What are the Common Challenges Government Contractors Face with Proposal Writing?

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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.


Cost Pools in Federal Contracting

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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.


How Proposal Managers Can Help People Cooperate During a Proposal

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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.


The Good News and Bad News About Uncooperative Proposal Contributors

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This is a guest post by Carl Dickson of CapturePlanning.com and PropLIBRARY. Here he shares 29 techniques for dealing with uncooperative proposal contributors.

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:

  1. Manage expectations. Also known as “proactive scolding.” I prefer to think of it as a preventative. This should be your standard opening.
  2. 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.
  3. Job aids. What can people reference or use that will make completing their assignments easier
  4. 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.
  5. Persuasion. Sometimes we beg and plead. Sometimes we threaten. Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all technique that works in all circumstances.
  6. 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.
  7. Conflict resolution. Advanced techniques for conflict resolution can help you get everyone on the same side and balance the competing priorities.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. Alternatives. The more alternatives you have, the fewer points of failure. Can you replace people? Can you switch them to another task or role?
  12. Automation. If we can’t force them to cooperate, maybe we can get the computer to do it for us!
  13. 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?
  14. 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.


Multiple-Award IDIQ Contracts – How to Make Sure You’re the Only One Who Can Win

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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.


Are You Wired to Win?

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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?

  1. They’re building relationships with all the decision makers inside the account.
  2. They’re only bidding projects where they have past performance that strongly resembles the kind of work the buyer needs done.
  3. 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.


Four Common Mistakes When Providing Business References

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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:

  1. Include a brief description of your project along with the reference contact information.
  2. Focus more on ‘how you helped’ than ‘what you did.’
  3. Connect the dots so that your client can visualize the similarities.
  4. 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.


Five Rules for Bidding on Contracts

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© sebra – Fotolia.com

This is a guest post by Debbie Ouellet of EchelonOne Consulting.

Winning a new contract can have a huge impact on the financial health of your business. If you want to improve your chances of winning when responding to requests for proposals (RFPs), here are five rules to help you along.

  1. Stop. Think. Plan.

One of the biggest mistakes that I see when companies bid on contracts is that they start out something like this. The RFP document comes in and someone books a meeting of the people involved in the response. They carve out the questions to different people, assign one person to write the response and everyone goes off to do their part.

While that’s not bad as step two, too often the first most important step is missed. The first step should always be to ask yourself, “What’s it going to take to win this contract?” Start by understanding what your strategy to win is. How will you position your solution and your company in the response? When you do that first, it will impact how you answer questions, and how you present and price your solution. You’ll also come up with a stronger RFP response and increase your chances of winning.

  1. Lose your ego.

Your client doesn’t care about how big you are, how great your widget is, or how many awards you’ve won. What they really want to know is:

  • how you’re going to make their job easier
  • how you’ll help them solve that nagging problem
  • or carve away at costs so that they can meet their budget

Sure; you’ll get around to talking about yourself, but never lead with it. Make the focus of your proposal all about your client and how your solution is going to help them.

  1. Forget the fluff.

There is always the temptation, especially when the timing of an RFP (request for proposal) coincides with a busy time in your business, to copy and paste content from marketing material as part of your response.

You’ll tell yourself that it saves time. And somewhere amongst all that wonderful marketing lingo, it does answer the question posed in the RFP. Though it may save time for you, it adds time for the reader (i.e., the decision maker).

Let’s face it; that’s not the best way to make a good impression on the person who will be deciding whether you should be awarded the contract. Chances are that they may even miss the answer because it’s buried so deep within the marketing material.

  1. Never bad-mouth the competition.

It’s fine to make general statements about how your product out-performs its competitors. However, never bad-mouth your competition, especially by name. Besides being in poor taste, trashing the competition makes you sound desperate. It will also cause the reader to pause and question your business ethics.

  1. Don’t expect them to do the math.

If you’re presenting an idea that will save money, or involves a different approach to costing, spell it out in your response. Never expect the person reading the RFP proposal to do the math and figure it out. If you don’t do the math for them, one of three things will happen:

  1. They’ll be too busy and not bother. A competitor made it clear what was involved, so they’ll go with them.
  2. They’ll misunderstand and calculate incorrectly. You’ll either not win the bid because it came in too high (according to their calculations), or you’ll spend a lot of time back-tracking because they thought they were getting a better deal than you intended.
  3. They’ll do the math (grudgingly) and get it right. Chances are, however, that since you’ve made them do the work, that they’ll go deeper and perhaps start to nit-pick details and pricing when they wouldn’t have, had you simply provided them with the information upfront.

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/5-rules-for-bidding-on-contracts and was adapted and reprinted with permission.


RFP Templates – By Saving Time, Can You Lose a Bid?

rfp request for proposal paper document vector graphic

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This is a guest post by Debbie Ouellet of EchelonOne Consulting. Note from Bill: Here in the States, you might hear the term “boilerplate” instead of template.

I’m often asked by sales professionals if I can help them write powerful RFP (Request for Proposal) response templates that will help them win every upcoming bid. It’s true, responding to RFPs can be time-consuming and stressful. That’s especially true for many sales and operations professionals who work on RFP responses while still being expected to deliver in their full-time jobs. And, templates save time and ensure a standardized look and approach to a response.

A template response can help you save time, but lose the bid

Though going the template route sounds like a time saver, you’ll find that the end product won’t give you the kind of results you want.

