Abandoning a Bid

One of the toughest moments in proposal development comes when the proposal you’ve been working for two weeks suddenly is a “No-Bid.” Just when you were getting up to speed, the rug is yanked.

Why does it happen? And importantly, why should it happen?

What are some criteria that are used when considering abandoning a bid in midstream? Let me count the ways:

Consideration #1 is always, “Can we make a profit?”  

It’s a whale of a lot better for your company’s health to cut off a bid in midstream, than to win and find that your successful bid will lose you money. This sometimes comes to light when the COTR congratulates you on your win and says, “You guys came in 45% below your nearest competitor. How d’ya do it??”

This is why I advise proposal managers to keep the technical and pricing people in close contact throughout the proposal effort. Most often, the pricing analyst(s) will blow the whistle on an untenable bid, one for which the company’s way of doing business is ill-suited. Across the hall, the engineers may suggest that the company lacks the scale required for the contract, or the technical requirements are simply too high a mountain to climb.

Engineers usually want to propose a “Cadillac” technical solution. Meanwhile, the Pricing Analyst uses every trick possible to arrive at a “Volkswagen” price. If the right hand only sees what’s in the left hand 72 hours before submission, that’s a recipe for an abandoned bid. So keep Pricing and Engineering orbiting together as closely as possible. When you find you cannot meet the RFP requirements without slitting your own throat on price, that’s a no-bid every time.

Consideration #2 is learning that the procurement is wired.  

On hotly-contested opportunities, the rumor mill will always produce the same two news flashes:

·       The procurement is wired. The incumbent can’t lose.

·       The procurement is up for grabs. The agency hates the incumbent.

So-called “confirmation bias” enters the picture when you believe what you want to hear. The wise bidder, of course, shrugs off rumors and goes digging for the facts.

If this is an important bid for your company, you will have attended the pre-proposal conferences, studied the Draft RFP and the vendor Q&As from it, and scrutinized the current (incumbent) contract. You will have spoken with current or former project personnel. You’ll have checked job websites to see who’s hiring which kinds of people. You’ll find out if the incumbent has already sewn up deals with the best subs. You will have read news stories and trade-press articles.

After doing this work, you’ll have a feel for what’s actually going on. Finally, when the RFP arrives, take an honest look and decide if it appears to be overly restrictive in terms of things like key-personnel qualifications, past performance, close familiarity with legacy systems, work locations or other factors that could tip the scales to an incumbent. You can never be 100% sure, but if it looks like a duck … well, you know. And if you really, really need to be on this contract no matter what, you can try joining another bidder as a sub.

Consideration #3 is when the agency puts a “deal-breaker” in place.

·       You were expecting a cost-plus contract, but the RFP comes out as fixed-price.

·       Past Performance has to be within the last three years. Yours is five years old.

·       Prime offerors must be certified in the “Occupational Health and Safety Assessment Series (OHSAS) 18001 Standard.” You don’t know anybody who has that certification. In fact, you’ve never heard of it.

·       The RFP calls for gold-plated, agency-specific security clearances that you … don’t … got!

These can be show-stoppers for Prime bidders – or maybe even giveaways to incumbents – but they needn’t keep you from subbing to a company or a JV that does meet these requirements. These hazards to your proposal’s health may appear in the Draft RFP, the actual RFP, or be slipped in via Q&As or amendments, so keep your eyes peeled. Again, the closer together you keep your pricing and technical people, the better-informed you’ll be.

Consideration #4 is the likelihood that you will put in a rushed, unedited or inaccurate proposal that reflects poorly on you.

If you get a late start on a proposal, you’ll have to cut some corners to submit on time. If your Chief Engineer is on Maternal Leave, you can’t strategize a coherent technical solution. If you’re already crashing-‘n’-burning on four other proposals, your concentration is fragmented.

Any of these circumstances, and many others besides, can and will affect the quality of your submission. When you think you have a competitive solution to a customer’s needs, or a price they can’t ignore, it’s a tough decision to drop a bid because … well, because it’ll embarrass you. Unedited grammar and spelling, disjointed organization, slapdash graphics, missing page numbers, odd verbiage such as “Waiting for Larry’s input on this” (and yes, I HAVE seen that happen) –- this kind of submission makes your company appear amateurish, or even irresponsible.

If, for whatever reason, you can’t give your proposal the professional polish that evaluators expect, save your money and your reputation, and move on.  Never submit a proposal that you KNOW is bad.


In the final analysis – as with so many elements in successful bidding – the solution is to get ahead of the RFP with research and competitive analysis. Know what your company is capable of before you jump in. And don’t discount the “Long Game”: If you sub today to a winning Prime, that gives you two years to influence the next RFP and work on your first draft for that follow-on work.

May all your bids be WINNERS!