Commodity Distancing: Persuasive Proposal Writing for Authoritative Credibility and Quantified Value
Updated: Aug 1, 2020
The Government contracting market is highly competitive and commoditized. To win a Government contract, your proposal must position your offer to stand out from the crowd. Just as we’ve been social distancing during the ongoing public health crisis, we must practice “commodity distancing” in our proposal writing. Whether your proposal is evaluated using best value or technical acceptability criteria, here are some proposal writing tips to differentiate your company from your competitors.
Establish Authoritative Credibility
In their book Authority Marketing, Adam Witty and Rusty Shelton provide a “how to” guide for shifting your position from a commoditized expert to a highly visible authority in your field. Witty and Shelton provide an Authority Marketing System to help you build credibility and become viewed as a thought leader in your specific area of expertise, which provides a distinct advantage over your competitors. This system can be used to successfully drive business to your company. The concept of authority marketing is also a powerful technique for proposal writing – if it’s used effectively.
According to Witty and Shelton, formal credentials don’t make you stand out from the other subject matter experts in the crowd. So when your proposals tout corporate ISO certifications and a staff loaded with PMP® certified Project Managers, you’re not making an impact on evaluators. To establish authoritative credibility in your proposals, you need to provide demonstrated capability, knowledge, and experience above and beyond commodity levels. For example, a proposed PMP® certified Project Manager who is also a published author or conference speaker brings personal credibility to strengthen your offer. Too often, we fail to highlight such personal achievements in our proposals. When relevant, this recognition can help establish trust with evaluators.
Your proposal should also include specific examples to provide proof of how your company’s thought leadership has made an impact and achieved results for your customers. This proof should be in the form of measurable outcomes – quantifiable facts, statistics, or other metrics. For example, simply stating your experience with DevSecOps best practices is not as credible as providing an actual example of using DevSecOps in a software development project. Citing your use of automated security code reviews to reduce testing time by 20% and identify 30% more code vulnerabilities provides convincing evidence of your capability to efficiently deliver secure applications.
When you establish authority in your proposals, you make it easy for evaluators to select your offer by justifying their decision through your demonstrated credibility. But often, an award decision is based on price. So how do you translate your authority and credibility into value?
Quantify Tangible Value
Most proposals are evaluated across the Best Value Continuum. “Best Value” evaluations range from priority of technical factors over cost or price, which is known as a tradeoff evaluation, to priority of cost or price over technical factors, referred to as a Lowest Price Technically Acceptable, or LPTA, evaluation.
To support Best Value tradeoff analysis, your proposal should demonstrate the value-added features of your offer consistent with the solicitation’s stated evaluation criteria. When possible, this value should be quantified and cited in your Cost Quote / Price Volume. For example, if your proposed Staffing Plan is evaluated based on the required skills to execute contract tasks, then your cumulative corporate investment in staff professional development demonstrates your capability to fill all required contract positions with qualified staff. This provides the evaluators with higher confidence in your capability to successfully meet contract requirements through your financial support to develop and maintain critical technical skill sets and certifications required by your staff.
Your proposal should also quantify the value of impacts and results achieved based on your established authority and credibility. In the case of the earlier example using automated security code reviews to reduce testing time by 20%, the time savings should be translated into labor hour cost savings and included in your Cost Quote / Price Volume.
If your relevant capabilities have resulted in increased effectiveness or efficiencies, then the tangible value of these capabilities should be quantified as well. For example, if your training technology has improved training effectiveness based on post-course knowledge retention evaluations, then the value of this improved effectiveness should be quantified and included in your Cost Quote / Price Volume. The benefits of your training technology can be expressed in terms of higher productivity or reduced follow-on training costs. In general, any metrics for cost or time savings that demonstrate quantified tangible value through process improvements or technical innovations should be collected and cited in proposals when relevant to the evaluation criteria and customer requirements.
For LPTA evaluations, technical proposals are evaluated on a pass / fail basis. Contracts are awarded to the lowest priced bidder with a technically acceptable proposal. This evaluation method provides you with no incentive to propose “value added” features nor any reason to introduce unnecessary costs to the proposed price. As a result, technical proposals for LPTA evaluations are often written to lower standards since the goal is to simply achieve a “pass” rating. But taking this minimalist approach to LPTA proposal development could result in missed opportunities to influence the evaluators through persuasive writing.
LPTA evaluations typically leave the definition of “technical acceptability” wide open for interpretation. In this case, your proposal should “set the bar” for technical acceptability by demonstrating how your capabilities establish required standards to meet contract requirements. Through persuasive writing, your technical proposal should describe how your capabilities ensure the lowest risk for successful contract execution.
By following these proposal writing tips for “commodity distancing,” you can distinguish your offer from the rest of the crowd. To establish authoritative credibility, demonstrate how your staff and firm have made impacts and delivered results. The most powerful proposals provide evidence of your thought leadership and capabilities through specific examples. To quantify tangible value, translate value-added features and previous results achieved into cost benefits related to the solicitation’s stated evaluation criteria. The value of demonstrated capabilities and cost/time savings should be presented in your Cost Quote / Price Volume to support Best Value tradeoff evaluations. To develop more effective proposals for LPTA evaluations, especially when evaluation standards are not clearly defined, use proposal writing techniques to set the bar for technical acceptability and minimal risk.
When developing compellingly written proposals with credibility, you can Plan To Win more contract awards.