Identifying Requirements for Compliance and Responsiveness
A winning proposal is both compliant and responsive.
To write a proposal that fulﬁlls both criteria, you must ﬁrst understand that requirements identification and compliance are integral activities. Responsiveness is different, and all are equally crucial qualities.
Requirements identification is how you ensure that all of the requirements from the pre-engagement phase are captured and addressed. Customers may have implied requirements or verbalized requirements that don’t appear in the solicitation document. You need to identify, collect, and organize all requirements in a compliance matrix, whether or not they appear in the solicitation, to create a customer-focused response document.
Requirements identification is even more crucial when you’re preparing an unsolicited proposal. Correct and thorough documentation of the requirements and customer issues can influence the informal evaluation and feedback, including whether or not the unsolicited proposal wins the work.
Compliance is the act of meeting stated customer requirements. A compliant proposal meets the customer’s requirements and submittal instructions, answers the customer’s questions, and addresses specifications to the letter—nothing more, nothing less.
Examples of compliance include:
- Structuring your proposal per the customer’s instructions
- Remaining within the page limits
- Adhering to formatting guidelines, such as font size, style, and margin size
- Meeting each and every RFP requirement and the submission instructions
Responsiveness goes beyond compliance. Responsive proposals address customer goals, underlying concerns, and key customer issues and values that might not be spelled out in the solicitation. Responsive proposals help customers achieve their business goals, not just their projects or procurement goals.
Examples of responsiveness include:
- Understanding your customer’s stated and implied needs and addressing them in your response
- Describing the benefits your customer will gain from your solution
- Editing your writing to speak the customer’s language and use its terminology
- Pricing your proposal within your customer’s budget
It’s possible to be compliant without being responsive, and vice versa. The best proposals are both.
A non-compliant proposal will likely be rejected. In any government market, a non-compliant winning proposal may be protested by the competition.
Yet compliance alone does not win in today’s increasingly competitive marketplace. A bidder must work with the customer prior to the RFP release to understand the hot-button issues and then clearly address those issues in the proposal. Compliance can prevent your proposal from being eliminated, but responsiveness edges out the competition.
1. Begin to cultivate responsiveness long before RFP release.
If you’re beginning to think about responsiveness at the RFP release, you’re too late. The customer’s hot-button issues often aren’t stated in the solicitation. To be responsive, you must know your customer beyond the written requirements. Starting early means you can help shape the request for your speciﬁc response.
Building a trusting relationship with your customer and understanding your customer’s underlying concerns takes time. Bid Managers and sales professionals must begin gathering customer intelligence early in the business development lifecycle and must continually build on the relationship through the RFP release. Eﬀective sales professionals build the entire approach and win themes around adequately addressing these issues.
2. Thoroughly review and clearly understand the customer’s bid request.
One of the most common and harmful mistakes proposal teams make is failing to read and understand an entire RFP. Instead, many teams quickly build an outline from the instructions and dive into writing. How can you ensure full compliance with an RFP if you don’t read it in its entirety? Prior to the kickoﬀ meeting, ﬁnd a quiet spot, sit down, and read the RFP.
After reading (and rereading) the RFP, ensure that you clearly understand what’s required. Identify anything that’s unclear and could impact your response. Consider seeking clariﬁcation from the customer, but be sure to comply with the instructions for submitting RFP questions.
3. Prepare a comprehensive compliance matrix for every bid request.
The compliance matrix is a must-have planning document. Always create a compliance matrix when a customer has provided requirements, regardless of the bid size or timeline. For unsolicited proposals, white papers, and RFI responses, use the executive summary, introductions, and section summaries to demonstrate your understanding of requirements and compliance.
Create your compliance matrix early in the planning process, before writing begins, and update it throughout the proposal process, following solicitation amendments, customer responses to clarification questions, and proposal outline changes. A compliance matrix is a powerful tool used by different proposal team members in different ways:
- Bid or Proposal Manager: master proposal content planning document
- Volume Lead (if used): checklist to ensure that all requirements are addressed
- Writers: guide to what should be written in each proposal section—and, if a volume lead isn’t being used, a checklist to ensure that all requirements are addressed
- Reviewers: evaluation tool clearly deﬁning what should appear in each section
- Management: top-level view of the proposal plan and strategy
4. Submit a response matrix with your proposal.
Selection and evaluation committees often have many other duties and responsibilities. At times, evaluators may not be deeply familiar with your proposal’s technical subject matter. That’s why you must make the proposal evaluation process as easy and eﬃcient as possible. Prepare a clearly written and arranged proposal that’s easy for evaluators to compare to their RFP requirements.
Submit a response matrix with your proposal that the evaluator can use to quickly locate your compliant response to each requirement. A response matrix is a derivative of the compliance matrix. It’s a roadmap that evaluators can use to ﬁnd speciﬁc proposal responses for each compliance item. This matrix identiﬁes where in the proposal you’ve addressed the solicitation requirements. If page limits don’t allow for a separate response matrix in a proposal, include its content as part of paragraph titles.
5. Address non-compliance.
Non-compliance is the easiest way for customers to eliminate your proposal, especially in government bidding. In any circumstance, non-compliance is a risky strategy. However, there are ways to address it.
- Use the compliance matrix to document whether your solution is compliant and to indicate how compliant it is. Add a column to the matrix to describe how closely your solution matches the requirement. Crucially, provide a justification of why your solution might be less than 100 percent compliant. Customers like (and need) to understand why their requirement can’t be met.
- If there are many areas where your solution is non-compliant or only partially compliant, question why the opportunity is being pursued. It may be appropriate to challenge the decision to bid, or to recommend a no-bid.
- Sometimes, requirements change during the proposal development response timeline. If this leaves your solution with less than 90 percent compliance, it’s reasonable to revisit your bid/no-bid decision.
6. Maintain a customer focus.
When you understand and have a trusting relationship with your customer, you’ll be prepared to write a customer-focused proposal. Demonstrate that you understand the customer by citing its vision and hot-button issues in your executive summary and then weaving corresponding theme statements throughout your proposal. After all, if you don’t understand what the customer wants, why should it trust you to fulﬁll its needs?
A customer-focused bidder:
- Names the customer first in each volume, section, or paragraph
- Names the customer more often than itself
- Clearly states the customer’s vision and hot-button issues
- Addresses these issues by presenting customer benefits before offered features
Features are eﬀective only if they oﬀer a true beneﬁt to the customer. Among car shoppers, a powerful engine and a compact design are usually considered good features. But what if you’re a safety-minded and environmentally conscious mother of four small children? If it doesn’t matter to your target customer, it’s not a feature worth selling in your proposal.
- In today’s market, winning proposals are not only compliant, but also responsive to the customer’s underlying issues. Compliance and responsiveness are two different, but equally important, elements.
- It’s possible to be compliant without being responsive, and vice versa. Winning bidders are both.
- Fully identifying requirements is a critical step in creating compliant and responsive proposals. Before beginning any work, you should thoroughly review and clearly understand the customer’s requirements and bid request.
- Important requirements may not be included in the solicitation
- You should prepare a compliance matrix for every proposal that contains requirements, regardless of size or timeline
- Make it clear that your proposal is compliant by submitting a response matrix with your proposal. This will also ensure that your proposal can be easily evaluated.
- If requirements change, consider revisiting your bid/no-bid decision, especially if you have less than 90 percent compliance across all requirements
- Developing responsiveness begins in the early stages of the business development lifecycle and continues throughout
- Responsiveness can vary greatly across diﬀerent markets, groups, and cultures