia courts have left open the possibility that post-award obligations in TAs could be enforceable, depending on the certainty and specifics provided in the TA.
For example, while often impractical, courts have hinted that attaching a subcontract template to the TA that is contingent upon the prime being awarded the prime contract, would render the promise to award a subcontract enforceable. Note, however, that even when it is difficult for a teammate to enforce a prime’s promise in a TA to award the teammate a subcontract, that does not mean that other requirements and obligations in a TA are unenforceable. For example, the parties are still likely bound by the pre-award obligations to cooperate on preparing a proposal, to be exclusive to one-another (if applicable), and to maintain the confidentiality of information that may be disclosed pursuant to the agreement.
12. As Federal contracts professionals, we still must learn commercial contracts interpretation rules for our commercial negotiations.
The imperative ‘SHALL’ is the strongest language for contracts interpretation. ‘Will,’ ‘may,’ and ‘should’ are not as strong — use ‘shall.’
13. If you want to challenge a solicitation term (e.g., evaluation method, Statement of Work ambiguity, etc.) and you cannot resolve it through Q&As, you MUST submit a PRE-AWARD protest BEFORE THE PROPOSAL DUE DATE.
Otherwise, 98% of the time, a post-award protest challenging the solicitation will be dismissed by as untimely, regardless of the merit.
14. There is a difference between quotes and proposals. A quote is submitted in response to an RFQ and is considered ‘informational.’
The contract is not formed until the Government signs their acceptance of the ‘information’ and the contractor countersigns or starts performing. A proposal is an official offer made in response to an RFP that is valid for a specific duration of time (e.g., 60 days). It becomes a contract when the Government signs a contract with your proposal details in it.
15. Unless there have been some late 2019 cases on this topic, as of right now, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) case law on key personnel who depart a company between the time of a final proposal submission and contract award, is not favorable for contractors.
Companies would be wise to limit named key personnel (not propose more than required), and maybe offer proposed key personnel an incentive to stay until the contract is awarded (and hopefully longer). I’ve also learned that it can be helpful to get a written commitment from a departing key person that they will return to work for the company if an award is made.
This blog post appeared on the Winvale blog at https://info.winvale.com/blog/15-government-contracting-tips-from-winvale-client-govplace and was reprinted with permission.
This is a guest post by Reena Bhatia of ProposalHelper.
If you have any business with the Government, you are all too familiar with the proposal writing process. If you treat a proposal like a mini project, the rules are the same – plan, implement, monitor, control, and close-out. Why then do so many businesses (large and small) struggle through the proposal process? Why do so many companies suddenly forget what they do for a living and stress out their entire organization? The answer lies in the well-known trifecta – people, process, and tools.
The most common challenge businesses face – people. More precisely, a shortage of skilled people who (a) are not generating revenue for the company; (b) understand how to write to an RFx, and (c) are willing to work 18×7. Managing and writing a proposal takes a team, not one person. When I meet with potential clients, one of the common questions I get is, “why don’t we just hire one proposal manager instead of outsourcing?”
Companies can’t seem to figure out the right balance or the correct type of people to assign to a proposal. They either have one person doing everything or too many people who don’t know anything about proposal writing trying to battle their way through. Regardless of how small you think the proposal is, the skills required to work on it are diverse. Form and assign the right team and contrary to popular belief, we recommend you keep the proposal team small. Throwing bodies on a project doesn’t necessarily mean success.
The second challenge companies face is with their process. Building and submitting a proposal is not a mystery; it’s a process that can be learned, implemented, learned again, and continuously improved. Often we see companies who pick some industry-defined processes out of a textbook and force it as their own without really understanding resource limitations. Companies who are successful have a clear and flexible process that fits their organization.
Having a proposal process is great but remember if you assign the same writer to three different proposals at the same time, the process and therefore the proposal will fail. Your process should take into account resource availability and be flexible to utilize best what you need to succeed, not just what you have. Companies who succeed are not afraid to adjust their process to fit the magnitude of the RFx – adding or reducing resources and steps as necessary. Rigid processes add to the frustration levels and contribute to burn out. They most certainly don’t contribute to an increase in win ratios.
Finally, we get to technology. There is no silver bullet here, but one thing we are sure about, email and Google docs are not the best tools to use when it comes to managing proposals. There are some excellent platforms in the marketplace today that cater to the Government contracting and proposal industry. Whether you invest in a platform, build your own (because you can!), or stubbornly decide to continue emailing files, we advise that you define how the tool will be used, communicate your expectations with your proposal team, and then stick to it and most importantly, keep it simple.
