Better RFP Responses & Management
Here’s the Thing

Here’s the Thing

Bidders shall provide three (3) examples
of past experience on relevant, similar projects.

Grrr. It kinda grates, don’t it? I mean, how can experience be anything but “past”?

But this egregious and all-too-common error by contracting officers is not the subject of *this* rant. This rant is about something bidders *can* control: being ready to describe that experience. Because here’s the thing: It’s not like it’s a surprise requirement the client springs on us in the final weeks of a proposal.

Oh, by the way, we just decided
that we need you to describe three (3) projects
that look just like this one.

No, they’re completely upfront about it when they issue the RFP. Indeed, in government contracting it’s an obvious requirement even before the RFP hits the street. And indeed again, no company would bid on work without having some sort of relevant, similar experience. So, like, you’re ready, right?

No. Never. Because here’s the thing. Until the RFP arrives, you don’t know exactly how experience will be scored:

  • Will they count number of projects or number of years or both?
  • Will they focus on project duration or recency or currency or some weird hybrid?
  • Will they require (or reward) broad or deep experience?
  • Will they set minimum thresholds for the volume of whatever service is being contracted, whatever product is being bought?
  • Will you score higher if the staff you’re proposing have worked on one or more of your experience examples?
  • Will project location matter? Client type? Contract value? Employee numbers? Some specific tricky or obscure technical or security requirement?
  • Is there a mandatory experience response as well as a rated one? Can you use the same examples in both? Must you? Must you not?

And so on. It’s hard, you know?

But here’s the thing. Although you can’t be 100% ready before the RFP comes out, you can get 100% ready soon after it does. You can take your list of experience (created before the RFP came out) and give it to a small but informed team: some people who know the projects in detail and some person who knows how to present examples completely, exactly, and precisely according to RFP instructions. I dunno — maybe three (3) people in total? Maybe.

Before the main proposal team has finalized their solution and written their first draft, your PET (Past-Experience Team) can finish their assessment on the experience options, showing how they *should* score against any hard, quantitative evaluation criteria, as well as how they *might* score against any qualitative criteria. Then the executives can pass hands over the list and authorize a final selection. With, I dunno, maybe one (1) extra, just because in case you never know? Maybe. But only one (1).

Then the PET can go to town, fleshing out the experience examples to make them look as good as they can: as good as they are, maybe. Details. Results. Certifications. Photos. Kudos.

Let’s recap:

  • Do your pre-RFP homework.
  • Launch a small, dedicated group to work on experience as soon as the RFP comes out.
  • Authorize a final list of examples given the evaluation criteria, within the first few weeks. Maybe three (3) weeks? On a long proposal, no more than that. On a shorter one, sooner.
  • Go (GO. GO!!!) on the presentation of the approved examples.

Now, maybe this has not been your past practice.  Maybe you prefer the experience of getting to Red Team and having executives rip your experience section (mandatory or rated or both) to bits. But here’s the thing. I found that getting ripped got old after, oh, I dunno, a few times. Maybe three (3)? Maybe.

Or think of it this way. As the purveyors of financial products say . . .

Past performance is not a guarantee
of future results.

But here’s the thing: It is exactly that if you don’t do anything differently.




  1. Jim Taylor

    Einstein: “Insanity consists of doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Or maybe of NOT doing the samething (e.g. right preparation) and still doing it over and over again.
    I mean, surely you have to learn SOMETHING from experience, don’t you?
    Well, maybe not….

    Jim T

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Jim – Yes, people learn, but there is some sad truth to the “lessons collected” trope. And my viewpoint is unconstrained by cost. Dedicating a few people to experience would add to the proposal cost. On the other hand, getting early executive focus on the needed decisions is actually cheaper (in all ways) than not doing it.

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