The Great Proposal: A True Story of Strengths
The great proposal did not start out great – nor did it focus on Strengths. In the beginning, 15 months prior to RFP release, there were the usual problems we faced when preparing for a recompete. Red flags included project start-up issues that resulted in mediocre CPARS ratings, difficult client relationships, competing stakeholder demands, customer turnover on the acquisition side, and no dedicated Capture Manager or Capture Plan. Since this recompete represented the company’s largest Federal contract, the CEO knew she had to take action.
And that’s when the trajectory, which had been turning towards a possible proposal loss, started to reverse course.
Capture Readiness Assessment
The Capture Readiness Assessment included interviews and document review based on Lohfeld Consulting Group’s 12 Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). The resulting scorecard revealed an average score of 3.5 out of ten. This score is not unusual more than a year ahead of RFP release, and we assured the team that we could recover.
We recommended specific prioritized action items to bring scores up as capture progressed as well as scheduled monthly progress reviews with the newly minted Capture Manager and the Program Manager. Key to success would be developing a targeted call plan, improving client relationships, fixing project performance issues, carefully documenting lessons learned and achievements, and influencing the recompete RFP evaluation criteria, instructions and Performance Work Statement (PWS).
Monthly Progress Reviews
Monthly progress reviews saw scores slowly trending upward. As the incumbent, we focused on improving performance at no cost to the customer so that the next CPARS rating would improve from the previously acceptable scores. Improving performance also improved customer relationships and opened the door to more open conversations with program and acquisition personnel about the future. Building customer risk aversion to changing contractors was also a key strategy in influencing the RFP to help us highlight our Strengths as we refined them in solutioning sessions.
With the original PWS and previous RFP in hand, we developed a strawman RFP including what we believed the new PWS, instructions and evaluation factors would look like. We mapped requirements to evaluation factors in order of importance, and held Strength-Based Solutioning sessions with capture, program, proposal and subject matter experts (SMEs) to identify Strengths and discriminators versus our competitors as well as weaknesses and risks that required mitigation.
Focusing the team on Strengths helped us to innovate the current work to go beyond meeting expectations. Government evaluators score Strengths when the solution exceeds requirements and/or significantly reduces performance risk in a manner that they customer values. Some of the top priority action items resulting from solutioning included vetting our proposed Strengths with the customer(s) prior to RFP drop.
We added action items resulting from these sessions to our monthly progress reviews and iteratively updated our solution based on vetting our Strengths with the customer(s). Because the program team worked closely with the customer(s) in influencing the recompete procurement, the resulting RFI and draft PWS contained no surprises. We used the RFI response as an opportunity to further position our discriminating Strengths. The draft PWS helped us refine our Strengths map as we updated requirements and further detailed our substantiating proofs.
Substantiating proofs, preferably quantitative, are truly the lynchpin of a winning proposal. Government evaluators will not score a Strength without proof. As the incumbent, we also tested our proof points by highlighting achievements and results in our weekly status reports and Monthly Program Reviews. This approach helped us validate which substantiation resonated best with customers. Some proof points were quantitative such as exceeding performance standards. Others were qualitative such as customer kudos.
Based on our solutioning sessions, we crafted our Strength Statements. Strength statements are much more powerful than win themes. Why? Because Strength statements specifically identify, with substantiation, how the detailed technical and management solution, mapped to requirements and evaluation factors, exceeds customer requirements. The resulting text makes it easy for source selection officials to cut and paste the Strength statement into their written findings to substantiate a Strength or significant Strength. Of course, every Strength statement must be vetted with customers to ensure we are focusing on benefits they value.
We had our continuously refined solution, and we had our Strength statements. The next step was to write our draft proposal. The team had to make some assumptions regarding Section L (instructions) and Section M (evaluation factors), but we had enough to get started. The RFP drop date continued to push to the right, which happens quite often. We used this as an opportunity to hold iterative reviews of our draft proposal, refine our Strength statements and build better substantiating proofs. Consecutively, the pricing team refined the proposed price based on competitive intelligence on price to win.
The Government released the RFP, and there were few surprises. The page count was less than anticipated, but we used the two-week proposal response timeframe to edit our reviewed draft and reduce page count appropriately. The resulting proposal concisely proved why our team was the best value choice, and we highlighted both Strengths and significant Strengths that added value and reduced risk.
After responding to several clarifying questions from the Contracting Officer, our team received the much-anticipated $400M+ contract award notification. By focusing on Strengths, we won a recompete that was not a sure thing 15 months earlier. The CEO stated that the Government debrief indicated that they won due to the quality and quantity of solution Strengths. The recompete proposal was indeed a great proposal.
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 www.lohfeldconsulting.com and join us on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.
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Did you know that contracting officers spend up to 20% of their time mitigating disputes between teaming partners? In an informal poll we conducted on LinkedIn last month, 40% of respondents classified their teaming partners as “frenemies” on their last bid.
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