Often companies start with all good intentions to use SharePoint or some other complicated platform but quickly break the pattern and begin emailing files because of the difficulty in using the tool and lack of control. As we have observed at ProposalHelper, senior executives are the biggest violators of process and use of selected tools because they cannot remember another URL or password and are too busy to bother with it. This sets the tone and culture of the proposal team, and very quickly we see others doing the same. This creates a lot of unnecessary confusion and adds to an already stressful situation. When it comes to tools for proposals, ProposalHelper says to KISS (Keep it Simple Silly!).
Companies need to start treating proposals like their revenue generating projects – assign the right team, implement the proper process that is fit for that proposal, and ensure consistent use of tools at every level – from the senior executive on down to the proposal team.
Reena is the Founder & CEO of ProposalHelper. The company started in 2010 with one employee and today has over 42 employees. She brings over 24 years of experience in global sales and US federal proposal management. Her background also includes planning and designing technical and management solutions, drafting technical proposal responses, and pricing strategy. Reena graduated with a Masters in Public Policy from University of Maryland, College Park and is currently pursuing her PhD in Information Systems.
When you price a government contract, some of your costs are considered direct costs and others are considered indirect costs. The most basic direct cost is labor – specifically the cost of paying the employees who work directly on that contract. Those costs are billable to the government agency who hired your company.
You also have labor costs that aren’t billable to the government because those employees aren’t working directly on that contract. Some of these indirect costs include paying the salaries of your company president, your HR person, or your reception staff.
There are other indirect labor costs, known as fringe benefits, which are things like vacation pay and sick time. You are responsible for these costs as an employer but they are not directly billable to the government.
A cost pool is a calculation that combines these different but related types of indirect costs, and provides you with a percentage, e.g., 2X base salary, that you can include in your bid price to make sure those indirect costs are accounted for.
You would go through this same calculation for overhead costs, such as office space for billable versus non-billable employees, and direct versus indirect general and administrative costs.
I’m making this very simple (here’s a blog post that goes into more detail), but government cost accounting requires you to have these pools and rates established in order for your bid to have appropriate approval by a government cost analyst who might be evaluating the bid. Not to mention protecting yourself in case of an audit by the DCAA (Defense Contract Audit Agency – your processes could be also audited by the Defense Contract Management Agency).
As a small business in the federal contracting space, it’s important to understand cost accounting, cost analysis, indirect rates, cost pools, and all of these concepts in order to understand where you can cut costs and be more price competitive. You’ll still definitely want to consult legal and accounting experts, but educating yourself upfront will help save you time and money along the way.
This is a guest post by Carl Dickson of CapturePlanning.com and PropLIBRARY. Even when they want to help out, the reality is that you can’t always depend on the people who contribute to your proposal, especially if this falls outside of their other job responsibilities.
In a two-part guest series, Carl is sharing 29 helpful tips for this situation. After presenting his techniques you can use at the proposal level in Part 1, here in Part 2 offers techniques for the organizational level.
Now let’s take a look at some organizational improvement techniques that can have a profound impact on how well people cooperate during a proposal:
15. Incentives, consequences, and rewards. Think beyond financial incentives for participating in a proposal. Think about intrinsic rewards. Growth is the source of all opportunity in an organization. Make sure people realize it. Make that realization personal.
16. Capacity planning. Of course there aren’t enough resources. But is there a light at the end of the tunnel? What is being done about it? Is it getting attention or being ignored?
17. Role modeling. Are the behaviors you need to maximize the organization’s win rate being demonstrated? Role modeling trumps lecturing. Every. Time.
18. Environmental support. Is the environment supportive? Does it facilitate cooperation? Or is there a lot of organizational friction that impedes people’s ability to get things done?
19. Resource allocation. Are resources allocated to maximize ROI? Is the proposal function being treated as a cost to be minimized or an investment to be cultivated?
20. Data driven decision making. Proposals are all about ROI. ROI discussions should be data driven and not opinion driven. Is the right data being tracked to support this?
21. Open dialog. Can these things be discussed? Will someone listen?
22. Interventions. This can include everything from clarification and priority resets to appraisals, coaching, and supervision.
23. Compensation. Think beyond the paycheck. How about a day off after working the weekend? Or covering meals when working late for a week straight? Meditate on what the word “compensate” means and a world of opportunities can open.
24. Culture. Is the reality of your corporate culture different from your aspirations? Are you building a winning culture, or is your company’s culture just happening?
