What makes your bid a winner or a loser?

When the government evaluates your proposals, it is looking for your strengths, and your technical approach is just as important, if not more, than how well written your proposal is.

I was asked to review a major best-value bid for a firm that was notified they had lost and wanted to protest.

Emotions were running high, and they were making all sorts of allegations about the government not wanting them to win. I asked to see their debriefing file, and what I discovered was surprising—at least to me.

Like many companies, they failed to understand why companies lose and what it takes to win.

Why do you write proposals?

Always remember that proposals are written for one purpose—to convey the information the government evaluators need to select your company over others in the competition. Proposals are not written to show the government how smart you are or to brag about your company history. They are not written to showcase your team members or to boast about your world-class best practices.

Proposals are written to score “points” with the evaluators.

When evaluators tally your “points,” they are generally not talking about a numerical score, but instead the number of strengths and weaknesses they give your proposal when they read and score it.

The real purpose of your proposal is to convey your strengths to the evaluation team and show that your offer has no weaknesses.

Strengths are features in your proposal that either increase the likelihood of successful contract performance or offer to exceed a contract requirement in a way that is beneficial to the government. Some RFPs define additional characteristics for strengths, but in general, this is a pretty good definition for a proposal evaluation strength.

For features to be scored as strengths, they need to be unique to your proposal or unique to several proposals because if every bidder proposes the same feature, then that feature will not be scored as a strength.

Your job as a capture manager and/or proposal manager is to ensure your proposal is rich in strengths and that each of your strengths gets conveyed clearly to the evaluation committee, who will in turn brief those strengths to the source selection official (SSO).

To have a winning proposal, you must do more than just respond to the proposal instructions and evaluation criteria. Your proposal must be compelling—rich in strengths—and have no weaknesses.

Picking the losers

I have always maintained that the government picks losers first, and the last bidder left standing is the winner in the source selection process. Here’s how it works.

The proposal evaluation team briefs the SSO on the strengths, weaknesses, deficiencies, and price of each offer. Some agencies include significant strengths and significant weaknesses in the briefing. With this information, the SSO performs an independent determination of which offer represents the best value to the government and documents these findings in the contract file.

In practice, the SSO eliminates offers from further consideration based on their deficiencies, weaknesses, lack of strengths, and price. If your bid has one or more deficiencies, it is game over. Your bid is set aside as a loser, and you lost in the SSO’s first evaluation pass.

If your proposal has no deficiencies, but has multiple weaknesses not offset by multiple strengths, you will be in the next round of losers selected. If your proposal has no deficiencies or weaknesses, but has fewer strengths compared to other bidders, you will be next in line as a loser.

If your price is too high, you will be moved to the next group of losers. After all, there is price above which the government will not pay no matter how good your proposal is.

This process of selecting losers continues until only a few bidders are left in the race. At this point, the SSO may look beyond the number of strengths. The SSO examines the merit of each strength, and compares the value of these strengths and your bid price with other finalists.

Bidders continue to be deselected until just one bidder remains. In the final analysis, the last bidder left standing is the winner.

Disgruntled bidder

The proposal that I reviewed was clearly a loser in spite of being well written and having no deficiencies. As we would say in the trade of writing professional proposals, it was compliant and responsive.

What it lacked was a compelling technical approach. The disgruntled bidder scored only two strengths in their technical approach, while other bidders scored eight to ten strengths in the same sections.

I told the disgruntled bidder they failed to engineer evaluation strengths into their technical approach, and that is what cost them the win.

A sound technical approach with no weaknesses is necessary, but not sufficient to win. They now understand that they have to outscore their competitors, and in the end, it is all about evaluation strengths.