Government agencies use the Request for Proposal process to find the best available solution to their needs at the most competitive price. In competitive bidding, an agency has a duty to reject proposals that are non-responsive or that fail to comply with the invitation to bid in a material way. This promotes objectivity and fairness in the bidding process and ensures that vendors are competing on an equal footing.
In too many cases, contractors expend considerable time and effort developing a proposal that the contracting agency ultimately rejects as non-compliant or non-responsive. Part 1 outlines the standard format of RFPs. Part 2 outlines steps you can take to avoid such costly errors and increase your chances of winning.
As you write your proposal, keep these grading factors top of mind. The agency is telling you what is important to them. Believe them!
Preparing Your Proposal
As you write your proposal, make sure to:
- Sign and acknowledge all amendments to the original RFP.
- Submit questions to clarify any ambiguities created in the original Q&A or by amendments. If you are assuming something, ask the question! Clarifying questions rarely expose your strategy. Ask one question per ambiguity – the government will likely only answer one of them. Make sure to phrase questions to elicit clear answers
- Watch out for RFPs that include provisions for full and open as well as set-aside awards. Clarify any proposal requirements not clearly designated as applying to one group or both, and clarify the applicability of contract clauses to each group.
- Prime contractors need to conduct a cost or price analysis and include results of the analysis in your proposal.
- You may need to submit subcontractor certified cost or pricing data as part of a prime proposal.
- If you are a subcontractor, you may need to submit pricing faster and assist in the analysis process.
- Primes should request information from subcontractors, including:
- System adequacy letters.
- Disclosure of proposed profit.
- In Federal Financial Participation (FFP) contracts, disclose labor hours and categories.
- Subcontractor disclosures
- Although it is okay for primes to request full disclosure, it is equally okay for subs to insist on sealed packages.
- The prime should be clear about what is required in sanitized and sealed packages. Do not assume the sub has read the RFP requirements!
- Subs should always read the full RFP, even if the prime sends a summary RFP.
- If the government does not provide a method for subcontractors to submit directly to them, request that subcontractors provide sealed packages.
Best Practices for Responsive Proposals
Read the RFP. Then read it again, and again. Read it all the way through at least once. You may focus on key areas the first time, but consider reading out of order in subsequent reviews to reduce fatigue when reaching Schedules L and M. Keep an eye out for RFP amendments, and read those as well.
Craft a proposal that directly and efficiently addresses the agency’s needs. Stop focusing on telling your story and start focusing on telling the story the RFP is requesting of you. Remember, a great conversationalist is someone who listens. The best consultants and sales people do not talk about their product or service. They talk about you and solving your problems.
Prepare a compliance matrix. Your matrix should document general requirements such as format and due date as well as requirements for each volume. Update the compliance matrix to stay current with amendments.
Hold a proposal kick-off meeting. Invite your teammates, and identify critical milestones and due dates. Delegate responsibilities as needed, and provide templates if available. Designate one or more people to be responsible for regularly checking for amendments.
Avoid math errors or other inconsistencies. Use rounding formulas in all calculations. Ensure that someone other than the person who prepared the price proposal prints out and manually checks all figures on a calculator.
Ensure your proposal arrives on time! In most cases, agencies will reject late proposals out of hand, so don’t wait until the last minute to finish your proposal.
If your proposal must be hand-carried, prepare a delivery receipt and obtain a signature, date, and time of delivery from the person accepting your proposal package.
For online submissions, ensure that your firm is registered and able to post its proposal on the web site. If permitted, do a test submission to make sure you are able to submit documents successfully. Submit your proposal 24 hours before the due date, and no later than 5pm the day before to comply with FAR 15.208(b). After your submission, print out a copy of the web site delivery notification or receipt. When submitting by email, use read receipt in your email program. Ask the contracting officer if there is a file size limit for submitting via email. If your proposal exceeds that limit, you may need to break it into multiple parts.
Conduct a final review. Have independent parties to the proposal process perform a final check for compliance.
Questions for Your Proposal
Before submitting your proposal, ask yourself these questions:
- Is it formatted correctly?
- Is your bid organized and easy to follow?
- Is your solution plausible?
- Have you demonstrated your ability to perform?
- Have you presented an acceptable delivery schedule?
- Are you proposing a reasonable price?
- Have you had someone spell check, grammar check and error check?
- Have you printed or produced the required number of proposals?
Crafting responsive proposals is both a science and an art. There’s much more to the process than we can cover in a single blog post. If you have questions about responsive proposals or any other aspect of the RFP process, call (614) 556-4415 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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