25. Reengineering. Your staff can’t decide it’s time for a reset without you. They will only be as committed to it as you are.
26. Job and work design. How are positions defined? What are the expectations, risks, and rewards that go along with them? Is the way your staff see their positions in the organization getting in the way?
27. Staff and capability development. What capabilities do you need in your organization if you want to maximize your win rate? Are you growing them? How should that impact your proposal staffing and resource allocation decisions?
28. Competition. A little bit of the right kind of internal competition between people and business units can change how people cooperate. For better or worse. How does this impact your culture?
29. ROI. ROI. ROI. Is it worth it? Do the math. Every time we’ve worked through it with companies, we’ve found that small increases in win rate pay big returns. But what this article shows is that the investment of executive attention can also pay big returns.
How many of the items on the second half of this list can your staff address on their own?
And now for a little bit of good news
You may not need to do much to get people to cooperate beyond getting out of the way. Most organizations are full of cruft (that’s a technical term, look it up) that gets in the way of cooperation. Fix that and people will often naturally work together.
But while you’re changing things for the better, why not give them a little encouragement?
Just don’t do the same ol’ same ol’ that has never worked and isn’t going to this time
Training is everyone’s “go to” for improving things. We need to change, so we better start training people. We want to improve, so people need more training. People don’t cooperate, so let’s send them to training. But training fails to address the organizational issues.
Gilbert said, “If you hold a gun to a man’s head, and he can do what you ask, then he doesn’t need training.” Yet we go to training all the time because it’s far easier than almost any other intervention. Training informs people without changing all the organizational issues that get in the way of them cooperating. Just because you know how to do something or what needs to be done, doesn’t make doing it your highest priority.
Another popular technique is tools. Since we can’t hire and fire, let’s get some tools. But introducing tools into an organization with uncooperative staff and immature processes probably will not end well. Going back to the Gilbert reference above, think in terms of what’s needed for performance improvement. Tools can be a part of that, but wrap them with everything else needed to perform.
If your win rate depends on people cooperating during proposal development, you should start at the organizational level. It matters more. Your proposal manager may be an amazing hero. But the management during a proposal will not change the culture of the organization.
If you assume that the proposal manager will do what it takes to prepare the proposal, you are right. They will find a way to submit proposals using uncooperative people. Submitting is not the same as winning. Organizations that want to grow will do everything to ensure nothing gets in the way of people cooperating.
This article originally appeared at PropLIBRARY at https://proplibrary.com/proplibrary/item/739-29-techniques-for-dealing-with-uncooperative-proposal-contributors/ and was reprinted with permission.
Carl Dickson is the Founder and President of CapturePlanning.com and PropLIBRARY. The materials he has published have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is an expert at winning in writing. He is a prolific author, frequent speaker, trainer, and consultant.
One of the joys of managing proposals is that none of the people who are drafted to contribute to the proposal actually report to the proposal “manager.” And frequently they are expected to contribute to the proposal after all of their other responsibilities are taken care of. It can be like working two jobs. So even when they want to help out, they often aren’t the most enthusiastic and cooperative people to depend on.
I recently had a discussion about this with a friend of mine, Chris Ryan. He’s an expert in organizational improvement and management consulting and brings a different perspective to the proposal arena. He clued me in to some studies regarding human performance improvement.
Apparently Thomas Gilbert is often credited with inventing the whole thing. He showed that some of the things that drive behavior are individual, but some of them are organizational. For example, each individual has their own knowledge, capacities, and motives, but environmental factors like information, resources, and incentives can actually play a larger role in their ability to contribute to something like a proposal.
Proposal managers are great at solving things at their own level. But you can’t maximize your win rate without also addressing the organizational level.
Techniques at the proposal level
Here are some of the techniques that we can use on our own, without involving The Powers That Be:
- Manage expectations. Also known as “proactive scolding.” I prefer to think of it as a preventative. This should be your standard opening.
- Just-in-time training, in all its forms. A major reason why people don’t cooperate is that they don’t know how to do what you’ve asked. Building in training, often without calling it “training,” is a great way to get past the hurdle.
- Job aids. What can people reference or use that will make completing their assignments easier
- Anticipate information dependencies. When people don’t have the information they need to do what you’ve asked, things grind to a halt. Anticipating that and proactively providing that information smooths cooperation. If you don’t have the information yourself, then providing the workaround or source to get it is the best you can do.
- Persuasion. Sometimes we beg and plead. Sometimes we threaten. Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all technique that works in all circumstances.
