How COVID has changed successful proposal writing

The impact of the COVID pandemic has been profound on government customers and has changed the way they conduct business, which means you need to change how you write your proposals to address your customers' new reality.

The COVID-19 pandemic impacts our attention spans—both negatively and positively. In a world of digital distractions, our customers already suffer from a lack of focus due to multi-tasking, stress, information overload, and Fear of Missing Out (FOMO). Proposal content must speak to Source Selection Evaluation Board (SSEB) officials dealing with the disruptions caused by working at home and the resulting pandemic meeting fatigue.

Targeted information

More information is not necessarily better, but personalized, targeted information is.

Federal government contractors must adjust best-practice techniques in our new normal. Verbalizing and writing succinct, high-quality information nuggets grabs and holds wandering minds and is central to perform effective capture and to write winning proposals. High quality begins with understanding the customer and tailoring content to their values, constraints, risks, and hot buttons.

Yet, while pandemic stress may make customers lose focus, it may also have the opposite effect. Anecdotal conversations with government contractors and a bit of research leads me to believe that some customers may have more time to examine details. By eliminating long commutes, water cooler conversations, office parties, business lunches, and the like, some customers may use this found time to dive in more deeply.

Capture and proposal professionals may notice proposal submissions generating more questions and requests for clarifications as well as debriefs that point out additional perceived errors in the form of Weaknesses, Risks, and Deficiencies. Therefore, proposal content must do it all—attract distracted government evaluators to discriminating Strengths, while providing enough detail for the deep dive.

The three types of readers and how to attract them

Skim and scan: Modern readers skim and scan content to find what they need. Once they find desired content, they dive in more deeply. In the proposal world, government evaluators may skim and scan to find items on their scoresheets. To help them find desired content (Strengths), use visual cues such as theme boxes, icons, white space, and distinctive fonts to point to the value proposition. Make all the Strengths and Significant Strengths apparent and eye-catching so they are impossible to ignore. Cut irrelevant content and fluff that further distracts those already distracted.

Search and find: Today’s government source selection officials often use acquisition software and/or content search tools that help them locate scoreable narrative, check compliance, and document Strengths, Weaknesses, Deficiencies, and Risks. Some agencies are even experimenting with artificial intelligence (AI) to help with proposal evaluation.

Help evaluators use automation to your advantage. Create headings and subheadings to match RFP instructions, evaluation factors, and other requirements in the PWS/SOW with cross references in parentheses. Include compliance matrices and maps where possible. Map all Strengths to key words as well, and consider using the words “Strength” or “Significant Strength” to point to winning content. Identify risks and present mitigations to increase evaluator confidence in your company’s prospective ability to perform the work.

Laser focus: Without long commutes and the distractions of water cooler conversations, social lunches, and birthday parties, some government evaluators may have greater focus on the details. All of the above tips apply, but additionally, look at proposal content with a critical eye.

  • Does the narrative presenting the solution explain not just the what, but also detail the how and the why? Show understanding by providing the context for the approach.
  • Does every feature of the solution have proven benefits? Always provide evidence for benefits, and quantify results and achievements whenever possible.
  • Does the proposal identify risks and provide mitigations? Identify, prioritize, and address important risks to increase the evaluator’s confidence in the solution.
  • Does the proposal ghost the competition? Increase confidence in your solution versus the competitors’ by presenting potential Weaknesses and Risks of alternate approaches while proving that your solution provides greatest benefits at lowest risk.

Emulating the different types of evaluators

The SSEB will likely include different types of evaluators. Therefore, take a role-based approach to color team reviews. Always use government scoresheets to score and rate the proposal. Always assign a compliance reviewer. In addition, assign proposal reviewers specific roles such as the skimmer and scanner, the search and find, and the laser-focused evaluator. Compare results when you take these different perspectives. Improve your proposal submission accordingly.

Changes are here to stay

The pandemic has changed the way government employees work, and it has changed the way evaluators may approach your bid. Greening of the workforce staffs SSEBs with modern readers more likely to have little patience for irrelevant content and compliance issues. Stay agile and adapt proposal content to the different work styles of SSEB evaluators.