Basic Tips for a Winning Proposal

A very detailed analysis of the Request for Proposal (RFP) document and a proper Proposal Readiness Review are two important aspects of creating a winning proposal.

Having your team organized and having someone with the right experience coordinating the team’s efforts is tantamount.  The contracting office will be scoring your bid using predetermined scoring criteria.  You can gain a leg up on your competition if you have someone on your side who knows how this process works.

You may think your company is a “shoe-in” for a contract award, especially if you hold the current contract that’s being re-bid. Unfortunately, with today’s poor economy, there is ever-increasing competition for large contracts. It’s more important than ever to make sure you don’t make even the smallest mistakes in the proposal process that will reduce your scoring and potentially cause you to lose a contract.

Even if you have already won contracts with government agencies and hope to renew the contract in a new, full and open competition, a proposal expert can help you stay flexible to evolve your strategies in order to remain compliant with new RFP requirements. Agencies’ employees are constantly working to improve their requirements and internal systems. Therefore, your response must evolve as well.

Give Them Exactly What They Want

Government agencies detail in their RFP exactly what they want.  While the requirements are spelled out, they are often found in different locations throughout the solicitation, creating confusion for companies hoping to win a contract.

It is usually the agency’s technical experts who work on the language in their project requirements. Then, they will provide their information to the contracting office, which will develop budget requirements and contractual terms. Often times, a particular funding source will incorporate another level of requirements a company must meet in order to win a contract.

One of the reasons for a detailed RFP and contract award process is that, in the absence of detailed specifications and statements of work, a great deal of confusion and miscommunication can happen between the vendor and the client, leading to change orders, unsatisfied clients, and, potentially, even lawsuits.

Some disreputable vendors have also taken advantage of “loose” or ambiguous requirements, leaving sophisticated businesses and government agencies wary of doing business without having every detail in writing.  It is in your company’s best interest to show that you are capable of doing business in a sophisticated and detailed way, which will ensure appropriate expectations and ultimately improve your relationship with the client.

Follow All Instructions

The government contracting office expects each bid to follow all instructions in the RFP to the letter. The RFP will usually provide mundane details such as guidelines for document pagination, font type and size, margins, etc.  These may seem minor, but they reflect on the bidding company’s ability to pay attention to detail.

It is our experience that companies will skim-read the RFP and take short cuts or disregard and omit seemingly unimportant issues.  You MUST address all requirements exactly how the agency expects, or you will lose points in the scoring process and even risk disqualification.

We cannot emphasize enough the importance of following instructions carefully to avoid all mistakes.

Some companies believe government agencies and large corporations are looking for ways to reduce the number of proposals they need to review and use proposal errors as a way to do so by excluding companies. This is not true.

The fact is, these agencies want the best company for the job, and if your company can’t follow simple written instructions in a solicitation, it is unlikely your company will be able to comply with often complex reporting and deliverable requirements throughout the contract period. It’s up to you to show them your company is organized and sophisticated enough to meet these needs without creating further hassle throughout the contract period.

Proposal reviewers have hundreds of pages to read from several vendors. Therefore, they appreciate a company that can follow instructions to make their job of reviewing easier. Successful proposals must first be read, and you must make sure your proposal doesn’t have an important detail listed in the wrong area or isn’t disregarded solely due to a technicality.

Additionally, if a client wants a “fixed price contract,” they expect a proposal that has ONE bottom line amount. Further, if they require a certain type of certification or registration, make sure your company has a plan to obtain it prior to finalizing your proposal. A proposal expert can help you figure out what the required certifications or registrations are during the solicitation process, and work with you to resolve any initial limitations.

Remember, you are providing a service or goods for a client, and even if you think you have a better solution than what they’re requesting, they may have a legal requirement for the one they have asked for. ALWAYS submit a proposal that meets their specific requirements. You may also submit an alternative proposal that details the other solution, but you need to show them you can deliver what they requested to get your foot in the door.

Proposal Deadlines

Late delivery of a proposal is another way to get your company disqualified from the solicitation process. Agencies can’t play favorites by accepting late proposals from one bidder and not another. It would be a legal nightmare for them. Also, because a late submission reflects on the chance that a company will likely be late on its deliverables as well, you MUST make sure your proposal is where it needs to be by the deadline.

Some companies and agencies now have an electronic submission system, which will automatically reject your proposal, even if it’s one second late. Don’t make the mistake of waiting until the last minute to submit and risk a problem with technology or traffic for in-person submissions. Make sure your proposal is in the company’s procurement office and you have confirmation of receipt at least 24 hours in advance, regardless of how it is delivered.

If you are unable to deliver the documents electronically and will be unable to deliver them in person, you may choose to submit them via USPS, FedEx or UPS.  Don’t rely on their next-day or other expedited guarantees, because the chance of error could cost you a multi-million dollar contract.

Deliver at least five days in advance, and then follow up with the government agency to determine that it was received in its entirety.  Or make sure you have a trusted business in the same city that can deliver the proposal for you, but remember there’s always the possibility of error if somebody else is printing off the proposal and delivering on your behalf.