'Answer the Mail' in your Response

Anyone who has been in this business awhile has a horror story about a small mistake that sunk (or nearly sunk) an otherwise valiant effort: the time that you almost missed the embarrassing spelling error on the title page of the technical volume; or when you arrived out of breath at the Contracting Officer's desk at 1:05 and she looked at you stone-faced and said, “you're late.” But compliance goes deeper than just getting in on time and making sure you have a good proofreader. Someone on your proposal team needs to step back and check that your offer is compliant with the RFP.  

Don’t let an excellent solution go to waste because of compliance issues.

Ultimately the government must award a contract based on the work statement described in the RFP. The agency has gone through a long process to put together the request, involving many technical and contractual stakeholders. What you see in the RFP is what they are buying. Given this, it’s imperative that you respond to exactly what is described, specified and implied in the RFP.

This is not the time to pitch an alternative (or “better”) idea and here’s why: 

·      Winning with alternative ideas that are not compliant, even if they seem better to you, run the risk of a protest that overturns the award.

·      An alternate vision may cost more than the compliant idea.

·      Because trying to convince the government they are asking for the wrong solution makes you come off as arrogant and no one wants to deal with an conceited contractor. They want to work with someone who is compliant and follows instructions.

·      There may be underlying circumstances or history that are not readily apparent to you. For instance, an alternative solution may be politically unfeasible or already being handled by another contractor or department or the director may think it’s a bad idea.

I hear someone asking, “But, I live and breathe this stuff, can’t I just offer up my innovative ideas?” You should offer ideas, because it shows your creativity and expertise in the field. However, do not offer them at the expense of responding to what the government is asking for in the RFP and do not include them in your base price unless they are needed to meet the minimum requirements. 

Sometimes it is acceptable to offer alternate approaches with auxiliary or optional budgets, but make sure they can clearly see your compliant basic proposal that meets the requirements of the RFP without the bells and whistles. The best time to offer creative and out-of-the-box ideas is in the pre-proposal time period, in response to the agency’s draft RFP. If you pose alternative solutions in response to the DRFP, the final RFP may come out in a way that your idea is consistent with the requirements!

Now let’s also remember that compliance is not the same as responsiveness, which is about communicating your differentiation. Larry Newman of Shipley wrote about Compliance vs. Responsiveness. It is interesting to keep in mind that you can be complaint, responsive, both or neither. 

To make sure you are answering the mail, use a compliance matrix in your proposal process. This is a critical document that organizes all the requirements in an RFP into a table that references back to the solicitation. It serves as a guide for the writers and offers the proposal manager an easy way to check the document before it goes out the door. 

·      A compliant proposal is necessary for victory. 

·      Make sure your innovative or alternative ideas are presented in the context of the minimal requirements or proposed as optional add-ons

·      Make sure your proposal responds to the written, implied and underlying requirement