Give the evaluators what they want…and nothing more

Federal Government contractors write proposals in response to solicitations. Even the most novice proposal professional understands that proposals must be compliant with the requirements as expressed in the instructions, evaluation factors, and Statement of Work (SOW) or Performance Work Statement (PWS). The Federal Acquisition Regulation dictates that government evaluators use a scoresheet based on the evaluation factors and their order of importance to identify Strengths, Weaknesses, Deficiencies (often related to compliance issues), and Risks to justify a final score or rating. Content not identified in a corresponding evaluation factor or subfactor cannot be scored.

Efficient government proposal evaluators search for content tied to their assigned factor(s). As they search, skim, and scan the proposal for relevant narrative to read, they often encounter roadblocks. Putting aside those related to non-compliance, the most common roadblock is irrelevant content. Irrelevant content may appear in many forms. The common element of irrelevant content is that it is unwanted and therefore a waste of valuable proposal page real estate.

What are the most common types of irrelevant content? Five common roadblocks include the following:

#1: The company overview

The biggest waste of space is beginning your proposal with an overview of your company’s history; your commitment to and partnership with customers; your thought leadership; your beliefs, thoughts, and feelings; your understanding…blah, blah, blah. Sound familiar? A compelling proposal never begins with your company. It begins with the customer’s objectives, pain points, constraints, issues, and risks followed by how your solution addresses these.

#2: The copy and paste

Assuming you write proposals in response to your insight into customer hot buttons, then your content—whether it be technical or past performance—should map to this understanding. Therefore, if you copy and paste narrative from one proposal to another, the focus may be on issues and challenges irrelevant to this customer. Reusing content is a valuable tool to save time and increase productivity; however, determine the solution first, and then select and tailor relevant content only.

#3: Understanding that is about you

An insightful understanding section sets the context for your proposed solution. However, many proposals frame this understanding by stating, “Company X understands…” and then providing a list of past projects as proof. The understanding narrative is not about your company. Stating you understand, recognize, or believe weakens the writing. Use this space to describe the customer’s objectives, constraints, and issues rather than your company’s record.

#4: Understanding that is misunderstanding

The only way you can write an informed understanding is by meeting with customers pre-RFP to learn what they value, need, and want. If your understanding is based solely on the solicitation and public meetings, proposal content may be compliant but ultimately unresponsive and uncompelling. An understanding narrative that discusses issues this customer does not have or presents innovations that introduce perceived risk decreases trust in your proposed solution. Understanding that reads like a Wikipedia page or college lecture also reduces confidence in your prospective ability to perform the work. If you had no access to customers to inform understanding, perhaps this is not the best opportunity for you.

#5 Irrelevant past performance

Most RFPs require past performance of similar size, scope, and complexity. Many proposals provide past performance examples that vary widely in size (dollar value), scope (tasks), and complexity (difficulty). It’s hard to argue that dissimilar examples are all relevant to the proposed contract. A related problem is providing more than the minimum number of past performance references. If the government asks for three, then provide three, not five. Sometimes more is not better.

Cut it out!

When you write or review proposals, look for roadblocks. Is narrative about you rather than the customer? Do the understanding and approach sections read like lectures rather than solutions? Is past performance truly relevant to this contract or is it a stretch?

Unwanted content—whether it is irrelevant, not required, or uncalled for—wastes space, wastes the government evaluator’s time, and wastes company Bid and Proposal (B&P) resources. Better to have a compelling proposal under page count than to fill all available space with content that frustrates evaluators. So, cut it out!

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 LinkedInFacebook, and Twitter.