Make RFPs Easy To Score And Beat The Competition
By Michel Theriault
For clients, proposal evaluation involves reading a number of long, comprehensive proposals from all the bidders. That's a lot of information to read, absorb and remember. In most cases, proposals win because a client's evaluator gives it the highest score. While pricing and the service have to be good enough in the first place, winning or losing can hinge on how many points are awarded to the written proposal.
A proposal will get the maximum possible points if it's structured and written to make it easy for evaluators to find the information they need. Building service contractors can improve their maximum score by thinking about what the evaluators need to see — and then giving it to them.
Follow the Evaluation Matrix
The evaluation matrix is how the evaluators decide which proposal is best, so it should be carefully reviewed to understand the overall process: how evaluation is conducted, how points are calculated and distributed between sections and questions, what criteria is most important and how much weight is given to the proposal response compared to the pricing.
In most cases, a matrix is provided in the RFP documentation, outlining evaluation criteria, designating how many points are being assigned to various sections, or even specifying questions that have to be answered in the proposal response.
The customer provided matrix and related criteria should be carefully assessed before BSCs start writing, to guide responses to the questions. If explicit evaluation criteria is not provided, the entire proposal document should be reviewed to identify things that are likely to matter to the evaluators based on what's written in the proposal document, how it's emphasized and how often it's repeated.
Sometimes clients' criteria are shown in the form of goals and objectives; other times, they are buried within specifications or scope, so a little digging may be necessary. Knowing the client helps with this assessment, of course, so research is useful to understanding their "hot button" and converting them to criteria.
The evaluation criteria should be thought of as a checklist the evaluators will use as they read the proposal. To meet expectations, the written proposal should be structured to make it easy for the evaluators to check off each criteria as they go. It's an advantage to make it as easy as possible for them to find the related information. Evaluators shouldn't have to work hard to award points.
One way to make it easy on the evaluators is to match the proposal with the evaluation criteria by using some of the same wording they use in their criteria. This makes it easier for the evaluator to link statements directly with the scoring criteria.
In addition, focus on the key words and phrases they use within their RFP questions and repeat some of them in the proposal response. This method helps the evaluators see the response to the question more clearly and ties it directly to the question and the evaluation criteria, reinforcing the answer and improving the score.
Also, use some of the words and phrases from the RFP documentation, particularly from the introduction, background or other information that is directly related to the situation and requirements. As long as it isn't overdone, repeated wording helps the proposal resonate with the evaluators, who see that their interests and issues are considered and understood.
Key information should also be repeated when necessary to ensure the response lines up with the evaluation criteria, phrases and wording they use. For instance, the evaluation criteria customers use might apply to more than one question, so repeating information that meets their criteria may be necessary to get full points.
Structure Matters, Too
Typically, the client asks very specific questions in their RFP. Often, these are structured to link with their evaluation criteria, but not always. To make it easier for them to find answers they can score, the structure of their document should be followed. For instance, always repeat the RFP question, paraphrasing if necessary, before the answer is provided.
For a question that has several sub-questions buried in it or if the question provides a listing of the type of information they're looking for, separate out these specific requirements and repeat their wording as subheadings. Then, provide specific answers to the sub-question or list of items separately instead of burying it within the main answer.
Whenever possible, use the same numbering or lettering convention in the proposal response that the client used in their RFP documentation. By using a familiar structure, it's easier for them to follow the response and link it back to what they are looking for when they are evaluating the proposal.
Headings and subheadings should be used generously in the proposal response to lead the evaluators to the right answer for each criterion — don't rely on their ability to find it. A persuasive proposal should clearly identify the arguments, examples, experience and messages in the proposal that meet evaluation criteria, all in an effort to maximize the points they award.
The structure and format should also make the proposal easy to read and focus attention on information the evaluators need without burying it in other, less important material. This is also why proposals should be carefully written to eliminate corporate fluff, heavy sales material and statements that aren't backed up with evidence. Many evaluators will discount this type of writing.
For the evaluator, the structure of the proposal visually presents the information to them, making their job easier. Good structure includes using descriptive headings and subheadings, meaningful graphics, captions, illustrations and positioning of key information on the page to make it visible. Some useful techniques include using pull-quotes, sidebars and columns to pull information out of the main text and highlight it.
The response to each question should be organized the same way so they present the same type of information consistently and in the same order each time. For instance, if quality control is part of the evaluation criteria, add a heading called "How We Manage Quality" to each answer and explain how the quality control processes applies. As evaluators read, they begin to expect the information in the same structure and will absorb it easier when evaluating the proposal.
In addition to structure, good formatting makes proposals easier to read, which is important when the evaluators have a lot of proposals to review. For easy reading, use more white space instead of dense text filled pages. Long paragraphs should be broken into shorter paragraphs and more headings and sub-headings should be used. Replace some paragraphs with bullet lists where possible to convey information more effectively. Choose an appropriate font, preferably a standard Serif font that's easy to read in a standard 10 to 12 point size and don't crowd the text with narrow margins.
Responding to each question and touching on the related evaluation criteria is more than just providing marketing material. The evaluator needs to see evidence to assure themselves that the answer is valid and the experience is real. There must be data, examples, illustrations and case studies to clearly demonstrate that BSCs do what they say they do. For example, instead of providing generic forms or reports in the proposal to show processes and approach, provide actual examples from existing clients that show the tools are actually used. Black out or remove any confidential information or get permission from clients to use the document, if necessary. If the documents need to be changed or modified to meet the prospective client's specific needs, describe how it will be customized for them.
Evaluators read enough proposals to know when they are reading standard marketing fluff, sales pitches and made-up generic examples. They will ignore or discount this type of writing if it isn't backed up with evidence.
While price certainly matters, a clear, concise and compelling proposal that is easy to evaluate and easy to score can make the difference between winning and losing. A proposal response that helps the evaluators do their job has an advantage over the competition.
Michel Theriault has written many successful RFP responses for facilities and building services contractors and has worked with buyers to develop and run their RFP procurement process, including specifications, questions and evaluation matrices. His book, "Win More Business - Write Better Proposals" helps service providers write proposals that win more business. For more information about the book, visit www.howtowinmorebusiness.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.