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Top 5 Proposal Fails – Reasons You Didn’t Get the Job

Meridian West has prepared thousands of proposals and participated in debriefs conducted by a wide range of procurement agencies. We have also helped countless clients rebound from unfortunate circumstances. As a result, we’ve learned many lessons and heard countless stories of mistakes, errors and miscues in the proposal world. We’ve rounded up the most common proposal fails below to give you a quick refresher and help you brush up on your proposal approach.

Fail 1: Prepared submission without considering the evaluation criteria.

  • Only writing to the submission criteria without considering all aspects of how the proposal will be evaluated may just be the top offender when it comes to proposal fails. While the submission criteria outline the structure and order of required information, the evaluation criteria layout relevancy criteria and scoring parameters. Our general rule is to follow the submission criteria and write to the evaluation criteria. If these two sets of “instructions” contradict one another, submit a clarification question early in the procurement window to allow the procuring agency to address the conflict. If the issue is not addressed, err on the side of caution and ensure your response addresses both submission and evaluation criteria, skipping one or the other may be the difference between a win and a loss.

  • Pro tip: When outlining each proposal section, include both submission and evaluation criteria in different colored font to ensure both aspects are addressed as the content is developed.

Fail 2: Did not understand the basis of award.

  • It is important to comprehend exactly how a proposal will be evaluated and awarded before embarking on the proposal development process. Different strategies should be used when pursuing a Best Value award compared to Low Price Technically Acceptable (LPTA) determination. While an LPTA award will go to the lowest-priced offeror who receives Acceptable scores in all technical sections, a Best Value award can be used to award to a higher-priced offer if the additional cost is justified. When responding to a Best Value procurement, it is worthwhile to go above and beyond to clearly present as many benefits to the agency as possible to impact the award decision.

  • Pro tip: Discuss response strategy during the initial Kick-off Meeting to ensure all team members and proposal personnel are preparing information with a common approach.

Fail 3: Did not comply will all stated requirements.

  • Lack of compliance with RFP submission and evaluation criteria is a critical miss.

Common errors in this area include proposed key personnel or past experience but could also reach to inadvertently excluding required attachments. For example, carefully evaluate proposed key personnel to ensure each individual meets the minimum stipulated requirements and that all education, certifications and experience are thoroughly articulated to demonstrate how an individual satisfies criteria. When selecting projects to highlight past experience, double-check to ensure project durations fall within the look-back timeframe, are within contract value ranges and show the required scope elements. Additionally, perform a final compliance check to ensure all attachments have been accounted for in the final submission such as project schedules, pricing documentation, teaming or joint venture agreements and letters of commitment.

  • Pro tip: Have an independent person do a compliance check of all proposal sections before submission to ensure nothing has been missed! Also, institute a page check as part of your quality control procedures to literally flip (or scroll) through every single page to ensure nothing is amiss. For more tips on how to understand the evaluation criteria, check out this post!

Fail 4: Late submission.

  • Regardless of how wonderful your proposal is, if submitted late, you’re automatically disqualified for award. For hard copy submissions, this means delivering the proposal package with enough time to ensure a date/time stamp can be applied. Allow extra time to comply with base security requirements if you intend to hand deliver the proposal package. ase security For electronic uploads, this means ensuring enough transit time from upload or email until actual receipt by the accepting individual/agency.

  • Pro tip: Check out our expert advice on shipping tips to help you get your proposal delivered on-time: Click Here to Read More!

Fail 5: Disregarded formatting and page-limit requirements.

  • We get it, sometimes solicitation instructions require the use of dreadful Times New Roman font in size 12 and with double-spaced line spacing. Or, they limit your management response to a whopping four pages. We know it can get ugly and challenging but you must follow the formatting and page-limitation requirements, regardless of how ridiculous they might be. This usually means departing from company branding and font selection and removing convincing detail in order to ensure compliance. Even though it leaves much to be desired aesthetically, we promise it will be worth it when you win that job! Follow the rules and don’t give the source selection committee a reason to doubt your abilities.

  • Pro tip: Consider creating a proposal style guide with fonts and sizes typically allowed by most agencies that complement your company branding. This will allow you to stay “on brand” and save valuable formatting time when responding to RFPs. Also, when considering information to cut due to page limitations, focus on requirements with the most importance as detailed in the evaluation criteria. Read more about branding your proposals here!

At Meridian West, we have learned a lesson or two in our nearly 20 years of business. We strongly believe in implementing clearly defined proposal procedures with checks and balances at each major step to minimize risk and eliminate potential proposal failures. Our Meridian West Magic process entails independent reviews for compliance, Red Team reviews that simulate a source selection committee evaluation and thorough page checks to ensure a high-quality proposal. If you are interested in more information on how we can help you avoid proposal pitfalls, hit us up!

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