Writing a Response to a Government RFP
When writing a response to a Government RFP, your team will need to accomplish all of the items below, some simultaneously and others independent from one another.
- Read all sections of the RFP
In order to get a handle on the overall scope of the intent the Government has for issuing the RFP, it is good to read, not only the main RFP document, but the attachments as well. You will often find specific requirements deep in one of those documents which, if missed, could make you non-compliant. In fact, the slightest deviation from the proposal requirements could cause your proposal to get thrown out on a technicality as non-compliant.
The introduction will usually describe the purpose of the RFP along with dates, contacts, and some legal issues. There will often be a Statement of Work or Performance Work Statement describing the specific tasks required as contractor. It might also have contract clauses, terms, and conditions that will be incorporated into the final agreement if your company is selected. Additional sections include various representations and certifications, instructions to the offeror, and the evaluation criteria and process.
Keep in mind that there are often mistakes and conflicting information as often an old RFP is edited and adopted for a new contract. This is why they have a period for allowing you to ask questions and get clarifications. Since these questions and answers will be published and shared with all bidders as an amendment, be careful not to reveal anything that you do not want made public.
One key subsection that I always recommend clients to review before making a decision to move forward is to review any Mandatory/Minimum Requirements. You can have the best proposal, but if you cannot meet the minimum requirements, you are not going to win the contract.
- Note the Evaluation Criteria
Understanding how they will measure your responses and the hierarchy of what’s important in their evaluation helps to emphasize those areas. For example, if cost is expected to be “reasonable” and accounts for only 15% of the total score, but you past performance makes up 50% of the score, you don’t need to have the lowest price, but must make a strong case for similar contracts completed in the past.
- Pricing is always a key component of any proposal
Even when the price is going to make up only a small portion of the evaluation criteria, believe me, it is still a critical factor in the decision process. Within range, the lower cost proposals are going to be more competitive as long as they meet the technical requirements. One caveat is based on what they call a “reasonable price” which takes into account the range of prices being proposed across all bidders. If you price is too high or too low, i.e., way outside the average range, it may not be accepted as they probably think that you don’t know what you are doing.
So, when writing a response to a Government RFP and a detailed cost breakdown is requested, they are especially going to review the amount or percentage of profit. Typically, you are now allowed to charge more than you would your commercial clients. I recommend including a modest profit, but at a rate that you’ll be satisfied with. You definitely don’t want to lose money unless you feel like you are making an investment in a potentially longer term relationship.
This is also where questions can be very useful, since if you don’t fully understand what is required to perform the entire scope of work, it will be difficult to provide an accurate fee structure. Definitely submit questions that will help to clarify the tasks and resources required.
- Understand the Government’s goals and objectives for the project
Highlight how your solution meets those goals and objectives and the unique benefits your firm brings to the project that they won’t find with other vendors.
Identify and support the benefits you bring with proofs of similar projects successfully completed in the past. Often, companies know their reputation, key benefits, past successes, etc. and subconsciously impute that the evaluators know this as well, but keep in mind that they do not have a clue as to who your are, what you have accomplished in the past, and the qualifications the company and your team bring to this contract. You need to tell them and prove it.
- Emphasize your key benefits and unique capabilities
You can use call-out boxes to highlight customer support quotes, various accomplishments, and key benefits supported by a narrative that separated your company, services, technologies, or project team from the competition, thereby providing advantages that only you can provide. Of course, tie those advantages to the Government’s objectives for this contract demonstrating why you are the best choice.
- Write from the perspective that you will be winning the contract
When writing a response to a Government RFP, do not write from the perspective of “if awarded the contract, we would” do this or that. Instead, write from the perspective that “upon contract award, we will” do this or that. The second method shows confidence that you expect to win the contract.
- Create two separate checklists
As you go through the RFP documents, identify all of the compliance requirements to ensure that you do not miss one minute point. When they say, include 1-inch margins on the pages, add that to your bullet list of compliance requirements. And, when they say “in your proposal include this…”, add that to your bullet list. Your second checklist is actually your proposal outline identifying every volume, section, subsection, form, attachment, etc. By doing this upfront, you won’t miss anything and won’t get thrown out on a technicality for being non-compliant.
- Create a customized template
When you lay everything out up front, you are more easily able to manage the content development process and not worry about what needs to go on the cover page, cover letter, table of contents, attachments, headers & footers, etc. Then, incorporate your content requirements outline. If you complete all of that up front, you can concentrate on preparing the narratives for each section with page limits identified where relevant. Writing the cover letter will also help you set the stage for who you are and what you are offering.
Since often, different team members are responsible for pulling together the information for different sections, it’s good to assign those sections up front so that you can track the progress being made for each. Be sure that your proposal writer/editor edits all content to reflect a consistent voice throughout the documents.
- Adapting previous content
If including previously prepared content when writing a response to a Government RFP, do not just cut and paste into the proposal. Always be sure to adapt it to the specifics of the current proposal by reading through the entire section adjusting wording and references as necessary as well as making any additions to create more relevancy. Old content may be outdated, have references to a different agency, include past dates, and resumes may not be up to date.
Certain information may be generic and easily added such as short project team bios, brief background of the company, and client testimonials, but for most information adapt it to the current client and scope of work.
- Pricing details and rationale
Don’t just submit pricing information but support it with a rationale as to how the pricing was developed, what your assumptions are, and what various options might impact that pricing. If you are open to negotiation, say so, but definitely don’t be vague in your presentation of costs. Instead, be very clear. You can emphasize the value of your proposition based on client satisfaction. Always include “Additional Value Added” services or products that can be identified as Optional Services, but that are included at no additional cost.