Proposal reviews are one of the most critical components of the proposal development process. Proposal reviews can be fun and challenging but are only valuable when they provide the proposal team with recommendations that improve the win probability and enable the team to make those improvements without jeopardizing the proposal development schedule.
Here are 10 tips for the next time you serve as a proposal reviewer:
1. Thoroughly Read the RFP Components
This seems obvious, but it’s an important reminder that you must read the RFP before beginning your review. The important parts of a solicitation to read are the proposal instructions and evaluation criteria (sometimes Sections L and M) and the scope of work (e.g., PWS, SOW, SOO). If you have time, reading and any other remaining sections and attachments will provide additional insight into the customer’s requirements.
2. Understand the Customer
After reading the RFP, you’ll know the requirements and will understand what the contract is seeking; now take a few minutes to understand the customer. Study the materials provided by your business development and capture teams regarding the customer hot buttons, concerns, favored contractors, and people. If you do not have this information available you might conduct a quick search of the agency to determine if they have encountered any significant issues. Any insights you can gain into the agency and program will allow you to better understand what an evaluator will be thinking during their review.
3. Segment Your Review
Your proposal team may provide detailed instructions as to which proposal sections you should review. If you are asked to review the whole proposal, quickly scan the Table of Contents to understand how the responses to the requirements have been laid out, then identify logical segments to break up the review. One of the quickest ways to do this is by second level headings.
4. Skim, Then Review
A common mistake in proposals is that the requirement has been answered, just in the wrong section. If this is the case it is important for the proposal team to know. If the requirement is answered in the wrong section, then the proposal is not compliant—this is critical for you to note. To avoid wasting time commenting on certain areas, then revising those comments, skim the entire section to get a general assessment, then go back and conduct a thorough review.
5. Continually Reference the RFP
It’s a big document and you’re going to forget the requirements. Keep the RFP close by and at the start of each section, review the requirements to ensure the response is compliant. More importantly, review the evaluation criteria to understand how the response will be evaluated. If the customer is looking for a high quality, feasible approach, make sure this is addressed in all sections of the response. Sometimes a proposal manager includes the instructions and evaluation criteria within the outline of the proposal so that it is easily available during your review. Other times this information is captured in a review scoring sheet that may be provided for use during your review.
6. What to Look For
When conducting the proposal review, there are multiple things to consider—everything from compliance to differentiating content. This is what can be considered in each proposal review:
- Compliance with the RFP – Always review for compliance against the solicitation materials.
- Demonstrated Capabilities – Has the proposal adequately demonstrated the company’s capabilities in providing the solution (people, processes, and tools) required to meet the requirements?
- A Compelling Response – Ensure there is a compelling argument for your company and solution, and that the solution addresses the customer’s concerns.
- Content Inconsistencies – Pay attention to instances when the solution isn’t clear or contradicts other aspects of the response.
- Cultivating Strengths – Identify areas where additional information or data would improve the response.
7. Provide Meaningful Comments
Demonstrate HOW the response can be improved. It is not enough to comment, “Section does not meet the requirement.” Provide what requirement is missing and explain HOW to answer it. In our experience, the best way to elicit this information is to ask questions or offer suggestions. In some cases, rewriting a paragraph is the best way to demonstrate your recommended changes. This is especially useful for repeated mistakes or issues. Provide an example of how you would respond, then suggest following this formula throughout the response.
8. Conduct an Assessment using the Evaluation Criteria
Using the established evaluation scale—for example, adjectival or color scale—provide an actual rating of each section. For any section falling short of the highest rating, provide specific recommendations to improve the rating.
9. Summarize Your Findings
When you have finished your review of each section, take time to summarize your findings. Are there major issues of noncompliance that need to be addressed? Are there common errors or weaknesses? Don’t only highlight the bad but be sure to identify strong sections so the writer can refer to these strong sections as part of the recovery.
10. Remember Your Deliverables
There are three major deliverables that should be included at the completion of each review:
- a summary of your findings including the proposal strengths and weaknesses;
- a rating of the proposal against the evaluation criteria; and
- a copy of the proposal response with your in-text comments.
Done properly, a proposal review can make a big impact on the chances of winning. As a proposal reviewer, your support and input are critical.
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