One of the major challenges business people experience is fine-tuning the proposal response process to increase win rates, and also to reduce the cost of responding to requests for proposals (RFPs). The start of the new year is a perfect time to analyze the past year’s RFP response efforts to make both strategic and tactical improvements.

A recent blog post by proposal expert Ellen Perrine, of AOC Key Solutions, described “3 Common Misconceptions to Avoid in the Proposal Development Process.” Her take on the issues of past performance, management capacity and the importance of crafting résumés to exactly fit the RFP requirements are right on target, and worth the read at

Past performance costs many lost proposals because of one key factor: providing unrelated experience. Businesspeople may consider their past experience on other contracts as “similar” work to show effective project management ability, or a similar size or scale of work.

However, the government usually has an entirely different perspective; it wants to see proof of the exact same type of services or products, in a similar-size project, with similar delivery parameters. Period.

The government will rate the past performance volume higher if the vendor states past experience clearly and exactly matching the new requirements, also known as relevant past performance. If one does not have this relevant past performance, that’s a hole to fill with a subcontractor or teaming partner, if possible.

Along these lines, it is often difficult to provide enough exact past performance and management expertise when one is pursuing contracts of a size and scale never before awarded. The government acknowledges this problem, and as an example, the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) clearly states in its document “Strategies for Responses to Sources Sought Notices” (email the author for it) that “The concept of “potential capability” greatly improves a business’ chances of being found capable.”

It continues with “The bottom line in making capabilities assessments is a determination by the Government’s technical reviewer(s) that a business is either “capable” or “not capable” of performing the requirements of a solicitation. The information provided in this strategy paper is based on examples of types of possible shortcomings that might be cited by a Government technical reviewer. Keep in mind that government technical personnel have a very strong drive to meet and exceed their mission’s goals. They want to reduce and/or eliminate all forms of risk — risk of delay, of cost overruns, of poor or only average performance of services or products provided by contractors, of poor or only average performance of their government team as a result of contractor problems, of any kind of a stumble or failure in the pursuit of their mission.”

If a contractor can take NAVSEA’s advice to heart in writing the RFP response, it would be well served to include detailed discussion of the three following concepts.

  1. The contractor’s ability to manage, as prime contractor, the types and magnitude of tasking in the Performance Work Statement (PWS); and
  2. The contractor’s technical ability, or potential approach to achieving technical ability, to perform at least 50% of the cost of the contract/task order incurred for personnel with its own employees; and
  3. The contractor’s capacity, or potential approach to achieving capacity, to conduct the requirements of the PWS. Capacity shall refer to matters such as the magnitude of the tasking, the amount of equipment or facilities involved, and the size of the staff needed.

Finally, regarding the issues of résumés, most companies shoot themselves in the foot by thinking that the government does not really read the résumés provided in the RFP response, when in fact, the key personnel résumés may indeed tip the award one way or the other.

The résumés are often the last RFP response content added, in a rush, without review of the résumé content for applicability, are chosen because they are “on the bench,” or worse, downloaded from a web-based résumé provider without proper vetting, availability or letters of commitment included. Decision-makers have been known to instantly eliminate a company’s response when it sees a duplicate résumé submitted by another company, résumés with unrelated experiences and those that are too difficult to read due to poor formatting.

Increasing win rates will result in lower bid and proposal costs and improved profitability for the coming year. Adopt the above recommendations after reviewing the past year’s RFP responses for improvements to all three RFP volumes including pricing, technical and past performance.

Gloria Larkin is president of TargetGov, in Linthicum, and a national expert in business development in the government markets. For more information, email [email protected], visit or call (toll free) 866-579-1346.