Bob Lohfeld


Can you keep your bid out of the reject box?

I was asked to review one of the proposals submitted for the first stage of the Army’s multi-billion dollar “Army Eagle” logistics procurement and to advise an unsuccessful bidder why the company had failed to make the cut. My answer was straightforward – the bidder failed to write a proposal for the evaluators to evaluate. Here’s how the proposal went wrong.

Army Eagle is a multiple award procurement for large and small businesses that is being competed in stages. The first-stage submission, which I reviewed, was an advisory stage that required bidders to submit a short proposal describing their understanding of the Army’s logistics program and how their team’s capabilities and resources could help fulfill that mission. Based on this response, the Army advised bidders whether their team might be successful should they decide to proceed to stage 2 of the competition, the submission of a full proposal. Stage 1 was an advisory stage and does not preclude a bidder from proceeding to stage 2 even if the Army advises that the bidder is unlikely to win.

How Evaluators Evaluate

To write a great, short proposal, it’s helpful to imagine how your proposal is likely to be evaluated. In this case, you might visualize evaluators sitting at a large table. At one end of the table are stacks of proposals and at the other end are two boxes—one for proposals that are likely to be successful and the other for proposals that are likely to be unsuccessful.

You might further imagine that the evaluators have agreed upon a standard for reviewing and scoring these proposals. In this case, the standard would certainly include how well the bidders explained their understanding of the Army’s logistics strategy and how well their team’s experience and resources stacked up against that mission. You should expect that a scoring template would be used to evaluate each proposal and serve as a basis for sorting the proposals into the appropriate box.

Quick Look Assessment

As a proposal professional, you know that when evaluators have multiple proposals to review, they will read and evaluate them in three passes. The first pass is a quick look to make sure that your Eagle proposal followed the RFP instructions. They want to see that you titled sections as expected and structured your proposal so that content appears where it is expected to be. Every proposal should pass this quick-look compliance test and, assuming your proposal does, the evaluator will perform the second evaluation pass.

Proposal Content Skimming

The second pass comprises proposal content skimming. Here you would expect the evaluator to flip through the pages more slowly, looking at the figures and tables and reading the action captions that go with data presented graphically in each proposal section. This pass is like reading a graphic novel with the reader looking at the pictures and expecting the story to be told without having to read the text.

To score well, your Eagle proposal’s first section should have an insightful graphic depicting the bidder’s understanding of Army’s logistics mission. The next sections, on experience and resources, should have well-crafted data tables proving relevant team experience and resources with action captions explaining how this data relates to fulfilling the Army’s mission. If crafted correctly, the content skimming pass should establish a solid first impression that your proposal is a winner and should be sufficient for the evaluator to develop an initial score for your proposal. After content skimming, the evaluator should have pretty good idea which of the two boxes your proposal is destined for.

Detailed Proposal Reading

The third pass is the detailed reading of the proposal text. With the evaluator having developed an expectation from the figures and tables about what the text will convey, the evaluator is now ready to delve deeper into the proposal and understand the full story conveyed by the text. The text should reinforce the story that was told through the graphical presentation and point out any subtleties the evaluator may have been missed while skimming figures and tables. The text ties it all together and completes the story.

In reviewing the unsuccessful bidder’s proposal, I found no content to evaluate in the content-skimming second pass. The proposal had no figures and only one data table that was poorly constructed. Content skimming put this proposal solidly in the loser category, and the text did not redeem the offerer.

Upon reflection, I think the bidder had a good team and could have been successful in the stage 1 competition, but the proposal document lost the game.

About the Author

Bob Lohfeld is the chief executive officer of the Lohfeld Consulting Group. E-mail is

Reader Comments

Tue, May 22, 2012 Lori Hampton Roads

What about proposals where you're not allowed to use figures or tables? Those are always the most challenging ones!!!

Mon, May 21, 2012 Mariano Tellarini

I agree, the fate of your proposal will probably be decided within the first ten minutes of its review. During that time, there’s just enough time to look for 3 things: Responsiveness; Well-known, reputable names (will add value to your bid by association) and Charm (irrational love at first sight). a) Proposal structure: Maintain a complete alignment with the RFP’s instructions. Someone within the capture team -that is not the writer- should be the champion of this decisive task. b) Partnerships: Add muscle and recognition to your bid. If you are a small business and you are competing for either an IDIQ, a task or delivery order, it would be much harder to initially reject a proposal that has the implicit acknowledgement of market leaders. c) Charm. Unfortunately, beauty is hard to decode as it is subjective to the eyes of the viewer. A fancy chart, graph or table could not necessarily accomplish the “charm” factor.

Thu, May 17, 2012 Chuck Colton

Bob is absolutely on target with his insights and suggestions. I tell my clients that that as hard as proposal writing may seem, reviewing them can be even more daunting. In addition to insuring that their messaging is in alignment with a winning strategy, when I review their proposals I look for a responsive easily reviewable document.

Thu, May 17, 2012 Julie Wickert Austin, TX

I appreciate getting the point of view of the evaluator, having never been on that side of the table. This article sheds new light on the importance of graphics and layout--two semi-blind spots for this narrative-oriented writer!

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