The compliance matrix is a tool for managing response preparation and demonstrating compliance to the customer.
A compliance matrix is a checklist both for you and for evaluators to make sure you comply with all RFP requirements. The compliance matrix maps the RFP’s requirements down to the location in the response where the requirement is answered. Because it organizes sections and subsections of the RFP, a good compliance matrix also serves as a plan of action for writers. Compile a compliance matrix before you start to write.
You also can and should use a compliance matrix to make the evaluator’s task easier, even when it’s not specifically required. Evaluators have duties and responsibilities beyond reviewing your proposal. Many opportunities are driven from procurement, and at times, the evaluator may not even be familiar with your proposal’s technical subject matter. Make the proposal evaluation process as easy and efficient as possible. Insert a version of the matrix in your response before the first section that references the RFP requirements. (Sometimes, customers will provide a compliance matrix of their own along with the RFP package. In these cases, keep in mind that the requirements listed are generally “must haves” for the customer.)
1. Prepare a comprehensive compliance matrix for every bid request.
The compliance matrix is a must-have planning document. Always create a compliance matrix, regardless of the bid size or timeline. Create it early in the planning process, before writing begins, and continually update it throughout the proposal process following solicitation amendments, customer responses to clarification questions, and proposal outline changes.
A compliant proposal shows the customer that you are experienced, have a professional attitude, and are easy to do business with. Compliance has several components:
- Have you followed the requested format?
- Have you packaged hardcopies per the RFP’s instructions?
- Have you answered all questions?
- Have you completed all forms and attachments?
- Have you submitted the response to the right person at the right place at the right time?
- Are you capable of delivering the service required?
- Is the team you propose actually available to do the work?
- Have you translated and provided solutions for underlying customer needs?
- Are there any customer requirements you can’t meet?
- Have you met all legal (internal) requirements?
- Did you follow the correct procedure (e.g., by entering the opportunity into your in-house CRM tool)?
- Have the right people/organization units/management levels been involved?
- Is the proposal authorized for submission?
A compliance matrix makes it easy for evaluators to judge your proposal and locate specific sections of the response. Proposal team members can also use it in different ways:
- Bid or Proposal Manager. Master proposal content-planning document and tool for distributing requirements to the right people for costing, pricing, and responding
- Volume Lead. Checklist to ensure all requirements are addressed
- Writers. Guide to what should be written in each proposal section
- Reviewers. Evaluation tool clearly defining what should appear in each section
- Management. Top-level view of the proposal plan and strategy
2. Build the compliance matrix early.
Bid or Proposal Managers and authors often fail to prepare compliance matrices because they mistakenly believe it takes too much time up front. But in fact, preparing a compliance matrix saves time by reducing mistakes and rework. It helps teams break down, or shred, requirements and bunch them into bundles appropriate for different sets of stakeholders, such as the solution team, project team, operational safety team, and more. This makes follow-up easier for the Bid or Proposal Manager. The compliance matrix also goes a long way toward preventing the big mistake that can sink an otherwise potential winning bid: an overlooked requirement.
The compliance matrix, like the proposal outline itself, should precisely parallel the RFP’s structure. It should be developed in tandem with the proposal outline before content planning and writing begin. Building your compliance matrix at the end of the writing effort is like waiting until a house is built before drawing up the blueprints.
3. Shred the RFP line by line.
When shredding an RFP, separate every requirement (e.g., every “shall,” “will,” or “must”) into separate rows within your compliance matrix. This provides proposal writers with a tool to clearly address each requirement and enables reviewers to thoroughly assess your proposal’s compliance. Shredding also lends itself to simple updates following RFP amendments and easy sorting after proposal outline changes. Finally, it enables the Bid or Proposal Manager to effectively manage and follow up on requirement responses from different stakeholders by creating accountability for each requirement.
