When you receive a government bid or proposal solicitation, what’s the first section you read?
If you’re like most people, you immediately focus on the “Scope of Work.” This is the section — referred to as the SOW — which describes the work that’s to be performed once the government awards an actual contract.
“What’s wrong with concentrating on the SOW first?” you might ask. “After all, it’s certainly necessary to have a thorough understanding of the government’s expectations.”
That’s logical, of course.
But have you ever thought about the dynamics of concentrating too much on the SOW?
Convincing Yourself You Can Do the Work — A Bad Approach
Most folks, as they read the SOW, not only gain an understanding of the government’s needs, but also begin to convince themselves that they can perform the work scope.
There’s a big problem with that. Convincing yourself that you can do the work is vastly different from meeting the government’s criteria for being selected to be awarded the contract.
That’s why the Georgia Tech Procurement Assistance Center (GTPAC) recommends that while you certainly should read the SOW, you initially should concentrate on the section of the solicitation that describes the proposal selection criteria.
Most government solicitations — especially those that involve the provision of professional services — will spell-out the selection criteria. Typically, this section of the solicitation will be labeled “Proposal Evaluation Criteria” or “Selection Criteria.” Basically, what this section discloses are the criteria the government will use to “score” or evaluate the proposals that are submitted. In essence, the government is telling you how they will grade your bid proposal.
Convincing the Government You Can Do the Work — The Right Approach
Believing you can perform a government contract is irrelevant to the selection process. You may, in fact, be able to perform the work (and do it well), but you won’t be awarded to contract unless and until the government is convinced you can do the work better than anyone else, and at a fair and reasonable price. How the government makes this determination is through application of the propopsal evaluation criteria.
Thus, what’s really important to being selected for a government contract award is scoring well against the government’s evaluation criteria. When selection criteria are outlined in the government’s proposal solicitation document, they not only tell you what’s important to the government but also which criteria are more important than others. In other words, selection criteria are often weighted.
For example, a solicitation might list three selection or evaluation criteria: past experience in performing similar work, adequate financial resources, and credentials of personnel assigned to perform the work. In this hypothetical example, the three criteria may not be regarded as equal in importance to the government. If that’s the case, the criteria also will indicate the order of importance or the “weight” each criteria is assigned. For instance, past experience may be assigned 35% importance, financial resources may be given 20% importance, and project personnel might be assigned a weight of 45%. This gives you clear guidance as to how the government will evaluate your proposal should you decide to submit one. Moreover, the criteria and the weights assigned to them give you clear guidance on what you should emphasize and elaborate on in your proposal.
Make a “Go-No Go” Decision
In the example just given, if your firm has plenty of past relevant work experience but you are unable to commit experienced staff to the government’s project, you won’t be able to score well against a major selection factor. If you are not able to assemble a qualified team — and commit to using them if awarded the contract — then you may want to take a pass on submitting a proposal.
On the other hand, if you can “nail” each of the selection criteria (i.e., your firm prosesses relevant past work history, you have strong financial backing, and can assign highly qualified personnel to the project), then you should, by all means, proceed with the preparation of a proposal.
Concentrating on the selection criteria early in the proposal preparation process will force you to be much more objective about evaluating your chance of winning an award. Remember, winning is all about convincing the government you can do the work, and not about convincing yourself.
Counselors with the Georgia Tech Procurement Assistance Center (GTPAC) suggest that bidders and proponents score themselves, early on, against the selection criteria. If you score high, proceed with the preparation of your proposal, emphasizing throughout your document how you match-up with the criteria. If you initially don’t score well, you may wish to take a pass. Or, if time permits, you may choose to team up with another firm who can boost your firm’s overall credentials in relationship to the selection criteria.
Whatever you do, don’t ignore the selection criteria or fail to address in your proposal how you stack-up against them. As the government evaluates the proposals submitted, each one is scored against the criteria. Proposals that don’t score well enough are eliminated from consideration. So, the most qualified firm in the world won’t be awarded a contract unless its proposal scores high in relation to the proposal evaluation criteria.
Tip: Score your firm against the criteria initially — and be sure to score your proposal throughourt the proposal preparation process — to make sure you are “speaking to” the criteria.
What Else Is Important?
The title on this article says there are two important parts of a government solicitation. We’ve just outlined the importance of a solicitation’s proposal evaluation criteria, so what is the other important section?
It’s called “Instructions to Bidders” (sometimes called “Proposal Preparation Instructions” or something similar).
The Instructions section of the solicitation is a test of your appreciation for attention-to-detail. The government’s proposal preparation instructions must be followed to the letter, and you should provide no more and no less information in your proposal than that which is specified in the solicitation.
Bidders and proponents are often influenced by their own opinions about that the government “must really mean” or what they “actually need.” Resist the temptation to think that way. If you have a suggestion regarding the scope of work or some other aspect of the work to be performed, voice it early, before the actual solicitation document is issued. If a “comment period” is provided for, submit your thoughts and suggestions within the specified time frame, and not later.
When the final solicitation document is issued or is “on the street,” it’s usually too late to offer your opinions. At that point, you must focus on being responsive — exactly — to the Instructions to Bidders in order to be given serious consideration.
Bid proposals which do not conform to the Instructions typically are declared “non-responsive” by the government and are literally discarded.
The Instructions section of a solicitation often spells-out such things as the maximum number of pages a proposal can consist of, how the proposal is to be organized, how it is to be packaged and delivered, and even the font style of the text.
Don’t risk your otherwise-well-qualified proposal being rejected — make sure you follow all instructions to the letter and be sure to meet the delivery deadline, not a second late!
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