Proposals and Qualification Documents

Apr 01, 1996

I get to see a lot of proposals and qualification documents from A/E/P and environmental consulting firms of all types and sizes. In most cases, there’s plenty of room for improvement. Consider the following: Length: Why is it that so many technical people think that more is better? When it comes to proposals and qualification documents, giving too much irrelevant information can obscure the one or two things that are relevant. I’m talking about five-page resumes when one-page resumes would do, lengthy project descriptions that go into excess detail on building mechanical systems when a simple blurb or list of similar projects would suffice, and so on. The result is that nothing really distinguishes your firm from the rest. Table of contents: Do you include a table of contents in every proposal or qualification document you send out? Do you have tabs? Does it list page numbers? Are the pages clearly marked and easy to find? You should do all these things every time. Form: Most RFPs request certain information to be presented in a particular order. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be a little creative. While I believe it is absolutely critical to use all of the terminology of the client in the proposal, and to give them everything they ask for, a really good executive summary with the rest of this stuff in an appendix may be better than not having a summary and simply providing the information that is asked for. I also know that somewhere the question, “Why should we hire you?” should be answered. Written QA/QC procedures: What some firms say they do to ensure quality would be funny, if not for the fact that a smart attorney could probably nail most of them based on what they say they’ll do in this section, compared with what they actually do. Does any firm (save structural engineers or geotechs, perhaps) always follow the QA/QC procedure that you are telling your clients you will follow in your proposals? I doubt it. The procedure in your proposals and qualification documents was probably written by someone in marketing, anyway, and your technical people are most likely completely unaware of it. Project approach: Have you taken the time to describe in very clear and credible terms the exact approach you will take to do this project once it is awarded to you? (Did you notice my positive expectation here that you would in fact win the job?) This is one place where I’m convinced the marketing people should only be asked to tweak somebody else’s writing, as opposed to asking them to write this all on their own. Most marketing people don’t know enough to give a real answer to the question of how the job will be performed— this has to be addressed by the PM or PIC. If it isn’t, the client will most likely sense the B.S. and then disqualify the firm. Covers: The one thing that firms in this business actually standardize is probably the only thing they shouldn’t. I’m talking about proposal covers. What’s wrong with using the client colors or logo on the cover? How about an aerial flight map for an airport job, or a footprint on the cover of a proposal for a shoe distribution warehouse? Or how about a metal cover for a proposal to put a new roof on a sheet metal plant? The cover is the first chance you have to look different, yet so many firms just use the same old tired-out cover for every job they pursue. References: When was the last time you actually called some of the people you routinely use as references? Is it OK with them that you’re giving their names out? What will they say about you and your firm? Are they still in the same organization? Is their phone number and address accurate? I find that there is something wrong with about 50% of the references that firms give out. Either the person is no longer with the organization, the number is wrong, the address is wrong, or they say negative things about the company. All of this is important to firms that want to improve their chances of getting to second base. Remember— an A/E/P or environmental firm that responds to an RFP on a project will have tons of competition. It’s the lazy man’s marketing venue (responding to RFPs). The people who will review your proposal will most likely also be looking at the proposals of 342 other firms. They’ll be searching for every reason they can to disqualify you from further consideration. Don’t make it easy for them to throw yours out by doing a sloppy job. Originally published 4/01/1996

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