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.


How to Choose a Proposal Consultant

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Sometimes choosing a proposal consultant happens accidentally. When we bought a small company down in Florida, Ray Vause was a consultant for them, and we got to see him operate before deciding to make him our own proposal manager consultant – and that’s been a very good thing. Through several proposals including a winning 50+ person effort for the Marines, we’ve continued to get good results from that decision.

I asked Ray to share his thoughts about choosing the right proposal consultant.

What should federal contractors keep in mind when choosing a proposal consultant?

A proposal consultant should truly be a consultant, not someone who is between jobs and looking for employment, who may leave once they have a permanent offer. 

Look at their track record of experience and wins. Your consultant needs to have won some programs. A consultant should also have many years of experience writing proposals for different DoD agencies (Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and different buyers within each DoD branch). (Note from Bill: Or civil agencies, depending on where your opportunity is.)

 The consultant’s experience should also include different types of proposals (services, products, support, etc.), different volumes as volume lead and proposal manager (cost, technical, logistics, management, past performance, etc.), and various procurement strategies (LPTA, Best Value, etc.).

How many consultants should a company interview?

At least three. It is also very important to see references from companies who have used the consultant.

What can the business owner do to keep the work on track?

Daily correspondence with the consultant via email and conference call, attending the standup meetings conducted by the consultant, and reviewing the invoices and hours charged by the consultant.

What are important things to agree upon before starting work with a proposal consultant?

The process for each phase of the capture process, the level of detail for each phase of the proposal development (draft and final), and the level of authority the consultant has.

Is there anything else you think our readers should know about choosing a proposal consultant?

Proposal consultants have specific talent that many small businesses do not have on their staff. Good proposal consultants are hard to find. When you discover one who is flexible and works well with your senior staff, you have achieved your goal and you are on the road to success.


The Color Team Process of Proposal Management – Notes From a Newcomer

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© alotofpeople – Fotolia.com

This is a guest post by TAPE Communications Specialist Walt Long.

My name is Walt Long and I work for TAPE as a communications editor and reviewer, with a special focus on our company’s color teaming process.

Color teaming a proposal document is a kind of “group editing” of the content. While I was already very familiar with editing a document on my own for clarity, grammar, and word flow, this multi-person process of sculpting a draft into a strong proposal was a new challenge for me.

Color team reviewing of the documents and graphics within a particular proposal not only involves editing by one’s self, but also includes presenting your edits and general experience of the document to others. This happens in a series of team review meetings, with each team identified by the colors pink, red, gold, green, and white.

Color team participants are made up of writers and reviewers, each with very different roles to play. I have learned that it’s important to assign the right people to write to the particular volumes required by the government’s formal parameters for each proposal.

There will be representatives from each team of Prime and Subcontractors, both employees and hired subject matter experts (SMEs)/consultants. It’s also important to line up experienced reviewers who can see things from the perspective of the government evaluators and explain what specifically is missing.

The color names given to different teams tell you which part of the editing process is being conducted. While individual companies may assign the colors somewhat differently, here is how I understand the color distinctions:

The Pink Team is the starter group, who clarify what the federal government is actually requiring be included within a particular proposal, and agree on an outline.

Next is the Red Team phase, where more focus is placed on refining certain sections for universal themes such as Corporate Capability, Transition Plan, Technical Approach, Management Plan for Primes and Subcontractors, Sample Task Order, etc. In addition to refining content, Red Teams have to look at the actual size and look of the proposal by considering page counts, the ratio of graphics to text, and the clarity of graphics and charts.

Meanwhile, on a parallel effort, away from this mostly word-centered review of the proposal, the Green Team is a separate group of folks who look at the always delicate task of what financial numbers will be presented in the proposal. Green Teams are made up of those with company proprietary information about how much to pay individual positions as well as how much to propose to the customer i.e., the government client.

Pricing is always both an art and a science when it comes to proposals; too high is always a risk but too low means that in the eyes of the customer, you are not facing the realities of the work in question, nor might you be able to hire and keep the talent needed to fulfill the contract.

Next comes the Gold Team, whose reviewers take in the entire proposal. These participants must have both the authority and the time to read their assigned volumes in their entirety, line by line. While Pink and Red Teams usually discuss their edits by phone, in my experience Gold Teams present their edits directly to the writing/production team.

