After reading about the recent ouster of several companies on the $20-billion NASA SEWP competition, I was reminded of some experiences I have had in my 30-plus years as a proposal manager. While the NASA SEWP example is about small businesses overlooking fundamental page count instructions, the mistakes that befall bidders are not limited to small companies. Large businesses make their share of mistakes that could be avoided mostly by working with a competent consultant. “The most expensive thing you can do is lose,” I often tell my clients. A few examples follow.
Compliance and Incumbency Arrogance: Some years ago, during my first week with a large Beltway contractor, I was asked to attend a “Lessons Learned” meeting after a big loss of one of its primary programs in a re-compete. After asking questions and listening for a half-hour, it became clear to me that this company had bid the job as they were operating it every day, and not by responding to the requirements as written in the solicitation. Result: Low score while other companies who knew less responded to the solicitation, including the winner. Moral: Don’t confuse doing the job with winning the job and ensure that you respond to the requirements whatever your program knowledge.
Small Business Graduation: Probably no other bidder needs assistance more than companies that have just graduated and now need to bid “Full and Open Competition.” One company I knew took this attitude by saying, “Oh, we are the agency’s darling – and they will hire us.” Well, as a small business, yes, you may be their darling; but now you are trying to win a major Beltway IDIQ or single-award bid where the competition is intense and the solicitation is under public scrutiny. Result: No agency will favor any one bidder, and in many cases company names are redacted until after award. Moral: You must compete scrupulously to win Full and Open competitions.
Proposal Process and Production Quality: I have seen so many failures of these two issues; it is hard to pick one. A typical manner in which OCI gets hired is after the bidder runs into trouble well into the proposal schedule and then shouts “HELP!” Process is vital to the delivery of a high quality proposal, and OCI uses a standard process, including the “Color Reviews” that drive compliance, content, and production. A proposal is a “marketing document” and its production should be treated as a statement of credibility and as an example of the quality of work after award. Result: Without process control and production quality, low win probabilities. Moral: Hire a competent consultancy to help keep you honest, on schedule, and compliant; maximizing the opportunity for winning.