By Global Services on October 1, 2023
Proposals are complex and time-consuming. However, writing a compliant proposal is critically important. As Fiscal Year 2024 kicks off, many companies are reviewing how to improve their proposal development for this new year. Here are 6 fundamental areas proposals tend to fail.
1. NONCOMPLIANT PROPOSALS
Proposals are packed with very discrete instructions that must be followed precisely. There are strict rules on a compliant proposal. Many contractors overlook the importance of checking the boxes. Even though some instructions might seem benign, to a contracting officer, these instructions are just the first step in evaluating successful bids. Many contractors get the big instructions, but omit or don’t include the smaller ones. For instance, the difference between font size for the text versus font size for graphics might not be the same. The whole document might be set to Times New Roman 11 point font as required—except for some graphics in Arial 9 point. It’s a small, easy-to-overlook noncompliance—and it’s enough to get your proposal rejected. To avoid this issue, make sure you have a process to track requirements and have multiple detail-oriented people review the document for any noncompliance, no matter how small.
2. PROPOSALS THAT ARE ALL PROOF POINTS AND NO SPECIFIC APPROACH
Past performance and listing past successes is not an approach to how your team is going to handle the project at hand. In an effort to show that they have deep expertise in their field, many proposal teams will fill their proposals with lists of the various projects where they’ve done similar work before. This information is necessary, but it isn’t sufficient. Your proposal needs to explain HOW you will do the work for this new customer, in a step-by-step fashion. It’s not enough to say “we’ve done it before, and we will do it again.” Balance who reviews your submission between Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) and non technical people to get a grounded perspective. The outside perspective from non-SMEs is often illuminating: something that’s clear to SMEs who are fully immersed in the field may not be clear to someone outside it. Since many of the Government evaluators reviewing your submission will not be SMEs, it’s important to identify and correct anything that’s unclear or any steps that are glossed over.
3. NOT ENOUGH PROPOSAL PROOF POINTS
Same as the above point but in the opposite spectrum. Teams might lay out the best approach for this project, but without proof points of how this approach worked previously or successes before, a contracting officer might not give you the benefit of the doubt. An effective proposal needs to include both.
4. NOT DEMONSTRATING CUSTOMER INTIMACY
Generalities in proposals are a quick way to be sent to the proposal discard pile. Real people are reviewing proposals, which means the agency they are at is the focal point of their attention. Demonstrate your knowledge of your target agency’s goals, needs, and how your approach will drive value to them and their unique challenges. Often, proposal writers will articulate a clear understanding of and approach to the technical requirements of the solicitation, but will do so in a way that could apply to any customer anywhere. To avoid this issue, it’s important first of all to establish the level of customer intimacy that will give you access to this knowledge. That information-gathering process begins long before the proposal is ever released; it’s an ongoing effort spearheaded by the Capture Manager / Business Development (BD) Lead, who communicates it to the Proposal Manager and lead writers for inclusion in the proposal.
5. WALLS OF TEXT
A picture is worth a thousand words. When Contracting Officers are reviewing proposals, they are reviewing dozens of proposals and it isn’t surprising that your proposal might get drowned out from the bunch. Proposal page limits are almost always restrictive, and in an effort to fit all the required information into the limits, writers may end up with huge, difficult-to-read walls of text. No matter how good your content is, if it gets skimmed over, it won’t help you win. Next time, try to visualize and capture your key points in an infographic or visually impactful way to break up the monotony of text walls.
6. UNINFORMATIVE PROPOSAL GRAPHICS
Visuals are great. They can be tremendously impactful to setting your proposal apart. That being said, graphics call a lot of attention to themselves: for an evaluator wading through hundreds or thousands of proposal pages, a graphic may be the only item in a given section that sticks out in their mind. If the graphic is extraneous or confusing, that will be what they remember about your proposal. Use visuals that are straightforward and immediately impactful to your reader to limit confusion and complement the rest of your proposal.
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