Olessia and I recently spoke at the 2014 NCMA World Congress on proposal quality control. As we were working on the presentation, we started talking about the common proposal flaws we keep encountering on our clients’ proposals. We came up with the seven deadly proposal sins based on those themes. Over the next 7 weeks, we will discuss in-depth each proposal sin and what companies can do to avoid succumbing to the temptation. Committing one or more of these proposal sins is the surest way to lose a bid, wasting all of the effort and resources spent on developing the proposal.

The first proposal sin, Pride, starts when a company starts believing its own hype, also known as “drinking your own bathwater.” Although many companies are prone to periodical delusions of greatness and invincibility, the most common culprit for this sin is the affliction called “incumbents.” Many incumbents believe that “the customer loves us too much to let us go.” Although some love may be there, it is not unconditional, and the proposal still needs to be good enough for the new award to happen. However, typical incumbent proposals suffer from a lack of originality and planning. Incumbents recycle the old proposal, or write a new one that takes credit for the work already done, offering an approach that’s “business as usual” & ndash; backward-looking and self-centered. The pride leaves the incumbent vulnerable to competition.

It is not only the illusion about the unconditional nature of a customer’s love that cripples an incumbent. Incumbents often underestimate their competition as well. Their mindset towards their competitors typically goes something like “they don’t have the past performance,” or “they don’t really understand this job.” This mindset is based on the assumption that competitors are static and they are not actively plotting to outbid the incumbent. Here is the reality check: Government spending is shrinking and the number of bids per RFP is increasing. The competitors are actively seeking to overthrow incumbents through thorough capture intelligence and great teaming matches, which fill the gaps in their past performance. They tend to propose bold innovations and aggressive pricing strategies.

Mitigating the risk of Pride: If you are an incumbent on a contract, you may very well have a great reputation with your customer, but that is not enough to carry the day. As a Business Developer or Capture Manager, use your access to the customer to discuss possible innovations for the re-compete, and implement them right away – close enough to the RFP issuance to get credit for your improvements but not letting your competition find out about them. Shape the RFP in your favor by helping define the evaluation criteria, resume requirements, and other factors. During the Capture phase, be sure to brainstorm on your win themes early and “feed” them to the customer to generate the fear of losing you. Run a Black Hat session to determine your competitors’ strategies and brainstorm ways to neutralize their strengths. Boost your employees’ morale by declaring to them your determination to­­ win. Moreover, interest them with potential monetary bonuses or extra paid time off for proposal assistance and after-hours work. Finally, be sure that your proposal is customer-centric and forward-facing through careful brainstorming on the customer’s needs and solutions. This way, it won’t be a prideful proposal developed by a complacent incumbent ready to bite the dust.

If you are an incumbent facing a difficult re-compete or suspect that some parts of your organization may suffer from incumbents, please let us know so that we can help you with strategies and win themes.

Best regards,

David Huff
Business Development and Operations Manager
OST Global Solutions, Inc.

…Because There is No Second Place in Proposals! TM

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