- Work the chain of command. Sometimes you go over people’s heads. Sometimes you persuade The Powers That Be to publicly support you. Sometimes you get them to shuffle resources in your favor or reduce the workload of proposal contributors. Sometimes The Powers That Be are not available and you’re on your own.
- Conflict resolution. Advanced techniques for conflict resolution can help you get everyone on the same side and balance the competing priorities.
- Make it easier for them to do what you need than it is for them to fake it on their own. If you ask people to put effort into following “the process” because it will “pay off later,” you’ve already lost half of them. But if the steps in your process make it easier for them to complete their assignment and get back to their “real” job, you might just get some cooperation out of them. Think tools, checklists, recipes, and guidance instead of process, steps, and mandates.
- Oversight. No one likes someone hovering over them while they work. But if you can structure frequent checks, especially ones that aren’t obviously checking up on people, you’ll get more cooperation. Some people procrastinate. So give them more deadlines. Instead of two weeks to complete writing a section, give them two days to plan it, a day to write the introduction paragraph, etc.
- Self-assessment tools. Enable people to know when they are on the right track without having to ask. Equally important, you also enable them to see when they are not on the right track.
- Alternatives. The more alternatives you have, the fewer points of failure. Can you replace people? Can you switch them to another task or role?
- Automation. If we can’t force them to cooperate, maybe we can get the computer to do it for us!
- Team building. Don’t just think of team building as morale boosting and cheerleading. Think of it as collaboration. Can you change the collaboration model to reduce the amount of friction that’s leading to a lack of cooperation?
- Peer pressure. Sometimes you don’t need the chain of command to apply pressure.
And now for the bad news
All of these techniques have their limits. Collectively they amount to a smaller chance of improving cooperation than any one of the organizational approaches below can achieve. They amount to keeping honest people honest and enabling people who want to cooperate to do so.
Getting The Powers That Be onboard regarding the organizational issues ultimately decides your success and the organization’s win rate and growth. But you can usually get a proposal out the door without their explicit support when you have to.
This is what should motivate The Powers That Be to lend a hand. Getting by will not maximize your win or your ROI. Most already realize this, though, and are trapped in an ROI dilemma and negative incentives of their own that exaggerate the chances of winning and minimize the resource requirements to do so.
In Part Two of this post, Carl will reveal some organizational improvement techniques that can have a profound impact on how well people cooperate during a proposal.
This article originally appeared at PropLIBRARY at https://proplibrary.com/proplibrary/item/739-29-techniques-for-dealing-with-uncooperative-proposal-contributors/ and was reprinted with permission.
Carl Dickson is the founder and president of CapturePlanning.com and PropLIBRARY. The materials he has published have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is an expert at winning in writing. He is a prolific author, frequent speaker, trainer, and consultant.
Even when you win a multiple-award IDIQ contract, there is no actual guaranteed work. You still need to find customers who will award the work to you.
There are two situations where it’s easier to make sure you’re the only one who can win. The first is if there is a customer you’ve previously worked with, and the second is if you’ve done all the upfront work with a new customer who is ready and wants to buy from you.
In either case, when you are bringing a customer to the table in a multiple-award IDIQ you want to make it easy for them to choose you over the other companies in the mix, by advising them as they create their proposal instructions and proposal evaluation criteria.
The more detailed their criteria – and that those details are based on your actual experience – the more likely you will be able to eliminate the companies who don’t have the same exact requirements you have specified.
Aim to have the customer include these details:
- The key people who will be involved in the work, along with their specific technical skills and the functions they perform
- A requirement that these key people are current employees of the company
- A performance work statement (PWS) and statement of work (SOW) that correspond closely to your company’s actual past performance
If you are successful in guiding the prospective customer to base their proposal evaluation criteria on these details, your own proposal will send a strong message that you are ready for this contract.
Will you have an unfair advantage? Certainly! The point is, if you’re going to try to make it so nobody else can win, you’d better be sure no one else can win. This is not about being fair; if you want to be fair, then you’re not going to do any of these things and you’re going to have more competition.
In a webinar called “Wired! How can I do that?” Judy Bradt of Summit Insight painted a picture I’m sure many of you would find familiar. You saw something on www.fbo.gov that looked like the perfect opportunity – work you could do, that matched your experience, yet somebody else won the job.
How? They got the opportunity wired for them.
It was such a great topic I asked her to tell us more.
I’ve heard you say that proposals require “perfection on every page” – why?
