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Get the Job, Part 2

May 17, 2010 12:00 PM, By Don Kreski

Thoughts on the art of writing winning proposals.


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Some consultants will use a two-envelope process to sort through requests for proposals: one for the company’s qualifications and specifications, and the other for the price. If the information in your first envelope is compelling enough and your price within reason, yours might be the only bid considered.

Some consultants will use a two-envelope process to sort through requests for proposals: one for the company’s qualifications and specifications, and the other for the price. If the information in your first envelope is compelling enough and your price within reason, yours might be the only bid considered.

Last month, we looked at the science of responding to requests for proposal (RFPs): the processes you must go through to ensure that your proposals realistically describe what you plan to do, set a profitable price on your work, and protect you from unexpected demands and issues.

This month, I’d like to ask the question: Can the way you write up a bid document help you win the bid?

In a perfect world, that would probably not be the case. But since this is the real world, you have to realize that a significant portion of RFPs are sent when the client or consultant is not sure who the most qualified bidder may be and has trouble evaluating the bidders’ qualifications. So if you want the best chance of winning, you need to make several points in your proposal that go over and above your description of how you intend to complete the project and at what price.

“It is a selling document,” says K.C. Schwarz, founder and CEO of the Northglenn, Colo.-based buying and integration consortium USAV Group. “You have to present the core information about your company that explains who you are and why that’s important.”

The two-envelope process

Consultant Jeff Loether, president of Gaithersburg, Md.-based consulting firm Electro-Media Design, explains that some consultants use a two-envelope process to help determine who is the most qualified bidder and quantify how much those extra qualifications may be worth.

“In the first envelope go your responses to a series of questions we ask: ‘Please tell us about your experience doing projects like this,’ ‘Please give us a list of similar projects,’ and so on,” he says. “Then we review those responses and give each answer so many points.

“In the second envelope is your price. When we get all the bids, we open each envelope one and rank their scores from the highest to lowest. Theoretically, if envelope two from the most qualified bidder is within budget, we should award the bid to that contractor without opening the others.”

In practice, Loether says, the consultant and the owner do open all the envelopes, and they discuss the trade-offs. If the second-most-qualified bidder has a significantly lower price, he or she may get the contract. Or the low bidder may win if they think he’s qualified enough to complete the job successfully. “But the idea of this process is that we would not accept low bids from unqualified contractors,” Loether says.

If a given RFP asks these types of qualifying questions, then your first priority is simply to answer them. If not, you need to make sure your proposal answers them anyway, even if your company is well-known to the consultant and the client. “After all,” Schwarz says, “the document is going to be read by many people, and some of them will have no idea who you are.”



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