OPINION

Do you know who's evaluating your bids?

One of the questions many government contractors ask themselves before deciding whether or not to pursue an opportunity is this: “Do we know who will evaluate the bid?”

The decision on which company to select is almost never a one-person activity. It’s just about always a committee decision.

There’s a lot of mythology in government contracting, and one of the myths you hear about most often is “the customer loves my company.” It’s also almost never true. If the evaluation is by a committee, and you’ve ever participated in a committee, you already know this. The old adage that a camel is a horse that was designed by a committee says a lot about the evaluation process.

When somebody tells you “the customer loves my company,” the truth is most often something more like “one member of the source selection committee loves my company.” The rest of the five or six people who comprise the committee either don’t have a strong pre-formed opinion, or they don’t care which company wins. In fact, they’re probably chosen for the committee because they represent the variety of the stakeholders.

To say they don’t care who wins perhaps overstates the issue. Most long-term government employees are patriotic people who really want to do a good job and make their mortgage payments and get promotions and raises. They want to make good decisions that will result in good government.

So they read diligently through all of the proposals submitted. They won’t put their career or their professional reputation at risk by picking an obviously incompetent bidder.

But the truth is, most of the proposals submitted are prepared by proposal professionals, and they’re all pretty good—maybe even more or less equal.

So, if there’s one guy on the source selection committee who has a favorite before he walks in the room, and if that guy is recognized as a good performer by his peers, and if he’s outgoing and articulate enough to express his views, and if his opinions are respected, sure, there’s a chance he will influence votes on the committee.

Assuming, of course, that the proposal that the favorite son company submitted is good enough to justify it. Remember, the other members on the committee aren’t going to put their professional reputations at risk to vote for a significantly lower quality proposal.

And then there’s price. In a best value procurement, the source selection committee isn’t supposed to think about price.  (Remember how the proposal instructions had you put the pricing information in a separate volume and package it separately from the rest of the proposal.)

The source selection committee evaluates the proposals for their non-price qualities. After that’s done, the non-price score is balanced against the price. If the proposal that was scored highest is also lowest price, it’s a slam dunk.

Life isn’t often that simple, though. The concept of best value means that the government is willing to pay more for a better solution. But, how much more?

If the best proposal based on the non-price factors is double the price of the second best, and particularly if the best proposal is only a little better than the second best, the best probably won’t win.

Best value means that the government is willing to pay more, but not a lot more. And the size of the difference in the non-price scores figures into the equation, too.  But, after all is said and done, if the government pays more than 10% more to get the better solution, it’s an unusual day.

So, one member of the source selection committee liked a particular company, there is a chance that he can influence the other members. Maybe. More likely he can help them get evaluated a little bit higher than they would have without his help.

And if he is successful, that company may not win anyway—they may lose on price.

To get back to where we started; “Do we know who will evaluate the bid?” 

It’s certainly helpful to know if there is an engineer on the source selection committee who can understand and translate highly technical parts of the proposal so that the laymen on the committee can understand them. And it’s great to know that your company has a friend on the committee who will advocate for your company.

And it may be useful to know that your competitor has a friend on the committee who will advocate for your competitor.

But none of this is definitive. On any given day, any company can write a bad proposal—one that can’t win.

If you know who’s on the committee, maybe you can tailor what you write to his preferences. Maybe he will help you get a marginally higher non-price score. 

Maybe you can tell your competitors how well you know him and scare a few of them out of bidding, which may increase your win probability.

Everything additional you know about the procurement is going to increase your win probability.

But not by very much.

About the Authors

Dennis Lucey is vice president of Qivliq Federal Group.

Gary Shumaker is president and chief operating officer of C2 Solutions Group.

Reader Comments

Thu, Apr 2, 2015 Mel Ostrow

Conventional wisdom turned into a confusing mishmash full of a lot hunches and guesses. This kind of advice was in vogue beginning 30-40 years ago in this business. But the business has changed. Authors don't seem concerned with the actual eval criteria or proposal tradecraft. Many proposal "consultants" provide little or no value, and some will make you lose. Steer clear of such street talk.

Wed, Apr 1, 2015

I am dismayed, and a little shocked, by the statement "Maybe you can tell your competitors how well you know him and scare a few of them out of bidding..." That statement, naïve at best, ignorant at worst, is what exacerbates the distance many federal procurement professionals want to keep between themselves and suppliers.

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