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Three Steps Prospects Take to Evaluate Your Proposals

Ever heard of a Red Team review? If not, here’s the deal: It’s basically a mock proposal evaluation, done to predict how the customer will score your document. It happens after draft completion and before production/submission, complete with checklists, evaluation spreadsheets, and the participation of employees outside the core proposal team.

Sounds beneficial, right? It is, but with the exception of some federal contractors and large commercial proposal teams, we’ve seen few companies with the time or resources to legitimately or consistently perform Red Team reviews. Instead, once a proposal draft is complete, most proposal writers find themselves rushing to proofread, insert last-minute pricing changes, and mail/email the document with minutes to spare. Sound familiar?

We hear you. That’s why this week we’ve asked some of our evaluator friends to share the key steps they take when reviewing proposals. Why? Because if you don’t have time for Red Team reviews, it’s that much more important to be crafting evaluation-friendly proposals from the start. Right? On to the steps!

Three Steps Prospects Take to Evaluate Your Proposals

Step One: Thinning the Herd Most evaluations start with one person, perhaps a project manager or procurement representative, doing an initial compliance review. They often have one goal—toss as many proposals as possible to the curb. Not compliant with the Request for Proposal (RFP) instructions, terms or conditions? Toss. Not responsive to the RFP questions? Toss.

You can’t really blame them. If you had piles of work on your plate and 10 proposals already in queue, would you really want to read and score another 100-, 200-, or 500-page proposal if you didn’t have to? Neither would we.

Why You Should Care It’s a terrible feeling to spend days/hours preparing a stellar proposal just to have it tossed (and even worse when your boss finds out). Don’t let it happen to you. Follow RFP instructions to the word and mirror the exact RFP numbering, order, and headings in your proposal. Details matter.

And while you’re at it, include a compliance matrix with your response. Compliance matrices are tables listing each RFP requirement/question, the proposal section where each requirement is addressed, and if/how you’re compliant with the requirement. They can be a handy internal project planning tool and an easy way for the evaluator to make sure the proposal is compliant. Easy equals happy, and a happy evaluator is a generous evaluator.

Step Two: Pulling the Pricing Ever have a senior executive (apologies to senior executives) diminish the importance of your company’s proposals by declaring that prospects only look at pricing? So have we. And let’s be honest, sometimes they’re right. However, in the vast majority of cases, they’re not. In fact, our evaluator friends noted that the majority of their contracts are awarded to bidders with the best experience, understanding and approach—not the lowest price. It is a criterion, not the criterion.

So it’s no surprise that the second step of many evaluations entails the removal of pricing from the proposal document. It’s typically provided to a separate team or pricing analyst, whose feedback is given outside of the primary evaluation (step three). Often the primary evaluators never see it.

Why You Should Care That urge to slap your snarky senior executive is usually warranted (caveat: do not slap senior executives). We’ve seen plenty of “can’t lose” opportunities go south because of pricing tunnel vision. We’ve seen complacent, market-leading incumbents and rock-bottom bidders get left behind during evaluations, replaced by companies that provided persuasive, customer-focused proposals.

Our point: Every part of your proposal matters, so despite the naysayers, focus on ensuring that your key proposal sections—such as the executive summary—clearly illustrate why your company is uniquely qualified to help the prospect achieve their objectives.

Step Three: Evaluating Against Set Criteria Now we’re at the main event—the primary evaluation. This is the truly time-consuming step for evaluators, where they tediously comb through sections of the document and score each based on set criteria. It’s tiring work, and while the process is designed to be as standardized and objective as possible, evaluators are only human. They get fatigued. They get critical. And the longer they spend evaluating, the more subjectivity and snap judgments are likely to arise.

The order that evaluators read may also be surprising. While nearly every evaluator we talked to reads the executive summary first, many do not read the rest of the document sequentially. Instead, many skip around to different sections as part of their scoring process. Sometimes several evaluators are assigned, with each only reading a certain portion of the document.

Why You Should Care You know evaluators are tired, so help them quickly get what they need—and they’ll help you. In addition to crafting a clear, persuasive executive summary (make it the first section you draft), focus on two key areas: conciseness and conspicuousness.

First, make your proposal as brief as possible while still being complete and compliant. Not only will it save the evaluator time, but your proposal will more likely be read first. And the earlier it’s read, the more likely it will become the standard that others are compared to. So, dump the marketing fluff about your “top-notch,” “world-class” service. Dump the excessive attachments and long introductions to each response. Be direct and concrete. Cut to the chase and answer each RFP question with a prospect-focused response, followed by your most important supporting evidence/details.

Second, make your key differentiators clear and conspicuous. Connect each key point to the benefit it will provide the prospect, and make it obvious. Callouts, graphics, action captions (under/over graphics), subheadings, and value statements: all are perfect opportunities to reinforce your key benefits. And the more white space, the more powerful these elements become. In fact, more than a few evaluators admitted to unknowingly scoring nearly identical companies’ qualifications differently, simply because one presented them in a more engaging and compelling way. They made the evaluator’s job easier.

Shameless Plug Alert: A great way to ensure you have persuasive, evaluator-friendly proposals is by hiring a professional proposal writer, editor, or trainer. You know, like the ones at Freestyle Editorial Services. Contact us today to discuss how we can make your company stand apart from the competition.

A Quick Note about Color Team Reviews: A Red Team review is one of many proposal team color reviews, structured steps/gates throughout some business development processes. They run the full spectrum, from purple teams assessing win probability to white teams compiling lessons learned. Pretty intense. If you want to know more about them, we recommend grabbing the Shipley Proposal Guide. It’s great food for thought, just not always feasible for some companies.

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