Today's market demands benchmarking proposals. Here's how.

Bob Lohfeld offers advice on how to benchmark your proposals and increase your win-rates.

I attended a session on proposal benchmarking at the Association of Proposal Management Professionals National Capital Area Chapter’s (APMP-NCA), Mid Atlantic Proposal Conference & Exhibition a few months ago and was surprised to learn how few companies actually benchmark the quality of their proposals or the capabilities of their proposal departments.

In the session led by BJ Lownie of Strategic Proposals, only about 15 percent of the 75 companies represented acknowledged that they regularly benchmark their proposal quality and proposal department’s capabilities.

Since benchmarking is such a powerful tool to help raise win rates, I’m devoting this article to explaining why this should become a regular practice for all serious competitors in the government market.

Benchmarking proposal department capability

Needless to say, as the government market shrinks, only the best competitors will prosper, and those with high-performing proposal organizations will lead that charge. I have written numerous articles about creating high-performing proposal organizations and how to benchmark your company’s capabilities against our industry best practices model (see my Washington Technology article on Here's how to raise your win rate by 20 percent along with our 7-factor survey results and webinar replay).

You can perform this benchmarking internally, or you can use a professional proposal expert to do the benchmarking for you. However you decide to do the benchmarking, you must create a roadmap for improvement and identify:

  • Areas where specific investments should be made
  • Timing of these investments
  • Expected payoff from each investment.

In many of our recent benchmarkings of government contractors’ proposal department capabilities, we observed multiple common deficiencies:

  • No defined capture or proposal management process, and in cases where a process was defined, nobody followed the process—resulting in ineffective and inefficient proposal development.
  • No measurement of capture or performance metrics and no attempt to optimize processes to raise win rates.
  • No investment in proposal tools or collaboration tools to provide suitable infrastructure within which to manage capture and proposal activities.
    Insufficient proposal resources to meet workload demands and inadequate proposal training for overworked staff.
  • Inadequate decision-making when qualifying deals for pursuit and inconsistent bid/no-bid decisions.
  • Inadequate resume, past performance, and graphics libraries to archive reusable documents.
  • Overstaffing proposals with too many resources as well as understaffing proposals with too few qualified resources.

Each of these deficiencies is readily apparent when benchmarking proposal department capabilities against an industry best practices model. You can easily develop and implement a roadmap for improvement to address these deficiencies.

Benchmarking proposal quality

I’ve also written about benchmarking proposal quality (see my Washington Technology article on 7 steps from good to great proposals). When benchmarking proposal quality, your company should select several proposals to benchmark. When selecting proposals to benchmark, consider those that were generally some of your company’s best proposals, but for some unknown reason were not winners in their competitions.

For each proposal, gather up the RFP and amendments, submitted proposal, and any proposal revisions. The review should include the technical, management, and past performance volumes/sections, and any proposal attachments. Don’t forget to make the price proposal part of the benchmarking review.

An independent proposal expert and not someone who is part of your proposal department should perform the benchmarking assessment. For each benchmarked proposal, you can expect to receive a written report summarizing the high-level findings, recommendations that can be applied to all proposals to improve proposal quality, and an annotated copy of the proposal with detailed comments to substantiate the observations and recommendations. Additionally, insist that your company’s leadership be briefed so the independent proposal expert can directly address their questions about how to improve proposal quality.

Some of the deficiencies that we observed while benchmarking proposal quality include:

  • Proposal compliance and responsiveness was inadequate.
  • Customer understanding was not conveyed in the proposal.
  • Proposal was all about how great the company was versus what the company was going to do for the customer and how the company was going to do it.
  • Proposal focused on what was to be done versus how it was to be done.
  • Proposal presented few features and benefits—making it impossible to find and score proposal strengths.
  • Information was not conveyed clearly—so readers missed the content.
  • Solution development was non-existent.

All of these problems are process problems that companies can remedy by training, improving processes, and following standard procedures. As each of these problems is resolved, win rates will move incrementally higher.

With winning becoming paramount for companies, spending a few dollars on benchmarking to improve proposal quality and capability is certainly a sound investment and will pay off tenfold once improvements are made.