7 Crucial Tips to Win Every Federal Proposal

  |  November 21, 2019

You’d think most companies have a bullet proof process for winning federal proposals.  Based on 30 years helping hundreds of customers, this is sadly not the case.

I am writing this article to provide 7 tips that will help large and small business overcome avoidable errors and win federal proposals.

1.   Find out what they really want.

It’s wonderful to first find a program in the Five-Year Plan and follow it all the way to bid stage, along the way building rapport with the stake holders.  Since that rarely happens, the question becomes, what is a more minimal approach that will still ensure a win?

The stock answer includes these items:

  1. Developing a solution that addresses the likes and dislikes of the Program Manager
  2. Finding out what they have to spend
  3. Learning enough about the evaluation and selection boards to neutralize problems and gain allies

If you dig deep enough and get to their core incentives, next steps come naturally.

2. The federal proposal is won and lost in the introduction.

You only get one chance to make a first impression, and this is in the introductory sections. This includes the Executive Summary as well as the intros to the different volumes and subsections.

If your introductory material is a success, the rest is easy.

The best practice for writing an effective introduction boils down to one simple piece of advice — use your clients’ words stating the problem.  Then summarize your solution, being careful to explain how it provides the most effective answer to their problem.  Be careful to write this and all other sections in your proposal NOT from your perspective but from the customer’s perspective.

3. Link sections C, L, and M to your winning story.

Persuasively linking your argument to C, L, and M is a difficult logical and rhetorical problem.  And many groups at large and small companies don’t do it well.

If your group doesn’t have a dedicated federal proposal planner, probably the most effective way to do it is for the Proposal Manager to facilitate planning sessions.  Your SMEs collaborate to develop a plan in which they outline the story as directed by section L but take account of Sections C and M while folding in every win theme that helps prove why your company is the superior choice.

4. Architect a Winning Solution.

This is a research problem that is easier said than done.   It brings together what the customer stakeholders want along with what their budget is, what the competitors are likely to offer, and what your capabilities are.   Using information from your BD person, capture person, pricer, and team members cognizant of competitor behavior, your architect leads in producing the best possible solution, in light of all limitations. The desired result is a solution that will receive the top score, based on both Section M and customer opinion. Architects who can do this are worth the high fees they receive.

5. Price to Win (PTW).

The old days in which PTW was a luxury are gone forever.  Anyone who wants to win on this market should never bid without using PTW.  That is, PTW proportional to the stakes at risk. For a complex $5B program, this might be a PTW effort that costs a million dollars.  But even for a very small program, a bidder expecting to win should still perform a PTW evolution.  This might include something as informal as a discussion around a table addressing what solutions and approaches various competitors are likely to offer.

6. Total Process

Whereas some small businesses don’t have a federal proposal process, many large businesses have an out-of-date process.   A group that doesn’t have a good federal proposal process needs to get one yesterday. The cost of not having one is endless rework and bids lost to general inefficiency

7. Proof of capability

If I had a dollar for every bid I have seen lacking competitive Past Performance, I could treat your proposal department to dinner at Morton’s.  The answers are simple:  Make an early decision to find a sub or partner or find a better aligned program to bid.

Of course, no one but a successful magician is going to win every bid.  However, using these tips will let you win more and at a lower cost.