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29 Reasons Why Government Contract Proposals Fail

When you prepare government contract proposals, is failure an option? If not, here's your chance to learn from the mistakes of others. And win.

Winning Government Contracts

Jim McCarthyThis post is based on a presentation delivered at the Veterans In Business Conference. The presentation was made by Jim McCarthy, Principal Owner and Technical Director, AOC Key Solutions, Inc. (KSI), a federal contracting proposal and business development consulting firm. Since 1983, KSI has helped clients win over $130 billion in federal contracts.

As sweepstakes rules often state, "Many will enter, few will win." The same applies to winning government contracts. But the winning contractors don't place their odds on chance. They follow best practices to help them consistently submit winning proposals. Sadly, government contractors who submit losing proposals commit a lot of unforced errors that fall into five areas:

  • Little value offered
  • Selling what the government is not buying
  • Lack of senior leadership buy-in and resources
  • Lack of customer insight
  • Lack of preparation

Little Value Offered

1.  They think they have discriminators and they don’t—plain vanilla value proposition
2.  They offer no discernible technical and management solution
3.  They actually fear being different, new, innovative for reasons of risk and business considerations
4.  They dust off an old proposal—even a winning one—and resubmit hoping that lightening will strike twice
5.  Many are so hell bent on compliance that they place form before substance
6.  They confuse features and benefits
7.  They offer few, if any, proofs to back-up and support what they are offering
8.  Make unwise tradeoffs from the optimal

Selling What Government Is Not Buying

9.  They confuse a customer’s needs and wants and spend too much time on the former, and not enough on the latter
10. They provide solutions to the wrong problems
11. They are biased in favor of their own products and services
12. They are fighting the last war or bidding the last RFP
13. They try to make the government buy something that it has not asked for
14. They gold plate their offer in an ill-fated attempt to disguise fundamental shortcomings

Lack Of Senior Leadership Buy-in And Resources

15. The senior executive makes a bid decision and is scarcely involved thereafter
16. The senior executive limits his/her role to a cameo appearance at the Kick Off meeting
17. The senior executive returns at Red Team to express his or her shock and disappointment in the document
18. Executives try to prepare a proposal on a shoestring budget
19. Executives rely on conscripts working after hours or on weekends
20. Executives delegate responsibility to the capture or proposal manager but then withhold commensurate authority

Lack of Customer Insight

21. They have never met the real customer and the real customer has never met them
22. They don’t do the difficult important homework, and focus too much on quick answers to urgent matters
23. They think they know what the customer wants but are just guessing
24. They fail to read between the lines of the RFP

Lack of Preparation

25. Join the fray too late
26. Land on any team that will have them
27. Think they are saving money by skimping on proven capture and proposal practices
28. Waste time doing work AFTER the release of the RFP that could and should have been done PRIOR to its release
29. Jump right from the RFP to writing with little or no attention given to WHAT should be written

Agree? Disagree? Please join the conversation in the comment section below.

Additional articles by Jim McCarthy that may be of interest:
Government Contractors: Top 10 Rules of Winning Proposals
The 11 Best Practices For Winning Government Contracts

Jim McCarthy from AOC Key Solutions can be reached via email or by calling 703-868-8263. For the latest government contracting news, watch his show, Government Contracting Weekly on Sunday mornings at 7:00 on WUSA-TV9 or online 24/7 at www.GovernmentContractingWeekly.com


The Principal and Founder of Artillery, Douglas Burdett is a former artillery officer and Madison Avenue ad man. He also hosts The Marketing Book Podcast, where he interviews authors every week about the latest in modern marketing and sales.

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