The Other Side (part two)

In my previous post I discussed the importance of understanding how Government evaluators think and act as a guide for what those of us on the industry side of the fence need to think about and do in our proposals. I then introduced the first of three key things to know about Government proposal evaluation: Evaluators don’t read proposals; they scan them and score them.

In this post I continue the discussion with the second thing proposal professionals must understand:

People buy from those they know and trust.

Think about your own buying habits. You buy an iPhone rather than an Android (or vice-versa) because you know and trust that platform. You may hesitate to buy a product or service from a company that is new to the market or hasn’t demonstrated its worthiness to you.

Of course, this is why GovCon companies spend so much time, effort, and money on marketing themselves to existing and prospective customers. They want to make sure these customers know their brand, their capabilities, and their key people. If you’re not doing that, you should be! If you are, strive to continuously improve what you’re doing and how you do it, to maximize your return on investment of time and dollars.

It’s not enough for your customer to know you, however. If you want your proposals to be successful, you also need to demonstrate your trustworthiness—not just to “the customer” but to the evaluators of your proposal.

Trust relies not only on knowledge but on evidence. Think again of your own purchasing patterns. Before you make a major purchase (such as a car), you’re likely to do a fair amount of research. You’ll look for and compare information on horsepower and gas mileage; you’ll check reviews in Consumer Reports or online sources; you’ll “get the CarFax.” The Government is going through a similar process when it buys goods or services from industry.

So, although you do want to distinguish your offer from your competitors’, simply stating that you’re better is not the best approach. In source selection, unsubstantiated claims—statements that lack supporting evidence—are likely to be not just ineffective but counterproductive. Far from impressing evaluators, such statements may do just the opposite: leading evaluators to question your claims and leading them to distrust you. Worse, this distrust can extend beyond the specific claims at hand and attach itself to every aspect of your offer.

Terms and phrases such as “innovative” or “industry-leading” or “best-in-breed” will not convince evaluators to rate your offering highly. You need to provide evidence–also known as proof. In the proposal context, “proof” is tangible evidence that you can do what you say you will do.

This evidence can take many forms:

  • Metrics (actual data that have direct relevance to the topic at hand)
  • Customer testimonials (direct quotes—ideally, from the customer for the opportunity being pursued; otherwise recent, relevant, and with direct attribution)
  • Case studies (brief descriptions of success stories)
  • Past Performance (for example, CPARS scores/comments or other formal customer evaluations, or descriptive details about specific relevant experience)
  • Graphics (depictions of relevant processes, projects, tools, etc.)

Any or all of these kinds of “proof points” might come into play in your proposal, depending on the circumstances. The key is that without such proof points, your proposal is likely to be evaluated as just a bunch of arm-waving, self-congratulatory back-patting. That is more likely to engender distrust than trust—and therefore is likely to lead to a lower-scoring proposal.

Coming next time: Who is the “customer” for your proposal?

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