Proposal Evaluations: Five Strategies to Score Higher

As we enter a new proposal season, many of us are looking to find ways to improve our proposals and win more. As we look for areas to focus our improvement efforts, it’s helpful to remember that in the vast majority of cases, proposals are scored, not read. Therefore, as bidders looking to win work, to maximize proposal performance, we should aim to help evaluators award us as many points as possible. This article presents five easy ways to focus your content so that it scores higher.

1. Take Time to Understand the Customer
The first real step to scoring higher is understanding your customers and their needs—and it is critical to take the time to understand the customer needs before the RFP is released. Remember that building a relationship with your customers and understanding their underlying concerns takes time. Without solid customer relationships, you won’t have the opportunity to understand their programmatic concerns or determine what really keeps them up at night.

2. Define the Value Proposition
Another critical step in scoring higher is defining your value proposition. The value proposition summarizes the case for why your company should be awarded the contract—it is the rationale or justification for winning. When developing your value proposition, you should start with the information the government needs to justify selecting your company, and then give the evaluators the key points they can highlight, quantifying where possible. Defining this value proposition is extremely difficult when you don’t understand the customer and their needs—that’s why it’s so critical to start early and gain the necessary customer insights.

3. Document the Hot Buttons and Win Themes
A third critical step in scoring higher is documenting the hot buttons and win themes. This helps the writing team to understand what the customer cares about. When the writing team doesn’t have a list of customer hot buttons and win themes before the RFP is released, the first drafts must default to generic approaches that won’t necessarily resonate with the customer. Going back to retrofit narrative to address customer hot buttons and weave in win themes takes so much more time than writing to them in the first place. In addition, this delayed approach often results in awkward flow and stilted content. Identifying hot buttons and win themes early enables the team to develop approaches that directly address the customer’s concerns and highlight the strengths of the team. This supports stronger content from the beginning, saving time and resulting in higher quality final proposal content that will ultimately score higher in the end.

4. Focus on the Customer
Another critical way to score higher is to make sure you are focusing on the customer. Remember, proposals should be about how the customer’s needs are met by your solution, not about how wonderful your company is and why the customer should choose you. To determine whether your writing is more company-focused or customer focused, try this quick test. Hit Ctrl-F and search for the number of times you mention your company and/or team name. Then search for the number of times you mention the customer’s name. You should aim to mention the customer’s name more time than yours. If you don’t, go back and revise your text to focus more on the customer and the benefits they will receive by choosing your solution.

5. Organize Content So It’s Easy to Score
A final way to maximize your scoring potential is to present your content in a way that is easy to score. To make your sections easy to score, structure your response to the Proposal Instructions and the Evaluation Criteria. Next map in other requirements, as required. To facilitate evaluation, consider including relevant RFP references in your section heading titles. Additionally, evaluators often do key word searches to find what’s important to them. Make sure all sections include key words from the instructions, evaluation criteria, and the SOW. To make your proposal narrative even more evaluator-friendly, leverage feature and benefit tables and highlight strong proof points using callout boxes.

Final Thoughts
Remember, to score higher and win more, the first real step is understanding your customers and their needs. Leveraging this knowledge, you’ll want to develop and document your value proposition, customer hot buttons, and win themes. Finally, as you develop your proposal text, make sure you focus the response on the customer and organize the content so that it is easy to score. These five simple components can go a long way in facilitating the evaluation process and increasing your overall score—and a higher score can easily translate to a higher probability of win!

Written by Ashley Kayes, CP APMP
Senior Proposal Consultant, AOC Key Solutions, Inc. (KSI)


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