Proposal Evaluation: How Final Decisions Are Made

Defense wins in the National Football League and it wins in government proposal writing. You must write proposals with a goal of avoiding elimination while at the same time writing a customer-centric proposal. Understanding how agencies evaluate proposals is an essential element in successful proposal writing. Create proposals with a mindset that you are going to make the evaluator's job easy. Give the proposal evaluator the help he or she needs to score your proposal high. Many people new to government contracting write their proposals to win. However, with respect to the government market, your company should write its proposals not to lose.

Those evaluating submitted proposals, usually the agency's contracting officers, must wade through a large pile of documents (often as many as twenty or more) and score them against a set of published criteria. Contrary to what you might think, the evaluators don't read through the proposals, pick the most stellar proposal and declare a winner. Instead, they score each proposal and compare total scores. A cutoff is then determined and those scoring below the cutoff point are eliminated from further consideration. In the eyes of the evaluators, they prefer that fewer companies make the first cut because it lessens their workload.

Following the first round of cuts, the contracting officers will sometimes contact the remaining qualified companies and ask them to strengthen their weakest points. Yes, you heard it right. They don't have to do so, but evaluators may give all qualified companies a shot at bettering their score.

In short, it's a process of elimination. The most successful proposals are those that were written with a defensive mindset. Don't try to hit homeruns. You won't win that way. Be consistent and cover all your bases. Focus on responding to the Request for Proposal completely and competently. It's far better to adequately respond in full rather than to nail some points brilliantly at the expense of others. If you miss on one part of the proposal, you have handed the evaluator an excuse to eliminate your company.

Tips to Writing Defensively

  • Provide the evaluators with summaries. Begin with an executive summary and include summaries at the beginning of each section. Your section summaries should outline your creative ideas and solutions. Keep in mind that summaries, section headings, diagrams, and checklists are very valuable tools to promote understanding and highlight your proposal's strengths.
  • Provide cross-references to other parts of your proposal. These matrices assist the reader in negotiating through the proposal and also demonstrate that you have provided all of the requested information in your document.
  • Don't boast. Instead, make simple declarative statements about your company, your capabilities and your personnel. Back up each statement with verifiable evidence -- e.g., references to past performance, staff accomplishments, etc. Don't make promises without specifics on how you plan to keep those promises.
  • Present the readers with the information they requested in the RFP, not the information you have decided is best for them.
  • Identify your strengths and weaknesses and those of your competitors. Offset your competitors' strengths and exploit their weaknesses.
  • Present the evidence that your supporters on the evaluation committee need to justify their scoring of your proposal. Again, make their job simple.
  • Don't hide your weaknesses. Instead, address them head on and attempt to negate them as much as possible.

Writing defensively does not mean that you don't have to be creative as well. Successful proposals are written from the customer's perspective. Your task is to demonstrate that your business truly understands the customer's needs and is uniquely qualified to provide the solutions that the customer believes are the answer to his or her problems. Therefore, you must get to know the customer in order to fulfill the aforementioned objectives.

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