Federal contractors, small or large, have a lot of hoops to jump through when competing for federal government bids and proposals. The process can be tricky, and the success of any federal contractor relies on their understanding of the government evaluation process.
Depending on the type of contract, federal government bids and proposals will be awarded or rejected based on varying requirements, but the process is pretty much the same. Without in-depth knowledge on how proposals will be evaluated and what they'll be evaluated on, it's impossible to write proposals well.
In this post, we'll walk you through the process of government evaluation and point out some key areas to focus on for creating top-quality proposals and increasing your win rate.
Things to focus on before you submit
1. Look at Section L and Section M for the evaluation requirements
Section L is the instructions section, and Section M details the evaluation requirements. These sections will take all of the guesswork out of formatting and preparing your proposal.
They'll spell out exactly how the evaluator wants the proposal developed, how they'll evaluate it and how they'll assess your bid. Depending on the contract, agency and time frame you're bidding in, the instructions can vary wildly, so it's important that you pay attention to their specific requirements.
Sometimes, Sections L and M don't match, but you still have to respond to everything in both sections. Look for inconsistencies in the two sections and make sure you're meeting every requirement. If you deviate from these instructions at all, it could cost you the contract.
2. Have a Facility Security Officer (FSO) look at the DD54
The Contract Security Classification Specification (DD54) is only applicable if your proposal requires a facility or security clearance for your team. If it does, have an FSO look at the DD54 to ensure you're not missing anything that could prevent you from bidding.
3. Make sure the contracts department has reviewed Sections A, B, E, I and K of the RFP
Here's a quick rundown of these sections and why they're important for your review:
- Section A provides basic information about the contract. It will tell you where and when to submit your bid, detail contact information for the evaluation team and agency and sometimes provide other special instructions or contract information. You can refer back to this section at any point in the process if you get confused.
- Section B consists of a line-by-line list of billable items such as travel expenses or salaries. Review this section carefully to ensure you're responding to each item and following the correct pricing format.
- Section E provides information about the inspection requirements and details every qualification to be met for the government to accept the proposal.
- Section I is the contract clauses. This section is often overlooked because it doesn't require any response, but these clauses will still be applicable if you win the bid, so it's important to get familiar with them.
- In particular, pay attention to Section K. This is the Representations, Certifications and Other Statements of Offerers. This section ensures that you're qualified to win the project. Just because you're registered in the System for Award Management (SAM), doesn't mean you are automatically eligible. There will still be certain things in the RFP you'll need to fill out with the submission.
4. The pricing department should focus on Section B
Section B is the supplies or services and price cost information, and it should be the pricing department's biggest concern. They should be working with the proposal team to understand all of the billable items they'll be required to price out. It's important that you finalize the price you quote in this section, because you can't change it once you're awarded the contract.
Even if the government gives you an Excel spreadsheet to fill out for your pricing, you still need to create a narrative response as well. This will help explain how you came up with your pricing. What is involved in that spreadsheet? What goes into the pricing volume?
5. Everyone needs to review Sections F, C, J, L and M
As we mentioned before, Sections L and M are key to understanding what's required in your proposal, including its format and what it will be evaluated on. Every member of your team should understand these requirements, so nobody's dropping the ball at any stage or handoff during the proposal creation process.
Everyone should also take a look at Section C, which is one of the most important sections in any proposal. Section C is known as the Performance Work Statement (PWS), Statement of Objectives (SOO) or Statement of Work (SOW). This makes up the meat of your proposal, outlining how you plan to fulfill the contract and why your contract will provide the best value. It also details the specific details that the government wants you to meet if you're awarded the contract.
Section F is the deliverables or performances section. It details when, where and how different billable items need to occur, and everyone on the team needs to be aware of and on board with these dates.
Section J includes a list of all attachments. It acts as a table of contents for any supplementary documents in the RFP. Everyone should be referencing this section as they go through the rest of the proposal, as it will help you understand everything you need.
The government evaluation process
1. You submit your proposal
This step seems straightforward, but it's the first time in the process where your proposal could be thrown out. It's essential that you hand in your proposal on time — and by on time, we really mean early. If it's even one minute late, your proposal will be thrown out.
If you're submitting an electronic bid, submit it the day before and ask for confirmation that it was received. Remember, everyone and their brother may be submitting proposals at the same time, and the government's email box will fill up. They don't care if there was a technical glitch and your email didn't make it — all they know is that your proposal was late.
If your proposal will be hand-delivered, submit it a day or two in advance to make sure it arrived at the right place and was signed in on time. Whether you're physically delivering it or sending it by Fedex, USPS or other means, you need to have a backup in place in case the proposal didn't make it. The government won't care if it got lost in the mail — it's your job to be prepare for those kinds of issues.
2. The proposal is checked for compliance
The government is unforgiving when it comes to compliance issues. The compliance person will literally take out rulers and measure the margins of your proposal. If you're over the page count, they may rip out the extra pages. It's important that you look carefully at things like footers, margins, font sizes and page limitations to ensure your proposal isn't thrown out before the team even reads it.
Here are a few tricky compliance issues and tactics that are often overlooked:
- Don't reference between different binders or volumes. Because the proposal is divvied up between the team for evaluation, you can't say things like "see volume 2 for more information." You have to put that information in the volume you're writing, because not every member of the team is seeing every volume.
- Don't adjust the size of your graphics. If you're running out of page space, often people start dragging corners to make the graphics smaller. But this changes the font size within the graphics and makes them non-compliant.
- Unless they tell you otherwise, insert a condensed compliance matrix with the table of contents to make it as easy as possible for the team to see that you answered every component of the RFP.
3. The team conducts the evaluation
Now the team will divide up the binders of your presentation and complete the evaluation. If your proposal is compelling, evidence-based, clear and sophisticated, you'll have a better chance of winning the bid.
4. You'll receive an award notice
When the evaluation team is done with the evaluation, they'll send out an award notice to let you know if you won or lost. If you won, congratulations! You've successfully aligned your team, demonstrated your value and expertise and written a complete, compelling contract proposal.
But if not, here's the last and arguably most important step in the evaluation process:
5. Ask for a debrief
Federal contractors skip the debrief for various reasons. If you win, you might assume you did perfectly. If you lost, you chalk it up to the evaluating team's subjectivity. But nobody's perfect — regardless of whether you won or lost, the debrief is a valuable opportunity to understand what you could have done better.
In the debrief, the evaluating team will outline specifically what was done incorrectly, so you can do a better job when you submit to them or someone else for another bid in the future. Whatever you learn in the debrief can be applied to hone your process, increasing your chances for a win the next time around.