5 Ways to Improve Your Federal Proposals

    I recently came across some materials for the benefit of small businesses, in reference to doing business with the federal government and how to respond to Requests for Proposals (RFPs).

    Needless to say, it was sorely lacking, given the first item was discussing FedBizOpps.gov as some golden path to Valhalla. Although not bad advice per se, going to FedBizOpps.gov and just bidding on RFPs is not usually a pathway to success in the federal market. In other cases, being told this by a representative of an Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization, or OSDBU, is just infuriating.

    Here are 5 practical tips to developing better proposals, and improving responses to RFPs:

    1. Review the Evaluation Criteria First. I always recommend to start here when analyzing the RFP. Although there is no consistency, and it varies RFP by RFP, the evaluation criteria can usually be found in Section M of an RFP. These are the factors the government will use to rate your proposal. In short, you need to tailor your win-themes and overall proposal to the evaluation factors, such that you score the highest marks during the government’s review of your proposal.

    Many firms focus on just answering the mail via the requirements, and ensuring the compliance matrix is complete and compliant. Of course ensuring a compliant proposal is of utmost importance to a successful bid. However, the way you demonstrate the value and ensure your message resonates with the federal buyer is how they will be rating you, and that comes from the evaluation criteria.

    2. What Are Your Differentiators? You have to write a story that ensures you build trust, and by doing so, lowers risk of selecting your firm for the contract. How are you different from your competitors? What are the value-added drivers you seek to provide in your solution? How will your firm ensure the government is successful?

    These are questions that need to be clearly addressed in your response, and provide substance and detail to the win-themes. Separate yourself from the competition this way.

    3. Are You Providing a Solution? Many firms I work with make the mistake of thinking they have written an excellent response, but clearly have not articulated a viable solution to the customer’s requirements, or needs or wants for that matter.

    To the federal buyer, there is nothing more frustrating than reading a proposal that is little more than fluff, marketing materials, or that makes claims and boasts without any substantiation. Simply responding to requirement XYZ with “We understand requirement XYZ, and have performed requirement XYZ for 20 years” is not sufficient.

    How will you actually be performing requirement XYZ? How does your solution mitigate risks, improve outcomes, and drive success? How is success defined? 

    What matters about these details is what you need to demonstrate, and will ultimately make your proposal more meaningful. You are trying to increase your credibility, and further demonstrate your proposal as best value.

    4Demonstrate Value, Not Low Price. I remember being asked by a very annoyed Contracting Officer once “Why does innovation cost more?” To me, this question demonstrates the problems with proposal submissions focused on pricing variables, improper risk mitigation, and margins, as opposed to the value the solution brings to the requirements and the customer. The customer is paying for a level of goods services, but why your firm?

    This is where you leverage your firm’s strengths, and past experiences. You claim to have been doing this for 20 years. Now demonstrate the lessons learned from all this experience, how you improved the customer’s operations, and how you will bring this tremendous knowledge and learning to the customer. Build the customer’s confidence and trust through an outcome and knowledge-based approach to your solution, and don’t rely on price to win.

    5. Do What You Say. The path to failure is paved with good intentions. Your proposal is nothing more than a promise to do good work if you could just win the contract. However, you need to remind the customer not only how you will perform the work, but you also how to ensure the work is done well. Your proposal should ensure a level of verifiable and measurable quality, in addition to transparency. This could be through a meticulous project management methodology, combined with effective communications strategies to ensure the project will be successful. You want to ensure the customer has the utmost confidence in your ability to perform as promised.

    Follow these tips, and you will ensure that your proposal is a good product that you would want to receive if you were in your buyer’s shoes.