Finally enters the White Team also known as “White Glove,” where basically every one of the final editors and compilers gets one more chance to look over the document for obvious mistakes or any visual space or sizing problems. This final edit and production phase is just as important if not more as all the work that has led up to this point. It is their job to create a physical hard copy of the entire document must now make it physically into hard copy via either CDs and/or paper, then be physically delivered.

In other cases the customer has asked for the information in electronic-only form, in which case software issues and transferring the information over the web by the deadline become the make or break process for the entire effort.

Here are a few caveats for effective color teaming I have learned along the way:

  • Find or hire the best writers and reviewers you can afford. Such expertise pays off in the end.
  • Writing and reviewing proposals is difficult work, dealing with large volumes of complicated information. Those in charge of the teams must allow enough time for both sides to finish their tasks with reasonable and professional process. (Having the right people who specialize in the writing or reviewing of their assigned parts goes a long way towards the efficiency needed.)
  • If you are a color team writer or reviewer, it’s best to put your ego off to the side, and hear (or give) criticism as graciously and honestly as you can with only one thing in mind: What will make this document a winning proposal in the eyes of the customer? Towards that end, everyone’s opinion can be valuable and needs to be heard, within reason. Those who see things differently must be encouraged to speak up, while the others must refrain from judgment. It is this process of considering and using different perspectives that is the heart of the color teaming process.

During my experience as a newcomer to color teaming, I have learned that it is an expensive and time consuming prospect, meaning that some proposals/documents are simply too small in size and scope to justify such outlay of a company’s limited resources.

That being said, I also think that such a process is a very good way to sculpt and process a proposal or any other document from start to finish. If done right, you get a finished product that has been examined from many different points of view, resulting in a polished and evolved document.


Targeting to Win

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© georgejmclittle – Fotolia.com

Well, the folks behind the Contracting Officer Podcast have definitely shown some real focus, by targeting the concept of targeting (bad pun is entirely mine). I introduced hosts Kevin Jans (Skyway Acquisition Solutions) and Paul Schauer (CACI’s National and Cyber Solutions) in a previous post about the true cost of proposals.

The real issue with the topic of targeting is the law of large numbers. For example, the folks at Skyway Acquisitions target companies and that means their reachable market is all 500,000 companies registered in the SAM database (the Federal Government’s System for Award Management).

If they pare that down to target privately owned companies with over $500,000 in annual revenue, with five or more employees, who have won at least one government prime or subcontract in the last three years, that would still be 250,000 companies! As my millennial friends would say, “OMG!” that’s a lot of companies. “That’s a lot of phone calls, man,” Kevin jokes.

He says to also consider your weight class, “the right size of an opportunity that you can afford to win or lose without derailing your company.” This goes back to one of the three critical questions we talked about in the previous post: Does your company have the capabilities to win this job? What resources do you have available to solicit and deliver this potential contract?

Now for TAPE and many of you, our market is the Federal Government. I don’t know how many total buyers there are, or buyers plus KOs and contract specialists, and lions and tigers and bears, oh my, but I know there are a lot.

So how do we narrow down the targeting? It’s really quite simple. Start with who you already know. Who’s doing things in areas you already know how to do? Instead of sending out 25,000 pieces of junk mail (heaven forbid), we need to focus on where we can get in the door.

We can contact our 25 closest friends in the business, and then in our follow-up, ask, “Who in your agency might be needing our ABC services?” If they have no direct need, or their contracts don’t come up for years, or if they like their current support, then what about one of their neighbors or sister agencies?

What I particularly loved in this podcast episode was their focus on having a mindset of abundance, which Kevin explains as being able to think, “There’s more opportunity for me than I could ever chase, so therefore this one that doesn’t fit, it’s okay to walk away from it and keep going.”

It is indeed an abundant universe. You have resources like this blog and the Contracting Officer Podcast, you have friends, you have people you did good work for in a different situation, and now’s the time to test that abundance. But target the things you know and can do, and leave the rest of the abundance for me and other of my readers!


Making Your Proposal a Success

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© Syda Productions – Fotolia.com

This is a guest post by Marsha Lindquist of Granite Leadership Strategies.

