Why key personnel matter

A photo illustration of people working together.

A photo illustration of people working together. gettyimages.com/courtneyk

People and relationships are often the deciding factor when you are locked into a tight competition, so you need to know your customer well and the problem they need solved.

Key personnel are often (and should be) one of the top evaluation criteria in a services solicitation. They are even more important on bids that require oral presentations.

There have been cases where a company won a competitive bid at orals after having been number two or three in the technical evaluation. This is critical if you are a small company going up against larger companies with the ability and resources to write more outstanding proposals.

In other words, a few solid key personnel who are liked by the client can seize the day.

Of course, this means you have to know your customer. If key personnel matter, you need to know that -- and you need to know why. Otherwise, you can’t propose a good match/fit.

Companies have won bids with key personnel who had relatively weak resumes but were really liked by the client. This speaks to the fact that the ideal key personnel are known, trusted, and respected by the customer.

This means you have introduced them prior to the RFP being released. Or, they are already known from prior work you have performed at this agency. Or, you have hired them away from an incumbent contractor or on a contingent basis.

If a relationship with a target client already exists, you might pick it back up with the next opportunity. If it doesn’t exist yet, you need to establish it, if possible, well before the solicitation.

Try “Hey, government CO or PM, we’re planning on bidding XYZ opportunity and have someone in mind I think would be a good fit. I’d like you to meet him/her.” Then continue to find or create new opportunities with this prospect to grow the relationship.

No matter how desired or qualified your key personnel are, they must be willing to be bid in the proposal and be available upon award. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, some services contractors got a well-deserved reputation for the unethical practice of bait and switch. They bid Mary knowing that she would not be available and so delivered John upon award. Fortunately, there seems to be less of this.

Still, there are occasions where the time between proposal submittal and government evaluation and award is so protracted that some of the people you bid are no longer available. In this case, anything goes!

No matter how great your key personnel, you still have to remember to write to win. The resume might be compliant with the RFP, but you won’t win on that alone. What is it about the individual that specifically makes them a good fit? Were they recognized as a steady influence on their last stressful contract? Did they communicate well with multiple stakeholders?

Once you know, you can incorporate it into the resume and also treat it as a proposal theme. You can emphasize steadiness, stakeholder engagement, or whatever it is, throughout the technical and management approach. Plus, discuss it in the cost volume as an additional benefit.

Finally, companies have to decide between giving the customer what they say they want and what they really need. Unfortunately, there is still pressure on many agency buyers to award to the lowest price, sometimes barely technically credible bidder. And, because of their skills and seniority, key personnel often have salaries at the higher end of their pay range. This means winning contractors must balance the staffing mix to achieve a more competitive price while still managing to deliver on the contract.

This is another reason to know your customer well, know exactly what customer itch your resume scratches, and foster a relationship of trust. Or make the wiser decision just to no bid. This beats failing to perform, underperforming, or losing money every option period you do perform!

A (usually) retired but still writer and musician, Mike Lisagor is the founder of CelerityWorks.com and a co-founder of GovFlex.com. His books include How to Win in the Government Market (with Mark Amtower), The Essential Guide to Managing a Government Project, and How to Develop a Winning SBIR Proposal (with Eric Adolphe).

Lou Kerestesy gets leaders and teams on the same page for better results. His philosophy is that work is hard enough but working together shouldn’t be. Check out www.DealingWithDifferences.com for more.