Well-constructed written proposals are a substantial investment in time and resources. This means committing to a thorough process, communicating closely with your subject-matter experts (SMEs) and subcontractors to collect data, and employing strict attention to detail in how you respond to the Government’s requirements.
Every part of an RFP deserves consideration as you map out your content. For example, the Background and Introduction portions of a Request for Proposal (RFP) are typically infused with buzzwords the Agency should recognize immediately when scanning your technical response. Additionally, these sections contain valuable clues about how you can integrate strategy into your approach. Opportunities to outsmart your competitor are abundant if you commit to this mindset.
Before you begin drafting volumes, it’s critical to conduct research on the contract’s history, the incumbent contractor (if applicable), and the Agency’s strategic plan. If you cannot demonstrate understanding of and alignment with the Government’s objectives in your writing—and make it clear you have tailored an approach that minimizes risk, reduces costs, and drives efficiencies—your competitor who invests in doing so may produce a response that is much more compelling to source selection.
Though every opportunity is unique and every proposal should be tailored accordingly, there are some guidelines that can help take guesswork out of the proposal-writing process:
• Create a detailed compliance matrix and content map. Your content map provides placeholders for requirements and key strategic points, and it follows the numbering conventions of the RFP. Each section of the Statement of Work (SOW) should be clearly identified and explained. Do not leave the Agency puzzled by how your headings align with the RFP.
• Work backwards from the Evaluation Criteria. If you were to choose one section of the RFP to continuously reference in the writing process, choose the Evaluation Criteria. Focusing too much on the submission instructions alone may cause you to overlook key elements of what the Agency is actually looking for as they evaluate your offer. Pointed responses to the Evaluation Criteria should be clear throughout your technical volumes—an effort that will possibly benefit you if you find yourself involved in a bid protest.
• Show, don’t tell. Particularly if your contract is performance-based, it’s highly recommended that you write predominantly in the future tense. Tell the Government how you will perform the contract and how you continuously improve your processes. Example: if you’re describing your successful past performance, focus on how “reach-back” will produce outcomes in the future tense. In other words, detail why your past successes are relevant and of specific value to the contract.
• Outline risks and mitigation strategies. The Government will search for holes in your approach. How will you adjust to surges or unexpected scope increases? What’s the plan if you experience a cybersecurity threat, or a natural disaster? Do you have an alternate program manager? Do you periodically retrain staff? Can you recover from the loss of a key subcontractor? Will you protect budgets and deliverables? Can you describe a plan for meeting/exceeding quality expectations, and alignment with the Government’s Quality Assurance Surveillance Plan (QASP)?
• Accuracy is king. Anticipate a very literal evaluation of your writing. Semantic errors, inconsistencies, or vague or ambiguous phrasing could result in the Agency questioning your knowledge and understanding of the SOW. Sections where this occurs may be dubbed as “erroneous,” resulting in weaknesses or deficiencies that could remove you from the competitive range.
• Schedule adequate time for internal quality control. Pack in at least one day to conduct a cross-check of your response against your compliance matrix and the RFP. Make sure you did not skip or alter requirements. Make sure your graphics and charts don’t improperly substitute written narrative. Put yourself in the Government’s shoes, and evaluate your narrative with a critical eye. Identify weak areas, then hold a strategy session with your team to explore solutions.
The onus of cost credibility lies with the offeror in the written proposal. The strength of your approach is critical. You may be technically capable, but you also must produce a specific solution that is clearly communicated in writing. Focus on demonstrating your differentiators in the future tense, and, as you draft, always keep your attention on what will be most relevant to and of best value for the future of the Agency.