How bad are your proposals?

Bob LohfeldIn last month’s column, 6 ways your proposal can fail, I wrote about a company that submitted a less-than-professional proposal and wondered how pervasive this problem really is. After all, as professional proposal managers, how bad can our proposals really be?

All professional proposal managers strive to make every proposal compliant, responsive, and compelling, yet a recent presentation reinforced my assessment that only about 15% of the firms bidding on U.S. government contracts consistently achieve these fundamental objectives.

In a GovCon Business Development Weekly webinar hosted by Deltek’s Michael Hackmer, I discussed four fundamentals for creating a winning proposal. The first three fundamentals comprise creating a compliant, responsive, and compelling proposal. We polled the 150 webinar participants from a cross-section of small to large government contractors and asked them to rate how well their proposals did in achieving those three objectives.

What we learned was surprising. Only 15% said their proposals were always compliant, responsive, and compelling. That leave 85% saying their proposals fell short of these primary objectives.

A deeper look at the results showed that only one third said their proposals were generally compliant, responsive, and compelling. That still left about half the respondents saying their proposals generally failed to meet these objectives.

This is certainly cause for concern since we all know that the best way to lose evaluation points immediately is to submit a proposal that is not compliant, responsive, or compelling. What’s so troubling about these statistics is that these firms may have proposed wonderful solutions or service offerings, but because of the quality of their proposals, they likely didn’t win.

The fourth objective for creating winning proposals is developing a well-defined solution or service offering that is rich in features that deliver real benefits to the customer—and most importantly, developing the solution and features before starting to write the proposal. In the software business, this is analogous to saying, “Let’s design before we start coding.”

Having a good solution or a well-defined service offering is a prerequisite to writing a good proposal, yet in my experience many companies start writing before actually defining their solution or service offering. The webinar survey data supports my observations about solution-first writing. About one third of respondents do no solution development before writing. They just start writing and hope that a solution emerges. Clearly, these companies have work to do to improve their basic capture and proposal development processes.

The final question we asked was about the use of capture and proposal processes. Good proposals are the result of well-defined capture and proposal processes. Good processes will consistently produce better proposals, improve win rates, and reduce proposal development costs – yet only half the respondents said they had defined capture and proposal processes.

No wonder so many companies’ proposals fail. Having little or no process, writing before developing a solution, and failing to meet the compliant, compelling, and responsive standards is a sure way to lose.

I probably should have asked one more question, “How many respondents want to improve their proposal win rate?” But, I guess the answer is obvious since that’s why they participated in the first place.

View Bob’s webinar presentation and audience Q&A session references in this article

About the Author

Bob Lohfeld is the chief executive officer of Lohfeld Consulting Group. E-mail your comments to

This article was originally published November 14, 2011 in

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