Help evaluators see ghosts

Ghosting must begin during capture well before RFP drop and include customer and competitor analysis.

Proposal best practices tell us to ghost the competition. Ghosting in the world of proposals means to emphasize competitor weaknesses and downplay their Strengths without naming them. According to APMP, “The goal is to provide the customer with information that supports the view that your solution is superior and to cast doubt on the viability of competitors’ approaches.”

In the real world, effective ghosting is extremely difficult. Without deep customer and competitor knowledge, identifying ghosts and making them apparent to evaluators is practically impossible. Ghosting, therefore, must begin during capture well before RFP drop and include customer and competitor analysis. Otherwise, articulating potential but unvetted ghosts in the proposal narrative is simply not going to work.

Compare and contrast

Let’s assume that a bidder has access to the customer(s) and learns pain points that are creating risks and challenges for the work. Let’s also assume the bidder identifies and researches top competitors likely to bid once the RFP is released. Given this knowledge, how can the bidder make ghosts apparent to evaluators?

The simple answer is to compare and contrast. However, while this answer is simple, it’s not easy to implement. Effective ghosting requires research into quantitative metrics about the bidder and the top competitors.

For example, perhaps staff turnover is a problem for the current help desk contract. A smart bidder looks for ways to ghost the incumbent and other challengers who cannot solve this problem effectively. Suppose therefore that the bidder states:

Staff retention helps deliver services without interruption. To meet your objective of low staff turnover, we offer an effective retention program as demonstrated by a retention rate of 92%.

The ghost in the above example is ineffective because the bidder does not compare their retention rate to that of the incumbent and other competitors. To learn the incumbent’s help desk retention rate, perhaps the bidder asks the government, publicly or behind the scenes, and/or interviews employees who left the incumbent firm recently. Then, the ghost becomes more apparent:

Staff retention helps deliver services without interruption. To meet your objective of lowering staff turnover, we offer an effective retention program as demonstrated by a retention rate of 92% compared to 80% on the program today.

Now the ghost certainly targets the incumbent, but what about other challengers? Finding out the retention rate at other companies is likely to be a challenge. However, labor market research exists regarding turnover for these positions nationwide.

Staff retention helps deliver services without interruption. To meet your objective of lowering staff turnover, we offer an effective retention program as demonstrated by a retention rate of 92% compared to 80% on the program today. Turnover for similar help desk positions nationwide is high. Our retention rate of 92% compares favorably with 85% across the industry.

Highlight risks and mitigations

This compare and contrast approach alerts the government evaluator to the bidder’s discriminating Strength while at the same time highlighting competitor weaknesses. To further drive home the point, add the ghost to the risk mitigation approach with if, then statements such as:

If the contractor cannot retain help desk personnel, then customers experience long wait times for service. We mitigate this risk with our retention program that on average yields a 92% retention rate, compared to the current 80% rate, and 85% nationwide for similar positions.

The supporting narrative should include details of the retention program as well as other mitigations such as cross-training and surge support. Anecdotes about lessons learned on similar programs adds further substantiation. Sprinkle in a quote from a customer praising your low turnover and an employee quote stating why they like working for your company as attention grabbers.

Ghosts are not always apparent

Simply stating your Strengths without clear differentiation from competitors makes ghosts disappear. Help the evaluator understand why your approach offers the greatest benefits at lowest risk with techniques such as compare and contrast as well as if, then risk mitigation statements. Then, the ghosts become real and your Strengths shine.

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 
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