Contracting officers can only consider offers that are full responsive. That means not only answering every question, but providing the correct information in the format and order required, to exactly the right person, by the right time, to the right place. Any ONE failure can disqualify your entire effort – often, an investment of THOUSANDS of dollars and weeks of time. That’s right: the contracting officer won’t even be able to look at it, no matter how great your price, and how perfect your experience.
Why is it important for a contractor to have a bid/no bid checklist in place?
It comes down to win rate. In a perfect world, you’d win every time. If you can’t win every time, you want to win as often as possible. Your company’s bid/no-bid checklist sums up the signs that you have a high probability of winning. An opportunity with all the winning signs is your top priority to bid. The income you get from the winning bid also has to cover the cost of all the losing bids. The fewer losers you write, the more money you get to keep!
What are three things our competitors are doing to win?
- They’re building relationships with all the decision makers inside the account.
- They’re only bidding projects where they have past performance that strongly resembles the kind of work the buyer needs done.
- They’ve been in there talking to the buying team a long time before the requirement hits the street, shaping the buyer’s idea of them as a low-risk supplier.
You have a 10-step scorecard to identify what a team needs to win more federal business. Can my readers get a copy?
The scorecard is part of the Government Contracts Made Easier: The Strategy Workbook. This is a 64-page fillable PDF that you can use and update again and again, and share within your company. The list price is $69.95, but if you contact me, I’ll send it to you with my compliments.
Thanks, Judy! To hear more of Judy’s excellent tips and strategies, join her for a complimentary webinar, Top Tactics to Meet Federal Buyers. It’s coming up soon on April 18th, so be sure to register now.
This is a guest post by Debbie Ouellet of EchelonOne Consulting.
There will be many times in your business life when you’ll be asked by a prospective client to provide references. These can include when you’re responding to an RFP (request for proposal), pitching to a new client or in the final rounds of a vendor selection process.
The client’s ‘ask’ will almost always sound something like this: “Please provide us with references from similar clients for whom you’ve provided similar services.”
Here are four common mistakes business owners make when providing references:
Mistake #1: Just providing name and contact information.
When you only provide name, title, phone number and email address as your reference information, you’re leaving it up to your potential client to do all the work. They have no information about what services you provided to your reference and therefore nothing to base their questions on.
Instead, include a brief description of the project you implemented along with the contact information. That will help paint a picture of your experience and provide a guide map for your busy client to use to pose questions and prepare for his call to your reference.
Mistake #2: Focusing on what you did.
I’m amazed at the number of times that I see references where their description of their project reads like a menu of services from their website. There is a mountain of difference between the technical aspects of ‘what you did’ for your reference and ‘how you helped’ them.
Be sure to include a short description of the main problem that you solved for your reference. Sure, you can include some of the services that you provided in order to solve that problem. The key is to write this piece from your reference’s point of view. How did they benefit and what were the positive results?
Mistake #3: Not connecting the dots.
Your potential client is busy. They also don’t live in your head or have the skill sets that you bring to the table. Don’t assume that the connection between your reference’s project and the one you’re vying for that seems obvious to you is also obvious to your client. Or that they’ll take the time to think it through and figure it out.
Connect the dots for your client by explaining briefly how the reference’s project is similar to the one you’re proposing. Even projects that aren’t similar on the surface can be similar in other aspects. For example, perhaps the referenced project also had a tight timeline and budget and you provided innovative solutions to meet these tough demands.
Mistake #4: Not asking permission.
In today’s business world of privacy laws and restrictions, this last point should be obvious. You are not at liberty to share another person’s name and contact information without their permission to do so. And, it’s simply good manners to ask permission first.
Even if you’ve been given permission in the past to use reference information, it’s good practice to give your reference a heads-up that they may be contacted. That way they’re expecting the call or email and will make a point of responding.
Summing it up:
- Include a brief description of your project along with the reference contact information.
- Focus more on ‘how you helped’ than ‘what you did.’
- Connect the dots so that your client can visualize the similarities.
- Ask permission before you provide the reference information.
Having a great customer reference is always a leg-up whenever you’re pitching to a new client. By taking a little care in how you craft the reference information, you’ll increase its effectiveness.
Debbie Ouellet of EchelonOne Consulting is a Canadian RFP consultant and business writer. She helps business owners win new clients and grow their business by helping them to plan and write great RFP responses, business proposals, web content and marketing content. You can find out more about Debbie at www.echelonone.ca/.
This post originally appeared at https://www.echelonone.ca/four-common-mistakes-when-providing-business-references and was adapted and reprinted with permission.