GUEST BLOG: 5 Mistakes Companies Make on Proposals

February 3, 2020

Practice Area: Government Contracts Law

Guest Blogger: Reena BhatiaProposalHelper
Contributors: Robert Tucker, ProposalHelper and Meryl Angelicola, ProposalHelper

Less than a decade ago, the ratio of contracts to proposals was 1:4. The ratio is now around 1:27. With stakes this high and increasingly limited access to government stakeholders for any real capture, here is a list of five common mistakes government contractors should avoid on proposals.

  1. Proposal Library Pastes

We understand the adage “don’t reinvent the wheel.” But every proposal is built on a specific bid strategy, and the content needs to be more than a copy/paste job from previous proposals. This is not limited to the technical approach section—even the company’s management approach, staffing approach, approach to transition, and other sections should be based on a bid strategy specific to the opportunity. The bid response strategy needs to be communicated across the entire writing team, even if they start with previous content. If you must find inspiration from your previous proposals, there are fantastic tools on the market that leverage machine learning to search through previous proposals and suggest relevant content. Creating proposal libraries by shredding submitted proposals is a thing of the past.

  1. Not Providing a Specific Approach to Customer Problems

Many contractors view proposals as just about their company. A proposal is actually an opportunity to impress the customer and demonstrate your capability by clearly and succinctly articulating a plan that addresses agency needs. Introduce your company and your capabilities briefly, but always remember to give the customer meaningful ideas, suggestions, and approaches to solve their problem.

We have two tips to help address customer problems in your proposal.

    1. Before submitting your next proposal, count the number of times you mention the customer’s name and the number of times you mention your company’s name. If your company’s name outnumbers the customer’s name, the proposal has just become all about you.
    1. Read through your approach section(s) and ask yourself: “how?” You should also find your value proposition by asking yourself: “so what?” Answering the “how?” and “so what?” questions successfully improves your chance of winning.
  1. Pricing Procrastination

Many companies leave pricing until the last step in the proposal process. As soon as the RFP is released, companies often focus on technical volumes, and pricing feels like a secondary activity. In fact, it is hard to get the pricing team involved in bid strategy discussions or even kickoff meetings, and the pricing team rarely participates in technical reviews to know what is being proposed. This frequently creates a problem in proposals—a disconnect between technical and price volumes.

We have two tips to avoid creating a gap between your technical approach and pricing.

    1. Do not stop your bid strategy planning at just articulating the technical approach. It needs to continue all the way through articulating the pricing strategy. Come up with the project organizational structure as part of the bid strategy and ensure all volumes stick to the established organizational structure and LCATs from start to finish. If one side makes a change, such as adding a new LCAT or reducing the number of hours to meet a target price, the other side must know the reason and impact.
    1. Pricing should be part of regular reviews, not separate from technical reviews. Companies use all sorts of separate color team reviews to go over pricing and often do not include technical writers in those reviews. Additionally, technical writers must be involved in the pricing reviews, so they can catch disconnects between their approach and what the company plans to charge the government.
  1. ‘Gold Team Executives’—Last-Minute Intervention

A couple of days before the proposal is due, when changes and issues are most difficult to address, business owners will sometimes begin reinventing the entire bid strategy. This puts the proposal team in the position of having to rewrite all the sections that were already approved during previous review cycles.

There are two points in the proposal process when the executive signing off on the proposal must be involved.

    1. They need to make time to sit in at the beginning on the bid strategy discussion with the capture and proposal team. During this meeting, they should listen carefully to the plan(s) for tackling the proposal sections as well as the high-level approach. This is the point when executives most need to speak up and share their ideas and guidance. The approved bid strategy should then be discussed with the team during a kickoff meeting. Unless there is earth-shattering new intelligence on the bid, there should not be changes, and everyone should know what to expect in the proposal, regardless of the review stage.
    1. The executive must also be involved during the second review (Red Team) phase. This review happens sufficiently in advance of the proposal due date to allow the team to pivot, make significant changes, and filter the changes throughout the technical and cost proposals.

If the executive is involved at these early stages, the final review should not come as a surprise and should only have minimal changes.

  1. Bootstrapping

Every government contractor knows that proposals are not optional. The cost involved in writing a proposal should be planned and budgeted. Most companies are good about planning their bid and proposal budget but end up spending most of it on business development consultants and capture consultants. When it comes time to write a proposal, they try to bootstrap the process by pulling in senior executives and billable staff. While these team members are not off limits, is it the best use of resources for them to work on proposals? If the proposal process in your company feels a constant crisis mode, it is time to hire a team of professionals to focus on building this part of your business. Don’t bootstrap the most important and critical step for turning months of hard work into revenue.

Just like managing projects, building a proposal requires different skill sets. Proposal managers, proposal coordinators, graphic designers, editors, writers, solution architects, pricing analysts, price-to-win experts, desktop publishers, and more—everything that goes into building a winning proposal is the culmination of different skill sets. Proposals also involve contracts and legal matters which require experts to help you understand your risks and mitigate them before submitting the bid. Having one single person do it all might save you costs in the short run, but it will jeopardize your business growth. Remember, there is a contract with revenue at the end of this particular journey.

Hiring a team of experts does not have to cost any more than hiring a single consultant. With the right business consulting partner, you can have an entire team of resources with specialized skills in every step of the way.

There are many other pitfalls to avoid in proposals, but the above should make every proposal team’s list. For government contractors, proposals are essential to business and growth. As with any venture, it is vital that you have the right team for support while remaining mindful of innovative solutions to keep overhead costs low.

About the author and contributors: ProposalHelper is a full-service business and proposal management solutions company. Reena Bhatia is the CEO of ProposalHelper with more than 25 years’ experience in public and commercial sector solutions. Robert Tucker, Senior Proposal Manager and Meryl Angelicola, Proposal Coordinator at ProposalHelper regularly help clients build winning proposals.

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