Ask Proposal Doctor – Creating balance between "required" and "desired"?

Dear Proposal Doctor,

Senior executives in my organization are constantly inserting material into the proposal that is not called for in the RFP and spending time on proposal components that don’t get separately evaluated.

The executive summary eats up hours of everyone’s time, and even if it is sometimes required, it is almost never evaluated. Likewise, the graphics are time-consuming and expensive to conceptualize, render, revise, and review. Over and over again. Every major section has an introduction that is not required.

We are adding so much to an already difficult workload, and the required sections that do get scored are going to suffer. How can I scale this back before it kills us all?


Dear Drowning,

You didn’t indicate what kind of RFPs you are responding to, but I can make an educated guess that they are Federal Government RFPs. The reason that people want to add sections and introductions and graphics is that often government RFPs are not structured in a way that lets companies sell effectively. They are structured so that it will be easy to line the proposals up and compare them. So, there is a natural tension between what the RFP calls for and how your colleagues want to present the solution.

It is also important to remember that just because something doesn’t get scored, it doesn’t mean that it does not create an impression. This is particularly true for graphics. I have only heard of one instance when a specific graphic was identified as the reason why a company’s proposal was scored in a particular way, but I strongly believe that graphics indirectly influence all evaluators.

As a proposal manager, you need to watch the balance between what is required by the customer and what is desired by the executives very carefully. If you already have a process to ensure responsiveness to the items that are required and specifically evaluated, good graphics can increase your win probability. An executive summary, likewise, even if it is not evaluated, can be helpful because it forces the team to condense and refine the main messages of the document.

At the same time, you cannot afford to neglect the mandatory items. Sometimes it makes sense to assign a small team to the required items and make sure that is all they focus on. If you explain this logically to your executive team, I am sure they will understand. You might even want to color code each section in your outline so that it is clear to everyone what is going to be scored. Also, whenever possible, try to take the desired sections or ideas and make them subordinate to the ones that are required.

All the best,

Wendy Frieman, The Proposal Doctor