Proposal Responses and the Human Element

Responding to Requests for Proposals (RFPs) to win contracts with the federal government is an ongoing effort for businesses and entrepreneurs involved with federal contracting. And keeping pace with the ever-changing and dynamic environment poses unique challenges that entrepreneurs need to be ready for so that they can respond quickly and win.

But some small businesses are juggling so many tasks, from day-to-day operations to recruiting and hiring, that developing a solid proposal response system falls by the wayside. Coupled with not having a clear image of the audience in mind, small businesses can struggle to successfully win these contracts. I’d like to present some basic information about the proposal process, including team members and roles, and offer some guidance on how to overlay the human element into this process, which will lead to successful contract engagement. So here we go.

The proposal team members and their responsibilities are as follows:

  1. Capture Manager: together with its team, is accountable for business development methodologies and once an opportunity is identified capture information needed to support development of a winning proposal.
  2. Proposal Manager: coordinates the proposal plan and controls proposal coordinators and production managers.
  3. Proposal Coordinator: administers proposal processes by ensuring high-quality configuration management.
  4. Subject Matter Experts: improve the quality of a proposal by providing specialized expertise and proposal input.
  5. Technical Writers: write the content and define illustrations to be used in the proposal.
  6. Review Team: members of this team are assigned different sections of the proposal to review at designated times. 
  7. Graphic Artists: design proposal illustrations and integrates them into the final proposal.
  8. Desktop Publishers: ensure that formats and typographic styles are compliant with the RFP instructions.

After a proposal opportunity has been identified and a bid decision is made the capture manager hands off the leadership of the proposal development to the proposal manager. He or she then assembles the proposal team and with the help of the proposal coordinator develops a detailed schedule that clearly identifies important milestones key to completing the proposal in time to meet the submittal requirement.

The Human Element Strategy

It’s important to address the critical step of motivating the proposal team at the outset. By doing so, you can ensure that everyone has a helping-one-another mindset and the RFP will be created with the right readers in mind. Remember, you must get inside the head of the proposal evaluators and be sure that you meet their needs.

Remember, you must get inside the head of the proposal evaluators and be sure that you meet their needs. Click To Tweet

It starts with the company leadership supporting the capture and proposal managers and the coordinator, helping them address the following questions:

1.  Who is this potential client?

2.  What do they do?

3.  What is their mission and vision?

4.  What are the client’s “hot buttons”? What challenges are they facing that caused them to release the RFP in the first place?

This process leads into defining a set of “one-liner” themes that will get woven into every volume of the proposal.

The Process

Prior to holding the proposal kickoff meeting the company leadership meets with the capture manager and proposal manager. During this meeting the capture manager shares everything they’ve learned about the potential customer. The capture manager further shares that there will be a customer proposal evaluation team and it will be important to identify and profile the evaluation team and its leadership, which provides the proposal writers insight so their response can hit the prospective client’s “hot buttons” at every opportunity.  

At the kickoff meeting, the proposal manager shares all of the information they have learned. Then the group boils that down to the theme statements that the writers will ultimately internalize leading them to work those themes into the writing where possible. 

One of the success keys to this proposal team meeting is for the group to study the RFP proposal instruction section and internalize what is critical to digesting the evaluation criteria section. This leads to refining the theme development activity.

Be advised: In the development of proposal themes, write down a few lengthy statements that can literally be copied into the text, but not so long that they can’t be easily internalized by the “technical” writers. Keep them simple and pointed as possible.  

An Example

Let’s say the client here is a government program office responsible for upgrading an important weapon system that has aged and is not serving our men and women in uniform well when they’re counting on this system to successfully support their defending our nation in critical engagements. A typical US Army weapon system program office is almost always led by a uniformed officer—a Bird Colonel and possibly a full General Officer. 

If you want to find a potential client that’s passionate about his troops and making sure the program office is providing them with what they need to complete a critical mission successfully THEY’RE IT. You see where I’m going with this. 

The theme statements could read as follows:

  1. “Our company’s weapons development approach has been assuring our troops are equipped with leading-edge tactical systems that protect them and assure success. Our track record for doing that well will be key to our upgrade plan for your [system name].”
  1. Then give an example of a similar successful system upgrade your business performed in an earlier contract. These are important “substantiation” statements that get scored high by the proposal evaluators. 
  1. Other shorter theme statements include: “our troop-friendly systems assure . . .” and “In systems upgrade projects similar to yours we have successfully . . .” 

The human element strategy here has to do with getting inside the evaluator’s head as you write content that will move him or her to realize that you see and understand their problem and that you are excited about supporting their system upgrade. Ideally, this leads them to give you a 10 on that proposal section.

Keep working with your proposal team throughout the response effort and apply these human element themes on top of the typical strong technical solutions you bring to the potential client and the result will be a set of scores that add up to a WIN. 

What has been your experience with writing RFP responses? How do you incorporate the evaluator’s mindset into your content? Feel free to comment below.