Don’t make these mistakes – 12 vital proposal lessons

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. (George Santayana)

Over the past 25 years spent managing and submitting thousands of proposals and task order responses, I’ve developed a long list of lessons learned.

Of course, I have many proposal section-specific lessons learned that I’ll share in upcoming Lohfeld Insights posts, but here are some of my favorite overall lessons learned:

  1. Address solicitation requirements in the required order and substantiate every response. This makes it easier for evaluators to score your proposal. (Include RFP section numbers in your section headings so evaluators can easily cross reference to the RFP.)
  2. Evaluators love how compliance matrices save time and demonstrate your thorough response. Always include a compliance matrix – even if it masquerades as the table of contents.
  3. Follow solicitation instructions and evaluation criteria to make your response easier to score – help the comic book reviewers/scorers who just want to skim the response and check off the boxes.
  4. Use the old journalism class 5 W’s and 1 H – tell evaluators who, what, where, when, why, and how you did something and intend to do something.
  5. Weave win themes throughout your proposal – include in each major section and subsection. Use call out boxes or other methods to set your win themes apart and make them noticeable.
  6. Clearly identify your differentiators and explicitly relate why they matter and how they benefit your client. Don’t assume the readers can figure it out – tell them what you want them to know (see comic book above!)
  7. Develop and document your solution first and then create your annotated outlines and/or storyboards.
  8. Concisely link your proposed technical solution and approach, personnel, pricing, etc. Explicitly tell them what’s in it for them/benefits.
  9. Prepare oral presentation drafts concurrently with your proposal. Get an orals coach in early to help prepare your team. I’ve seen and heard horror stories of teams freaked out by too much coaching given only a few hours before their presentation. Effective orals preparation  is a lengthy, detailed process and can’t be shortchanged.
  10. Say what you need to say, substantiate it, and move on—avoid long-winded, wordy explanations. You won’t win for the highest word count.
  11. Skip the techy words of the week and weasel words. Evaluators know when you’re avoiding a straight answer. Be honest and forthright.
  12. I had a CO tell me point blank in a debrief, Don’t become complacent—especially as an incumbent! and Keep that pencil sharpened, honey!

What are some of your favorite overall lessons learned – and how did you learn them? Send an email to me listing your favorites, and I’ll update my list!