When you are spending your money on developing proposals, you want to increase the odds that you will win. That spells success and business but from a financial perspective, it spells a good return on your investment (ROI). Even though you likely get reimbursement of your bid and proposal costs through your contracts, you want to make wise use of those dollars.

Proposal failure is not in your vocabulary. So what increases the odds that your proposal will be a success, translating your proposal into a win? You want to improve your chances of winning your next bid. Here are a few points to keep in mind.

What questions would you recommend a company get the answers to before the RFP is released?

There is a never ending list of things you can get before an RFP is released. Following a formal capture planning process is the most effective, proven, best practice for getting as many of these answers before RFP Release. At a minimum you should know:

  1. Customer – know your customer: who they are (organization chart – identify the key decision makers and influencers), and mission and vision for theme development. And know your position with this client. Is there time to build a relationship? How well known are you?
  2. Scope – understanding the background of the requirement from a program and technical perspective is key to determining risks from a business, contractual and technical standpoint. What is the customer buying and asking you to price? Has the client endorsed your solution?
  3. Hot Buttons – what are the top three issues facing the client and how does your solution solve those problems?
  4. Competitors – does a competitor have a stronger position or inside track? Who are the top competitors and what is your strategy to counter their strategies?
  5. Discriminators – what is unique or significantly different in your approach that will influence the customer to select you?
  6. Win Strategy – what are the top five things you need to do to win this deal?
  7. Other – how can you lose? Are you challenging your assumptions? Have you done a black hat or SWOT? Do you know your vulnerabilities and issues? And if so, what is your plan of action to mitigate these? Do you have staffing challenges? What is your pricing strategy?

There are many factors involved in qualifying an opportunity that include not only asking the customer questions, but the timeline in which you work to qualify the requirement, understanding the customers preferences and biases, putting a winning team together, including identifying qualified staff to write the proposal without adversely impacting an existing contract or proposal effort.

There are tools on the market you can purchase to help quantify data as these questions are being answered. There are also tools to help calculate your probability of win, which should increase as you implement your plans. There are also services you can purchase that develop, populate and manage these tools and all the data points that feed into your capture plan which are utilized in making your bid/no bid decision. Whichever approach you decide to use, at a minimum, decide to utilize a capture planning process that organizes the inputs, and manages the outputs.

What are the most important things you must do to avoid proposal failure?

  1. Planning. Planning will help avoid inappropriate assignments, reactive behavior and decision making. Strategic planning provides a framework for decisions, is conceptual and directional (account planning and capture planning), and motivates, informs and stimulates change.
  2. Compliance. Trying to tell your own story without addressing the requirement, not following instructions and ignoring the evaluation criteria is a recipe for a losing proposal effort. Since no one personal evaluates an entire proposal, it’s incumbent upon the offeror to make it easy for the reviewers to evaluate your proposal. Excellent responses don’t mean any points if the evaluator can’t find them or you don’t address the requirement. It translates to “risk” to the customer.
  3. Limiting budgets and resources. If you are not going to take proposals seriously, very seriously, then don’t plan to spend a penny getting started. You need people who know how to plan, organize and write. Even the presentation and verbiage (proposal language) will leave an impression on the evaluators. This is your company image as well, don’t fall into the trap of thinking your technical people can write a technical report and call it a proposal. Invest in the appropriate people and resources to produce a quality, well thought out and organized, winning proposal.

There are a lot of upfront steps to complete before getting to the proposal, such as developing corporate growth strategies & planning, market assessment & positioning, opportunity identification and qualification, pipeline development and management, capture management, and finally proposal management. So you see, if you are not investing the appropriate time and resources up front, your probability of a successful proposal effort drops significantly.

Marsha Lindquist, President of Granite Leadership Strategies, Inc., has over 30 years experience as a business expert in Government contracting. She has enhanced her clients’ cost competitiveness, improved their contractual positioning, and solidified overall strategies with companies including BP Amoco, DynCorp, and Northrop Grumman. Marsha adds value by telling you what you need to hear. For more information on her, please visit http://wwwGraniteLeadershipStrategies.com.

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This article was originally published on the Granite Leadership Strategies blog at http://www.graniteleadershipstrategies.com/making-your-proposal-a-success/ and was reprinted with permission.

