Ask the Proposal Doctor – Sick of Debating

Dear Proposal Doctor,

Our team is in a pitched battle over the proposal outline, and until we resolve it, this proposal is going nowhere. The government’s Section M evaluation criteria (different from what is in Section L) are stated in paragraph form with no numbering or lists or bullets.

The paragraphs read like a stream-of-consciousness novel with little form or organization. They are repetitive. Yet some on our team want to take each phrase and make that phrase a heading in the proposal. If we had unlimited page count, this might make sense, but we don’t. Should we organize according to Section L instructions and try to weave in the key words from Section M whenever possible?

The endless debate and churn is cutting into the valuable time available to write and develop compelling graphics. How can we achieve closure? Soon!

-Sick of Debating

Dear Sick,

Your question is a good one, even if the topic seems theological at first glance.

In the old days, we were all taught to organize proposals first by Section L, then by Section M, then by Section C. Sometimes that works, especially when Sections L and the M are aligned. Often they are not. Often there are items in L that do not appear in M and vice versa. Content in the proposal has to be tied to Section M or it won’t get evaluation points. (In contrast, the items called out only in Section L can lose it for you if they are missing, but not win it for you, no matter how great the content.)

Without seeing the RFP text, it is difficult to know the best way to handle your particular situation. You can’t abandon Section M altogether and hope to win.

Here is one approach that might work. Look at each sentence in Section M and try to determine the center of gravity for that sentence. What is the main point? What does the customer really care about? Create a heading that addresses the main point of each sentence using at least some of the same words as those in Section M without necessarily repeating the entire sentence in your heading. If you come across a sentence that contains the same content as a previous sentence, use backward referencing so that you don’t have to repeat content.

I have seen proposals where the Section M sentences are in text boxes next to a paragraph to remind the evaluators what is being addressed, but that does eat up page count.

I am afraid there is no easy answer, but you do have to pay close attention to what is in Section M and find a way to map to it, however challenging that might be. Perhaps not what you wanted to hear!

All the best,

Wendy Frieman, The Proposal Doctor