We all know the adage: features tell, but benefits sell. This tired, old adage of how to sell is true, but in the federal space, strengths result in the win.
Government evaluators typically review your proposal using a scoresheet. In accordance with Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR,) they must evaluate the bid based solely on the evaluation factors and subfactors as well as their relative importance. To do so, they must document strengths, weaknesses, deficiencies, and risks. Government evaluators search your proposal for information they need to document findings properly.
Evaluators treat your proposal like an encyclopedia to search for potential strengths, weaknesses, deficiencies, and risks. Typically, evaluators review and score specific proposal sections rather than the entire bid. They do NOT read the proposal like a novel from page one to the end. Often, they do not bother to read sections that are not scored, such as the transmittal letter or Executive Summary.
The bidder with the best—and possibly the most—strengths, no significant weaknesses or risks, and no deficiencies, is likely to win. If all bidders are equal in perceived strengths, then price likely emerges as the deciding factor.
How do you achieve a strength? A strength is a feature you propose with an associated proven benefit that:
- Exceeds a contract requirement in a way beneficial to the customer (they would be willing to pay for it)
- Increases the likelihood of successful contract performance (technical, schedule, cost, quality)
- Increases the likelihood of successful mission accomplishment (agency mission, safety, lethality, etc.)
- Mitigates mission or contract risk
- Ideally is not neutralized by other bidders; in other words, it becomes a discriminator for your bid.
To achieve a designation of strength, you must understand what the customer values. Well before RFP release, smart bidders vet potential strengths and corresponding proofs with the customers most likely to comprise the Source Selection Evaluation Board (SSEB) and with the Source Selection Authority (SSA). Guessing at strengths is a losing battle; you must understand what the customers comprising the SSEB value and what proof points will resonate with them.
Once you have vetted and affirmed the features you expect to be designated strengths during capture, make sure that the evaluators can find them in the proposal. Do not let them infer or conclude that a feature/benefit/proof is a strength. Highlight each strength with strong statements, icons, graphics, action captions, and more. Repeat important strengths across sections in case evaluators are reading only assigned sections.
Focus your efforts primarily on the sections of the proposal that will be scored. Establish a strengths real estate budget based on evaluation factor and subfactor relative importance. In other words, make sure the most important proposal sections have the best and possibly the most strengths.
After each bid, compare strengths bid to strengths observed by the government evaluators. If the ratio does not achieve 1:1, determine why. Did you fail to understand what strengths the customer values? Did you fail to present strengths in a manner that made them easy to understand and score? Based on debriefs, develop an action plan to continue to enhance your strengths.
For government evaluators, benefits may sell, but benefits must achieve the level of strengths to win the contract.
by Lisa Pafe, APMP-NCA President, CPP APMP Fellow, and PMI PMP
Reprinted with permission from APMP-NCA’s Executive Summary Spring/Summer 2017 newsletter