 


The True Cost of Proposals

© DigitalGenetics - Fotolia.com

© DigitalGenetics – Fotolia.com

I recently listened to an episode of the Contracting Officer Podcast, a show that talks about the government market from the contracting officer’s perspective and aims to make government contracting better, one contract at a time.

Hosts Kevin Jans (Skyway Acquisition Solutions) and Paul Schauer (CACI’s National and Cyber Solutions) discussed how much it actually costs to write a proposal for a government RFP. An important and much misunderstood topic!

The first key point they make about proposal writing is that even though it seems like a no-brainer that proposal writing would be part of what they call Zone 3 – The RFP Zone, it’s not (their “zones” are explained in earlier podcasts, but you should kind of get the picture from my emphasis in this post on qualification and capture).

“Proposal writing starts long before the RFP is released, before the draft RFP is released,” Paul explains. The process goes back to the Zone 2 (Market Research for their audience of contract folks, or what we industry folks would call capture – shaping the potential RFP), so that’s where the costs start as well.

This is an extremely important point that often the government does not appreciate. From the moment of market research, and sometimes even before when the true customer begins to think of the requirement, cost is beginning for industry. There is where you as the contractor begin answering the question, “Can we solve this customer’s problem?”

By the time a Request for Information (RFI) comes out, “the writing’s already started,” Kevin says, “And that’s why it’s so important that the investment in brain power, in resources, in time, and of course, in labor” has already started as well. Here again, while we’re talking about brain power, resources, time and labor, what’s really going on is relationships – a company building a picture of what the customer is looking for, based on how the customer describes it. This is the early stages, even before the RFI or market survey comes out. Remember that often the RFI is about set-aside issues, not about solution issues.

It’s important for both sides – government and industry – to understand the true cost of proposals. This gives the buyer and seller a level playing field as they communicate through the proposal process. Kevin says this is one of his favorite sayings: “Ambiguity in here is going to lead to mediocrity.”

This is perfect, yes indeed, ambiguity leads to mediocrity, but if ambiguity remains, it’s the industry’s fault for not asking all the questions for fear something will be revealed to competitors, and the government’s fault if they don’t answer by bringing new clarity to the question. Questions are good, not a forced delay and to be resented. Over-explaining can be costly as well, Kevin points out.

Paul says to compare this to hiring a contractor to put a new roof on your house. You might use any combination of marketing messages, past performance, and talking to friends, and then get quotes from several companies. They pretty much all do the same thing, so the quotes will be pretty simple.

“Think about it,” he says, “if you went out to all these companies and you said, ‘I need a 12-page proposal with double-spaced, 12 Times New Roman font on the whole thing, graphics have to be no smaller than 8 font, and you can’t use anything, but the primary colours,’ …. You wouldn’t get a single bid ‘cause nobody’s going to put in that time and energy.”

Contracting officers should remember that “the amount of proposal documentation that you have to submit could drive decision making on whether or not a company actually bids on your acquisition.”

Paul explains that the government team writing the RFP has to realize that they’re driving more cost to the taxpayers with their complex RFPs that take longer to respond to and evaluate. And this is a critical point – bad evaluation processes and lack of clarity drive up costs. So do all the regulations, and these lead to higher costs to the government.

Now LPTA has adjusted that, but the competitive pressure means less well-constructed proposals, and lower quality of responses, or lower quality of people you can afford for the prices bid. We can never forget the trade-off between price and quality.

In government contracting some inefficiency in the process is a given, with so many regulations in the FAR. But it’s those rules that give everyone an equal opportunity to bid, says Paul. Unfortunately, most of the inefficiency is actually self-inflicted – by the government as they write RFPs, and by contractors because they don’t do a good enough job evaluating their decision whether to bid on a contract.

“If you’re really having to force that language [while you’re writing an RFP], that should tell you something.” We’ve talked a lot on this blog about focusing your federal contracting efforts, and being able to answer these three key questions about your prospective customers:

  1. Does this customer have money allocated to solve this problem?
  2. Can your company solve this problem?
  3. Do you have the capabilities to win this job?

If you can’t answer yes to all three of those questions, don’t waste your time writing a proposal. Contractors should never forget that business development and proposal writing cost money, and there will be a single winner and many losers. Every loser needs clarity as to why they lost.


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