Winning Government Work
By Michelle Collins | March 31, 2003
So you've decided that you'd like to have the government as a client. How can you convince the people who are buying that they absolutely need your product or service? By writing a killer proposal that blows the competition away.
If you have done marketing in the past you know that initial contact is important. The same principles apply when you're looking for government clients. Before a Request for Proposal (RFP) is issued you can gain an advantage by making yourself known to the Ministry you'd like to sell to.
“A lot of companies do targeted marketing. They go in and find out who are the people issuing RFP's and they talk to them and find out about the problems. They do a lot of pre-proposal work because once the RFP gets issued the ministry official can't talk to anybody. Most RFP's say that any contact has to be through a specific individual,” says Michael Asner, procurement consultant.
Set yourself apart
A promising relationship with your chosen Ministry is a good start but it alone will not win you a lucrative government contract. There are rules and regulations set down to make the bidding competition fair and open. Once an RFP is issued you now have the task of writing a winning proposal.
First of all you must fulfill all of the mandatory requirements outlined in the bidding documents. Pay particular attention to the scoring system. What are the factors are being scored and what is the value being placed on these factors? If project management is weighted as 40 per cent of the total score then you will want to ensure that you have addressed this area in each section of your response.
“You have to spend some time figuring out what the theme of your proposal is. What are you selling and how are you going to sell it? Are you selling on the basis of least cost, least risk, or best quality? You've got to make sure that you are differentiated in each section of the proposal.”
If you are a first time bidder you have to find a way to write a proposal that goes above and beyond the basic requirements found in the RFP. This becomes especially important if your competition includes a company that has had previous contracts with this Ministry. Asner points out that chances are good that the evaluators will gravitate towards the company that they are most comfortable or familiar with.
“Anything that lends strength to your proposal that makes you different from your competition that's bonafide is good. It's not that you have nicer paper than them, it's that you have something substantive on the ground,” says Asner.
Strengths can include things like case studies, access to leading experts, proprietary technology, or award-winning work.
You may read a bid document and know that you have the expertise to win that contract, yet there are some weaknesses in your organization that could prevent you from doing the job. Should you still respond? Yes, but not before you take measures to eliminate these gaps. This could mean hiring or subcontracting someone to fill a key position, or partnering with another company to share the contract duties.
“You should assume that the weak parts of your proposal are going to be known to the evaluators. You can't slip it by them, so to speak, you've got to deal with them.”
Remember the old adage less is more? It can easily be applied to writing an RFP. If you're an engineer used to dealing in highly technical language, perhaps you aren't the best person to be writing this document. If you want to keep the evaluator's attention your words need to be clear and succinct. Everything that you write needs to build your case.
“You've got to provide them with evidence through your words. But not words like “we are the best,” words like “we have 90 per cent of the market and here's a list of our customers in Appendix A.” Very specific facts that help prove your case.”
Using visuals such as graphics, charts, and diagrams can also provide you with an edge. Just remember that, like the words you use, these visuals must have a purpose.
“There's books written on the fact that people don't read text, they scan it. But they read captions for diagrams. There's a methodology that says you make long captions for diagrams. Instead of saying Figure One, you say Figure One: A demonstration of why our costing methodology gets you more value than our competitors.”
Asner feels that investing in one or several books on proposal writing is a good idea. If you're new to RFP's look for something that will provide you with general information. There are also books dedicated to particular sections of the RFP.
It is important to be meticulous in each area of your proposal. You may feel as if you are being repetitive or redundant. However, you can't assume that you can breeze through certain sections because the evaluator is already familiar with that aspect of your business. In fact including information in one section and skipping it in another can hurt you overall.
“People don't read proposals by starting at the beginning and going to the end. You may have a project management expert on the evaluation team. So that section is torn out and given to them. If you fail on project management, why read anything else? Vendors should assume that the worst and most difficult part of the proposal is the one that's going to be read first.”
After putting the time into creating your proposal the last thing that you want to do is to be knocked out of the competition because of some oversights. Before sending the RFP off make sure that you have had someone else read it over. Ask them to ensure that you have not only fulfilled the basic requirements outlined in the bid document but that it follows a logical sequence.