How your proposal is scored

Do you know how your proposal is scored?

In formal procurement processes, evaluators read your offer and then independently score your response to each question. To calibrate the scoring, evaluators may be issued with a scoring guide like the example below:

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Why have a scoring guide? To avoid the evaluation degenerating into a relative comparison against other bidders. When we go shopping we might say "I prefer the blue one over the red one" but formal procurement is supposed to compare the responses against the client needs, not against other responses!

Each response is scored out of ten by each evaluator and then the evaluators meet and try to reach consensus (usually not an average) to agree a common score. This score is then multiplied by the weighting for that dimension agreed in the evaluation framework to give an overall result for this criterion.

As an example, if you were appointing an advertising agency innovation might be one important evaluation criterion. It might be weighted 10% of the total non-price evaluation score.

"Describe how your organisation demonstrates innovation. Using examples sourced from our sector, show how you identify the opportunity to introduce new ways of working either for yourself or for a client, and describe how you supported a client in successfully introducing innovation"

But a glance at the scoring guide above suggests that in this case the scoring guide is almost worse than useless!

What are "our key requirements"?

It is likely that each evaluator will have their own opinion of 'what good looks like' and score accordingly. The scoring guide will not calibrate the scoring unless the evaluation team have discussed and agree what good looks like.

"I know it when I see it" is no substitute for being clear about what you are looking for! Worse than that, the evaluators may score the response against each other. "I liked #2 better than #3" is not good practice, but it happens. While you can't always influence the prospect's scoring processes, you can develop a self-assessment framework before you submit your proposal. Here is an example of a scoring guide focused on innovation:

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Imagine that the proposal team could develop a response to the question above using this example as a guide to what "good looks like". Imagine that even if the prospect is dysfunctional and resorts to scoring responses relative to each other, and not against a standard scoring framework, your response had successfully calibrated their understanding of "what good looks like"?

Wouldn't that be worth having?

The ability to self-assess your proposal before you pressed 'send', and also the ability to shape the prospect's understanding of what good looks like!


The dangers of self-plagiarism

That more than a quarter of all proposals are based upon a previous proposal is no surprise to procurement practitioners. I have seen proposals where the search and replace of the recipient's company name was only partially successful. Part-way though the proposal stopped mentioning the name of the intended recipient and instead stated the name of the previous company that this proposal had been sent to!


The practice of 'adapting' the content for prospect B based upon the content sent to prospect A works well for unsolicited proposals, or when the prospects have similar needs.

But what if they are prospects in different sectors with different needs?

And what if prospect A had asked some specific questions, and the (lazy?) salesperson replicated the responses to prospect B?

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Source: Proposify

This reminds us that there are three types of content in proposals:
  1. Standard content that is unchanging, such as your ABN
  2. Configurable content that is largely unchanged, but may contextualised for different prospects, such as case studies
  3. 'Bespoke' content that is originated exclusively for a specific proposal, such as answering an RFP question
For those sales teams that use a previous proposal as a template for a subsequent proposal it is a quick and simple shortcut to make sure that the format, branding and structure is consistent.

But what if the content contains some 'type 3 content' that has been originated for another purpose?

Be careful. Self plagiarism may cause you to present to prospect B solutions that solve the problems of prospect A!

One in the eye is worth a thousand in the ear

"One in the eye is worth a thousand in the ear"

Yes, we've all heard that hoary old chestnut. But data suggests that more and more proposals are including eye candy

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Source; Proposify

Now there may be a number of reasons for this.
  • Proposers are becoming better at breaking up walls of text with graphics
  • Prospects are imposing word limits and so proposals include graphics to convey complex ideas
  • Firms know that few people will actually read the proposal anyway, so they add in eye candy to get key messages across

The learning point may be that for regularly requested content (like values, organisation chart, risk management frameworks, key processes etc) consider investing in re-usable graphics to both reinforce the brand and get across consistent messaging.

Less is more

Research by Proposify suggests that when the prospect has already made the decision to buy, a simple proposal is all that is needed. How else do you explain these results?
Complex solutions cannot be communicated in two pages, so It is hard to avoid the view that the chart below is explained by the following reasons:

  • The majority of two page proposals are for simple solutions
  • Many clients need a confirmatory proposal for governance reasons and so the proposal need not persuade, just quote the fee
  • If you can explain your solution in less than ten pages, do it!
  • Doubling the scale of your proposal does not double your success rate!
  • After 15 pages the scale of your proposal makes little difference to the success rate
  • Anything above a 35% win rate is a good result!

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Does giving a discount win more deals?

Research by Proposify suggests that including a discount in a proposal does lead to a greater win rate, but only increases the win rate by 4%. The good news about giving a unilateral discount is that the other party feels that they have had a 'win'.

And the procurement team can log the discount as a saving and add it to their 'cost avoidance' savings log. The other good news is that tf the procurement team have another bite of the cherry and ask for a further discount (why not, you have already given a discount without being asked!) you can reply by saying "we've already given you a discount!"

The prevailing logic in negotiation is that "if they've moved once, they'll move again". So think had about giving a discount without getting something back in return. Proposify's research shows that discounts above 30% are negatively correlated with win rates. Double digit discounts may work for rug shops, but in business all that large discounts do is undermine the credibility of your initial offer.

Don't do it!

Brown envelopes at dawn

My friend Tom used to say to me:

"Y'know what the problem is with you procurement people, Paul?"

"No, Tom, tell me what is the problem with procurement people?"

"You're too scared to negotiate. Instead your weapon of choice is the RFP"

"Weapon of choice?"

"Brown envelopes at dawn. Why not just have a conversation?"

There may be many reasons why procurement people want a governance trail instead of deals done in coffee shops or on the golf course. In the public sector the rationale is obvious. The need for probity implies transparency of decision making, requiring a written record. But even in the private sector there is something to be said for requiring the salesperson to commit their promises in writing.

A verbal contract isn't worth the paper its written on!

The most obvious benefit is that promises in writing are easier to enforce. But they are also easier to evaluate, to syndicate to others and to translate into a contract. So when you see this research from Proposify, what are we to make of the negotiation process?

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Source: Proposify

The take aways?
  1. A proposal that doesn't 'hit the mark' first time isn't the end of the World.
  2. Clients may change their minds or request revision to a proposal that is not quite acceptable
  3. If a client is interested enough to request a revision to the proposal it is a strong buying signal
  4. If a client is interested enough to request a couple of revisions, the chance of winning grows to better than even
  5. Multiple proposals are a symptom; what they evidence is an ongoing conversation between the prospect and the sales team

So when Tom implied that brown envelopes at dawn are an alternative to a conversation, perhaps that was a false dichotomy. Perhaps each proposal is a platform for a different conversation?