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Get Decision Makers and Selection Boards to Hear You

Get Decision Makers and Selection Boards to Hear You

Persuading others to see things your way is rarely easy. It’s even more difficult when (a) something significant is on the line, (b) there is limited (or no) relatedness between you and the person you’re trying to persuade, and (c) there are competing narratives working against you. All three factors are firmly in place when a selection board is reading your proposal. To win, you must craft your proposal professionally, with all this in mind.

RFPs and Proposals Responding to them Place Something Significant on the Line

Obviously, something significant is on the line for you and your company. You’re spending a great deal of time, effort and money to respond to a government RFP. Winning will provide a continuing stream of profit for your company, possibly many millions of dollars over the life of the contract. However, the selection board cares little about your company’s profits. The important thing for you here is to place yourself in their shoes and consider what’s on the line for them. Personally, it’s their time and effort to review multiple proposals, and potential loss of prestige if they choose a contractor who doesn’t perform well. Professionally, the selection board is acting as the steward of the interests of their center, base, agency, department, etc. and ultimately of the tax-payer’s money. Your job is thus to make it easy for them to evaluate your proposal, and to make it clear your proposed approaches are best.

There’s little or No Relatedness in Place between Offerors and Selection Boards

To ensure a level playing field, selection boards, and indeed the organization they represent, tightly limit interactions with offerors. Some contact between the government customer and potential offerors is available before the final RFP is published, but once the final RFP is out, such interactions are made public e.g. through the questions and answers process. The selection board is even expected to ignore any familiarity they may have with the offeror (e.g. if the offeror is the incumbent in a re-compete situation) and rely only on the submitted proposal materials. The implication is that the only relatedness you can count on is what you generate in selection board members reading your proposal. Your proposal must demonstrate that you know what’s important to the customer, and that your plan addresses it.

Competing Narratives are Working Against You

Unless your proposal is the only one submitted, which is almost never the case, you must take into account that other proposals are evaluated in parallel to yours, each trying to make the case that the other offeror is the best choice. What’s more, many proposals will include attempts to ghost your company, pointing out any weaknesses you may have. To address this, you must start your proposal writing process by identifying your weaknesses (real or perceived) and make it clear they’re not relevant or have been corrected.

Get the Selection Board to Hear You

In writing your proposal, your job is not to provide an objective overview, or to avoid making claims that you’re the best choice. Indeed, selection boards expect your proposal to be biased. Thus, you must support your claims by facts and figures, or they’ll be dismissed. Such support is just the start, however. Much more important is the type of claims and statements that are worth asserting.

Selection boards are usually made up of managers with experience running technical projects and/or organizations, but any specific technical knowledge and experience they possess is likely out of date and unrelated to the subject matter at hand. The board has technical expert support, but those experts only provide feedback on your technical claims and/or the board’s questions. This gives you the opportunity to educate the selection board, telling them what’s important, what are the challenges to be overcome, risks to mitigate, issues to manage, and how you plan to do so. You can also tell them what will happen if the contractor they select fails to plan for these challenges, risks, and issues.

Your proposal must specify the important features of your (management, cost, and/or technical) approaches, and convince them these are important by showing them how they benefit the customer. The best features are those that provide a significant benefit, and that your competitors can’t also claim (remember the competing narratives?). To the best of your ability, ghost your competitors without naming names, identifying the weaknesses of their organization, team members, likely approach and/or past performance, but without making it obvious enough to annoy selection board members. Your best way to do this is to incorporate the ghosting into the description of your own organization, team members, approaches and past successes, showing the benefits of choosing you and the probable problems if the board selects any other proposal or approach.

To get selection boards to hear you, put yourself in their shoes

The way to get the selection board to “hear” you is to put yourself in their shoes – show you understand what’s important to them and that your approach addresses it

To be the most persuasive, put yourself in the selection board’s shoes – understand their point of view and write in response to that. As Goulston and Ullmen put this in a more general context: “… For real influence we need to go from our here to (the other person’s) there to engage others in three specific ways… (1) Show that you understand the opportunities and challenges your conversational counterpart is facing. Offer ideas that work in the person’s there… (2) Show that you understand his or her strengths, weaknesses, goals, hopes, priorities, needs, limitations, fears, and concerns… (3) Show people a positive path… Give them options and alternatives that empower them. Based on your understanding of their situation and what’s at stake for them personally, offer possibilities for making things better…”. In terms of your proposal, this means your section authors have to first concentrate on demonstrating understanding of the customer’s needs, wants, fears, challenges, etc. and only then show how your company and your approaches are the best, if not only, way to address them.

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