Are your proposal review teams derailing the win?

It’s Thursday. Time for another proposal color team review. The Proposal Manager is faced with one of these all-too-familiar scenarios.

Scenario 1: Reviewers call the baby ugly

The color team reviewers conclude that the proposal stinks. They don’t really know why, but they don’t like it. They offer recommendations, some of which are actionable, some of which are compliant, but none of which improve the proposal quality. Some of the reviewers never read the RFP thoroughly, so their comments must be taken with a grain of salt.

Scenario 2: Reviewers suggest improving the win themes

The review team couldn’t find any win themes. They recommend that the proposal team goes back to the drawing board and come up with features, benefits and proofs. However, since the capture team never briefed reviewers on Voice of the Customer, they provide no counsel on which of these win themes would resonate with reviewers.

Scenario 3: Reviewers (all dozen of them) hand over marked up proposals

A dozen or more reviewers have edited and commented on the document. The proposal manager combines all the edits and comments into one large unmanageable file and sends it out to the writers for recovery. The writers scratch their heads and try to create a winning document out of chaos.

Scenario “This never happens”: The reviewers love the proposal

Well, maybe not never. About 1% of the time reviewers will say they love the proposal. When asked to review and comment on a proposal, the typical reviewer will document their likes and dislikes. Unfortunately, reviewer comments are usually not based on how the Federal Government evaluator scores the proposal: strengths, weaknesses, deficiencies, and risks. Therefore, many comments, whether positive or negative, are not helpful or actionable.

How can you get your proposal reviews back on track? Here are six tips to get your proposal back on track for the win.

  1. Make sure the capture manager briefs the reviewers on the customer’s hot buttons.

I’ve heard arguments both pro and con about how much the review team needs to know. I strongly believe that they need to understand the customers’ (program, contracts, budget, technical) hot buttons. The capture manager should have already vetted proposed solution strengths with the customers. S/he should provide background information on what the customers value so that the reviewers can ascertain whether the proposal is communicating the value proposition effectively.

  1. Divide the proposal into sections according to how the capture manager believes the customer will review the bid.

Typical Federal Source Selection Boards divide the proposal and hand off sections for evaluation to different review teams. Many government evaluators never read the entire proposal. If your proposal is a story, they only read one chapter. Therefore, to ensure that the proposal communicates strengths in each section according to evaluation factor order of importance, reviewers should divide into teams, reach consensus on feedback as the government does, and present results accordingly.

  1. Score the proposal using a government scoresheet.

Source Selection Board evaluators do not read the proposal; they score it. Therefore, to mimic their methodology, create a scoresheet based on the evaluation factors and subfactors. Ask reviewers to assess their assigned sections looking for strengths, weaknesses, deficiencies and risks, rather than focusing on likes and dislikes and/or looking for win themes. Assign review team leads to work with the reviewers to prepare consensus scores and associated comments. From there, develop the action plan for proposal recovery. Do you have enough strengths associated with each evaluation factor in order of importance? Do you have an action plan to eliminate weaknesses and deficiencies and mitigate risks?

  1. Assign a compliance lead.

Compliance is king. Create a detailed compliance matrix with all instructions, evaluation factors, SOW or PWS requirements and any other requirements. Require the compliance lead to review and report on compliance at every review. A compliance issue could result in the government evaluator scoring a deficiency, and deficiencies may eliminate your bid or at best place it at the bottom.

  1. Cut the fat.

Most proposal review teams are bloated. Unprepared and/or uninterested reviewers waste everyone’s time. Make sure everyone on the team has a specific role such as scoring a section, reviewing compliance or identifying if strengths reflect the Voice of the Customer. Do not allow anyone to “just read” the proposal and make free-form edits and comments.

  1. Give adequate review time.

One of the worst mistakes you can make is not allowing proposal reviewers enough time to perform a thorough review. Send out a review preparation package a week before the review that includes the RFP and any associated solicitation documents, outline, compliance matrix, scoresheet and background information about the customer. APMP research shows that a reviewer can review only 40 pages per day (80 if it involves boilerplate). Yet often we give our reviewers too much to do in too little time. The previous five tips will help alleviate this problem.

Color team reviews that mimic how the government will review your proposal for compliance and score your proposal for strengths, weaknesses, deficiencies and risks are the best way to improve proposal quality.

A good review is probably the best way to improve proposal scores. Hiring Lohfeld Consulting Group experts is a low-cost, high-payoff value proposition that can often change the outcome of the bid.

By Lisa Pafe, Vice President at Lohfeld Consulting Group, CPP APMP Fellow and PMI PMP

Lohfeld Consulting Group has proven results specializing in helping companies create winning captures and proposals.

As the premier capture and proposal services consulting firm focused exclusively on government markets, we provide expert assistance to government contractors in Go-to-Market Strategy, Capture Planning and Strategy, Proposal Management and Writing, Capture and Proposal Process and Infrastructure, and Training. In the last 3 years, we’ve supported over 550 proposals winning more than $135B for our clients—including the Top 10 government contractors. Lohfeld Consulting Group is your “go-to” capture and proposal source! Start winning by contacting us at and join us on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.


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