9 Overlooked Factors That Help You Win Proposals – Research With Gov’t Evaluators

  |  April 10, 2019

John Capewell —

No doubt, most of us believe we have THE approach to winning a Government Proposal in a highly competitive environment. But the truth is, if any one of us actually had “discovered” a secret sauce then that person would be the only one winning. Closer to the truth is that most of our winning processes and toolsets we employ in today’s Government proposal world rarely have hard, factual evidence based on Customer feedback to support advertised win percentage claims. For instance, when was the last time you heard – “we made the award decision to XYZ Company because of their compelling action captions?”

With that in mind, and to challenge and improve my own, somewhat simplistic processes, over several years I interviewed approximately 100 current and prior Government Operations and Procurement employees (GS-10 to SES) who had regularly been on Source Selection duty. I gathered their after-work, uncensored opinions on proposal evaluation, scoring, and award decision making. If the fact that that actually happened makes you cringe, sorry. Stuff happens.


The below list is a much sanitized summary of what they consistently told me and/or I overheard while working alongside them:

1. Be CLEARLY compliant – it takes brain power, energy, and time to decipher endless paragraphs of techno-babble. Give them the short answer, then the supporting proof materials.

2. Make your Government proposal easy to read and easy to understand. Keep non-responsive introductions and themes short. The TEB folks do not like wading through anything they cannot score. Use consistent terminology and edit often. Once an evaluator finds a typo or misused term, they will start looking for more, breaking their rhythm.

3. Make your Government proposal easy to score. Use RFP terminology and cross referencing to help them know where they are on the score sheets. Assume they use key word searches to skip the un-asked-for page filler.

4. Know your Customer – sell what the Customer wants to buy (for price and non-price factors), NOT what you have to sell. Think strategically about what you need to do to sell, not what shellac will make your solution look more attractive and ultimately force the Government into a low cost decision.

5. Know your competition – As simple as it sounds, we all have forgotten that at least once while we were busy pumping ourselves up with unsubstantiated rhetoric (they used much harsher terms).

6. New stuff equals risk to the Government – know the Government’s pain points and risk tolerances. Do a real program performance risk assessment, management, and mitigation plan. NOT just one that makes your boss happy – do one that makes the Customer happy. Your risks land squarely on your Customer’s desk and are quickly escalated up the food chain.

7. Identify and bid the right key personnel – as old school as it sounds, the Government likes to buy from people they know and who will most likely run the Program successfully. Think of it as, they are trusting their careers to your leadership team. More than once I’ve heard – we made the award decision to you because you had “insert critical person’s name here” as your PM.

8. Corporate Experience and Past Performance – don’t make the Government guess why you chose the Contract Summaries you included. Prove they are relevant to every requirement. Be honest about your performance issues. Assume the Government has a 100% accurate BS sensor.

9. Your Secret Sauce – if you have completed a top-shelf win strategy and Capture Plan and are eager to get those presented in the Government proposal through themes, selling art, and key messages, then at least remember what the Government will use them for – to support their award decision in the Justification and Authorization award documents. Make your statements short and easy for the Government to copy, modify, and paste into their award documents. Think Benefit – Feature, not the other way around. They want to be able to say, “we achieve this because the contractor did that.”