You’ll end up with a lower win ratio and have to bid on even more contracts in order to meet your sales targets.

Don’t misunderstand – templates for standard questions often found in RFPs, like requests to show your quality assurance program or problem resolution process, are a good thing and should be used.

But the key pieces like your solution, executive summary and related experience need to be written specifically for the RFP and the project. Even resumes for key team members often need to be edited to highlight the experience that is relevant to the RFP requirements.

Here’s why: Most RFP decision makers see a lot of responses and can smell a template response a mile away. You stand a much greater chance of winning a contract when the decision makers feel that you really understand them and their needs. Your solution needs to address their problem, not the average customer’s problem. A template response won’t do that for you. That’s especially true when you’re asked to provide a technical solution to a complex problem.

Other ways to save time when responding to RFPs

If you want to save time in the RFP process, you may want to consider your “bid, no bid” process to make sure that the contracts you’re going after are a good fit to begin with. Only respond to bids where you have a good story to tell, can meet all mandatory requirements and the potential payout is worth the effort needed to respond. Then you can spend quality time creating great solutions and presenting them convincingly.

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 article originally appeared at https://www.echelonone.ca/rfp-templates-by-saving-time-can-you-lose-a-bid and was reprinted with permission.


How to Lose a Contract in 3 Easy Steps

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© WavebreakmediaMicro – Fotolia.com

This is a guest post by Debbie Ouellet of EchelonOne Consulting. Debbie gets it exactly right. Pay attention, folks!

From time to time I’m approached by a business owner who has just been blind-sided. They’ve been a long-term service provider for a customer and just learned that they no longer have the contract.

And they don’t know why.

Most often this has happened when the contract went back out for bid, usually through the RFP (Request for Proposal) process, and the service provider prepared their own response. I’m called in to perform a postmortem and provide feedback with the goal of preventing a recurrence with other contracts.

Many business owners might assume that they were simply underbid (i.e.: another vendor low-balled their price to win the contract). The truth is; that’s rarely the reason.

What are 3 of the main reasons that long term vendors lose contracts in the bid process?

They got complacent.

Any procurement manager will tell you… complacency in a vendor is a contract killer. The vendor works hard in the first year or so of the contract to bring innovation, quality initiatives and cost control strategies into play. And then they ride the wave for the remainder of the term.

It’s not that they’re lazy or even bad vendors. They just get comfortable that all is well within their contract and relationship and that everyone is happy with the status quo.

When you read their RFP response and distill it down to the main messages, it says, “We’re great, you know we’re great and we’re going to keep doing what we’ve been doing…because hey, it’s working.” Unfortunately, their competitors have done their homework and suggested new approaches and offered added value in their responses making the incumbent’s proposal look pretty darn blah.

Another tactic that drives customers crazy is when long-term vendors save all of their ideas and innovations to submit with the rebid process. Instead, a better approach is to show steady improvement over the entire term of the contract. Your customer then sees you as consistently bringing value to the table. Then when it comes time for the contract to go out to bid again, you can cite the great initiatives you’ve implemented and offer a few more that you’d like them to consider moving forward.

The best piece of advice I can give a vendor who already has a contract is this: At least once each year, sit down and take stock of what you’ve done for your client lately. Where did you bring value, suggest cost control or improve quality? If you haven’t, find ways to do it now before the contract goes out to rebid.

They assumed that they knew it all.

At times, being the incumbent has its drawbacks. They’ve been immersed in their customer’s business so much so that they lose perspective and believe that they already know everything there is to know about them.

Because the vendor thinks they already know, they don’t read the RFP documents carefully. They make assumptions and miss key elements for the response.

No matter how good your relationship is with your customer, you should always approach an RFP as though it’s anybody’s game. Read it carefully, ask questions and follow the instructions to the tee.

They assumed that the client knew it all.

At times, an incumbent won’t explain responses fully in an RFP because they assume that the client already knows about their business, what they do and how they do it.

There are three reasons why this is a bad approach:

  1. The people reading your response may not know you. The truth is, your main contact; the one who loves you; may not be the decision maker in the bid process. Changeover in decision makers is also commonplace in today’s business world.
  2. Most RFPs go through a scoring process. Each set of answers to questions is scored against a pre-defined process to come up to an overall score. It’s a process that was designed to ensure objectivity in the review process. The bids with the highest scores make it to the finalists list. If you don’t provide full answers to questions, how can you be scored properly?
  3. Incomplete answers look sloppy and lazy. You don’t want your customer to think that you couldn’t be bothered to take the time to answer their questions properly.

Use incumbency to your benefit

Being the incumbent in the RFP process can be a huge advantage as long as you understand that winning and keeping a contract starts long before it goes out to bid.

  • Consistently show value (and make sure that your customer knows about it) while you have the contract. Document it so that you’ve got the information readily available at bid time.
  • Always approach an RFP as though it’s anybody’s game.
  • Don’t assume that you know everything. Read the RFP document carefully and follow the instructions closely.

Don’t assume that the people reading your response know all about you just because you’re their current vendor. Answer questions fully as if they didn’t know you.

I’d much rather help a client win back a contract through the RFP process than explain to them postmortem why they didn’t.

This article originally appeared at http://www.echelonone.ca/apps/blog/show/44087958-how-to-lose-a-contract-in-3-easy-steps and was reprinted with permission.

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.


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