Hear from the experts on winning proposals.
What was your PWIN on the last government contract you won? Have you ever stopped to consider what factored into that decision? Maybe you submitted the best of many bad proposals. Conversely, when you haven’t won, have you assessed your company’s performance to find out why that happened? Maybe you submitted a great proposal but lost for another reason.
With these questions in mind, we prepared an in-depth seven article series on improving your probability of winning (PWIN) government contracts. This week, we’ll go over performing federal contract proposal assessments, and areas you can focus on to improve your proposals’ performance.
If you need a refresher on what a proposal is and why it’s so critical to your success, you should read an article we wrote a few months ago called What is a Proposal, The Art of Persuasion.
Assess Your Proposal PWIN
We noted in last week’s blog post about the common mistakes we see in federal contracting companies’ capability statements, including recycling the same bad habits over and over. For this same reason, you should reassess your proposals looking for areas for improvement as your company matures and gains experience.
When we assess a company’s proposal, we find that opportunities for improvement fall into one of six categories:
When your proposal is poorly organized, the government evaluators have a difficult time judging compliance, much less the merits of your technical solution, which will keep you from attaining a maximum score. Your proposal should be organized to match the government evaluators’ checklists so they don’t have to search for key information. However, compliance only gets your proposal a “D”.
Compliant but Not Compelling
You might have checked off all of the requirements, but:
- Is your proposal persuasive?
- Are your customer’s hot buttons addressed for this specific statement of work?
- Does it clearly explain the benefits of your technical approach to a non-technical person?
- Does it provide compelling past performance that convinces the evaluators you have done this before and that you can do it again?
Many times the answer is no.
Unattractive Visual Appearance
First impressions are critical in the world of government contracting, and you don’t get do-overs. By submitting a visually unattractive proposal, the evaluators will look at the distasteful appearance and make the logical leap that this is representative of the quality of the work they should expect from your company. Conversely, in very tight competitions, attractive visual appearance with modern graphics and an effective layout may make the difference between a win and a loss.
Ineffective Content Presentation
Content that is presented poorly throughout your proposal mentally exhausts the proposal evaluator. When content is presented inconsistently, evaluators are unable to establish a consistent rhythm as they read through your proposal. While thinking about what your proposal means for them, they are interrupted by a bullet that is not parallel in structure or a graphic that is misaligned. You should display your content in an easily digestible and consistent format, allowing the reader to establish patterns and expecting certain information at certain times.
Improper Language and Voice
Have you considered what the language, tone, and voice of your proposal should be? You should write your proposals to people, not the void called the government. The language you use should be personal, in a warm tone, without being overly familiar, bureaucratic or impersonal. Much of the improper language and voice comes from dense sentences with excessive technical jargon and acronyms. You should write your management proposals at the 10th-grade reading level and your technical proposals at the 12th-grade reading level.
Poor editing and proofreading will leave your proposal with typos and grammar mistakes. Evaluators will notice these when they review your proposal. You communicate to evaluators that your company doesn’t pay attention to detail and doesn’t care about quality when you submit a proposal with typos and grammar errors. Everything about your proposal communicates something to your government clients, even if it’s subconsciously. Just like when evaluating resumes, we throw out the ones we don’t want to read based on a glance. Don’t cause your government customers to toss out your proposal after a glance.
Fixing 3 Real Life Federal Contract Proposal Examples to Improve PWIN
Let’s walk through extractions from three GovCon proposal examples, and examine their weaknesses. People often find it easier to spot the mistakes in others’ work, but this exercise will help you spot areas of improvement in your own proposals too.
Example 1: No Highlighting of Keywords or Strengths
Take a look at the image below. What do you notice about it?
If you immediately felt overwhelmed by the lines of text here, then you understand the primary issue. You can’t easily scan the text, and MEGO (My Eyes Glaze Over) syndrome starts to happen. No one can easily digest this text, and the monotony is mind-numbing.
Make sure to highlight your company’s strength in some way, including bolding the text. Don’t forget that evaluators must assess multiple proposals, not just yours. A word of caution though, bolding in proposals is like perfume or cologne, it’s easy to have too much.
Example 2: Funky or Unprofessional Graphics
What is wrong with this graphic? Take a moment and try to take it all in.
First things first, take a second look at that distorted photo. The proportions are all off. Tip: Only adjust photo size by adjusting the corners of a photo and never the sides. Never sacrifice photo clarity for a bigger picture either. If you need a bigger picture, but your selected photo becomes distorted in any way, then pick a new higher-quality photo.
Don’t include outdated text shading or clip art in your proposals. Use professionally and tastefully done drawings instead. You also shouldn’t mix raster (photos) and vector (drawings) images in the same graphic. Stick to one or the other for a clean presentation.
Finally, these sorts of graphics missteps don’t present your company as an innovative, 21st-century entity bursting with new ideas and creative solutions. You must line up your proposals with your brand and image.
Example 3: Poor Language
Let’s take a look at the sort of language you shouldn’t include in your proposals:
“Our team’s seasoned instructional design team will advise the government regarding the advantages and disadvantages of each option based upon the stated learning objectives, intended audience, and delivery considerations.
Team Acme will leverage its vast experience to successfully complete this project on time and within budget.
Many of our proposed team members are recognized thought leaders in a wide range of relevant topics.”
The problem here is vague, approximate, and passive language. This language fills your proposal with meaningless phrases and misses the chance to tell the government about the great things your company and people have accomplished. Make sure to include measurable achievements that consistently weave a theme of success throughout your proposal.
Need to Learn More About GovCon Proposals?
Continuously evaluate your proposals’ quality. There is always room for improvement and many government resources such as the Defense Acquisition University. OST offers a course in our B&D Academy called “Writing Persuasive Federal Proposals”. You will learn how to create compliant and compelling proposals, and how to write in half the time.
Don’t leave your PWIN up to chance by not benchmarking your proposal against industry best practices and implementing continuous process improvements. Keep in mind, this article is the first in a series of seven. Subscribe to OST’s Turbo Charging Growth Newsletter if you haven’t already to make sure you don’t miss the other six methods of improving your government proposals’ Pwin.