Resist the urge to save time by shredding RFP requirements by section or paragraph. By lumping multiple requirements into the same row within your compliance matrix, you significantly increase the risk of inadvertently omitting a compliance element from your final proposal.
4. Tailor the compliance matrix for your customer and setting.
Customize the content of your compliance matrix to the situation and team needs. A basic compliance matrix starts out with the following:
- Section (section number of each question)
- Section/subsection title (identifies each question or requirement)
- Page (where each question is found)
- Requirement (stated with an active verb)
- F (fully comply)
- P (partially comply)
- N (does not comply)
- Comments (these reference name and page number documentation that you supply as part of the response)
If you plan to extend your compliance matrix to provide guidance to writers (i.e., a topical outline), you can include information such as:
- Writer assignments
- Section themes and strategies
- Discriminator(s) and proof point(s)
- Key customer issues/hot buttons
- Visual and page allocations
- References to potential customizable, reusable content
5. Create your compliance matrix using a spreadsheet application.
Shredding the RFP line by line facilitates quick and easy compliance-matrix sorting if you build your matrix in a spreadsheet application. This function is extremely useful following RFP amendments/modifications and internal outline changes. If you’ve built your compliance matrix line by line within a spreadsheet, you can simply make the required changes to the proposal section title/number, RFP section title/number, or the written requirement, and automatically sort the matrix using the application.
The sorting function also enables users to toggle between ordering the compliance matrix by proposal section or RFP section. This can be a big time saver. For example, while initially shredding the RFP, the compliance matrix will naturally follow the order of the RFP as it is written. However, to facilitate a thorough proposal compliance review, it’s more useful to order the matrix by proposal section. With a spreadsheet application, you can do this in seconds.
Sorting also allows the Bid or Proposal Manager to separate different requirements by stakeholders’ names and mail them the ones they are responsible for. Then, he or she can make different files for different stakeholders and follow up with them on their responses.
Spreadsheet programs also enable the Bid or Proposal Manager to quickly and easily hide columns for different users. You can include a notes column for a writer that is not necessary for a reviewer. When creating the final response matrix for the customer, you may prefer to hide multiple columns and only display the RFP section title/number and proposal section title/number. Spreadsheet applications allow these columns to be hidden before printing, emailing, or uploading so that you present only the material that’s useful for your audience while maintaining the integrity of your original document.
6. Follow the customer’s lead.
Follow the numbering system used in the RFP in your compliance matrix and in your proposal. This can be challenging, can result in repetition, and can confound your sense of a sensible proposal narrative. But this practice makes it easy for an evaluator to go through a checklist and score your proposal without having to go back and forth in it. Your goal is to make it easy for the evaluator to see why you are the most qualified bidder.
To increase your customer focus, use the customer’s words and phrases in the compliance matrix. Do not paraphrase or substitute your own preferred terms. Begin each item with the action verb used in the bid request, such as identify, list, discuss, show, indicate, demonstrate, or describe. These verbs signal to the Proposal Writer what the customer expects to see in the response.
Use the compliance matrix, or compliance checklist, as a guide to plan each section. Base your content plan or section outline on the compliance matrix. Follow the order of topics exactly as it appears in the checklist. Recheck your work to see that every requirement has been listed.
You can use software do this, but it’s wise not to rely on software entirely. Software can’t always tell the difference between a real requirement and other information, and it can miss requirements that don’t contain keywords it was programmed to recognize. Whether you use software or perform the shred conventionally, check your work. Don’t just trust; verify.
7. Keep the compliance matrix up to date throughout the proposal process.
Building the compliance matrix is part of proposal planning, but it must be continually updated throughout the proposal process. The compliance matrix must be updated after all internal and external changes to the following:
- Proposal outline (section name, number, order, space allocation)
- Proposal team (section authors)
- RFP (instructions, evaluation criteria, requirements, addendums)
Assign a proposal team member to keep the compliance matrix updated throughout the proposal process. Your internal proposal planning and evaluation are valuable only if your compliance matrix is complete and accurate.
