A recent discussion of mine with a government decision-maker focused on the real reasons why proposals were not selected as winners. The top 10 reasons are noted here, with the author’s comments.

Did not follow the proposal instructions. When a Request for Proposal (RFP) states that one must submit the response in three separate volumes, with triplicate copies and with a CD with the separate volumes in PDF format, that is exactly what they want. Do not combine into one large binder or use a spiral bound system (unless it is specifically allowed).

Did not return the requested forms. All forms indicated must be included and signed. No exceptions. Even if you indicate “n/a,” one must include all legal forms. Please make sure they are signed, as well. Too many exceptional proposal responses have been disqualified because there was no signature on the form SF 1440 or this or other required forms were missing from the submission.

Did not address the evaluation criteria as described in the proposal format. Evaluation criteria is very specific to that opportunity, and if one ignores or glosses over the specific criteria in the response, the entire package may be immediately considered non-compliant or non-responsive. This will trigger a pre-award notice of non-compliance, which means your entire response never made the grade to be fully evaluated.

Technical proposal just regurgitated statement of work. By simply copying and pasting the statement of work into the technical proposal the contractor fails to explain the critical “how exactly” the work will be completed. The “how” is often the deciding factor even before price has been addressed.

Did not adhere to page limit; too wordy. The page limit is real, as are the font size and page margins. Any deviation from the stated requirement will deem the response non-compliant, and it will never be reviewed.

Did not state the assumptions or the basis for the proposed costs. Inexperienced businesses often determine a bottom-line price and expect to “back into” the pricing details, if awarded the contract. The government wants to see the full basis for the proposed costs to determine if a low price viably answers all of the requirements or if a high price has padding that may be discussed.

Poor safety record. The safety record is a critical factor in construction and many other services. A proposal response may be perfectly assembled with the pricing, but the poor safety record will instantly eliminate a company from consideration.

Lack of understanding regarding the work. Companies may understand, and be entirely capable of, performing the work, but the RFP response documentation may not clearly prove this. Often assumptions might be made by the contractor that the selection committee will “know” who they are and what they are capable of, from experience; however, the only thing that can be scored is the written word. If the proof is not spelled out clearly, the result is a failing grade.

Lack of documented past performance. Past performance is very specific. It must be experience that relates exactly to the requirements in this RFP. Many companies list experience that they are proud of, but that has no relation to the actual requirements.

Cost/Price. Price is always a factor in the government marketplace. The swing towards lowest-price technically acceptable (LPTA) contracts seems to have peaked, and we are now seeing the reverse swing back toward best-value. This is still a price-sensitive market as budgets are cut across the government, for both military and civilian agencies. It is even more critical to be very clear with price justifications, costs and overhead issues in the RFP response.

Thanks to Cassandra McGee, the small business advocate at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, in Oak Ridge, Tenn., for her insights on this article.

Gloria Larkin is president of TargetGov, in Linthicum. Visit www.targetgov.com or call toll-free 866-579-1346 for more information.