8. Submit a response matrix with your proposal.
A response matrix is a simplified version of your compliance matrix. It is a derivative of the compliance matrix that shows where a given requirement is answered. Submitting a response matrix with your proposal ensures that the evaluator can quickly locate your compliant response to each requirement. It serves as a roadmap for evaluators to easily connect each proposal section to its respective compliance items. This matrix identifies where in the proposal you’ve addressed the solicitation requirements.
9. Enhance compliance with responsiveness.
Compliance is strict adherence to the RFP, both in submittal instructions and requirements. Responsiveness goes further by addressing the customer’s stated and underlying needs.
Proposals can be compliant without being responsive, and vice versa. However, the best proposals with the highest win probability are both.
Pay special attention to requirements that are marked as disqualifiers. This means if the response is non-compliant, the proposal will not even be evaluated. Before completing a compliance matrix, carefully review all “partially comply” and “non-comply” responses against customer requirements. If possible, update responses to comply as closely as you can.
“Nice to haves” are additional requirements that are usually important for only part of the customer’s organization. It helps to learn who within the customer’s organization has put this requirement in the RFP. This will help you write a specific response that will earn you maximum points.
10. Use the compliance matrix as a selling tool.
RFPs typically don’t specify a compliance matrix format. (If they do, follow it explicitly.) This means you can use the compliance matrix as more than just an index—you can use it to sell.
Construct a compliance matrix that doesn’t merely state the requirements and directions to the response (more work for the evaluator), but contains a brief statement proving the compliance (less work for the evaluator) that also reiterates a win theme or discriminator (selling the solution). This allows evaluators to simply read through the compliance matrix and have a good idea of what the solution is. It makes the evaluator’s job easier, and it leaves an impression of the bidder as a customer-focused organization.
Make the layout of the compliance matrix as user-friendly as possible. Having requirements and responses in separate columns can result in hard-to-read layouts, especially if the requirement is long and detailed. One work-around is to design a table that lines up the requirement in one row and response in the row below, and then shade the response a different color than the requirement. Make it easy to read, and make the summaries brief and concise. You don’t need to make every line a selling point; just draw attention to the lines that reinforce win themes and discriminators.
A compliance matrix is a utility, and some will say, “Just get it done; it doesn’t have to look nice.” Keep in mind, however, that every proposal is a battle to win. As with all aspects of the proposal, treat the compliance matrix as an opportunity to sell to the customer and show them that you are thorough, thoughtful, and focused. A compliance matrix might not win you a bid, but it can lose you one.
Common Pitfalls and Misconceptions
Over-focus on compliance
Compliance and responsiveness are important contributors to winning proposals, but they are not the only factors customers consider. A non-compliant proposal will not necessarily lose, and a fully compliant proposal is not a guaranteed win. Nor does full compliance automatically mean a supplier is capable of delivering the needed solution.
Develop a proposal that is compliant and responsive, but also take care to highlight your solution’s discriminators and benefits, and work to develop a winning price.
Overlooking “hidden” requirements
Do not assume the customer’s RFP documents and the provided compliance matrix have the same number of items. Some requirements are not listed as official requirements but, instead, are hidden in narrative explanation in an RFP. By finding and addressing these, you show the customer in-depth understanding that goes beyond mere compliance.
- A compliance matrix is both a guide for the evaluator and a checklist for the Bid or Proposal Manager to make sure every requirement is answered.
- Compliance matrices can also serve as a guide to writers. They should be created early in the proposal process, before writing begins.
- The compliance matrix also serves as a response assignment matrix for the Bid or Proposal Manager to effectively manage and follow up on responses from different stakeholders.
- A good compliance matrix ensures that all customer requirements have been answered and provides the customer with an easy guide for understanding the response.
- A compliance matrix should always be used in any proposal in any industry.
- Proposal developers can develop a compliance matrix by shredding an RFP line by line.