Proof Points

Proof points, drawn from past performance and experience, give tangible evidence that builds confidence in your solution’s features and benefits.

Introduction

Proof points are facts that provide verifiable evidence for your solution’s features and benefits. They support your company’s win themes and discriminators. Without proof points, proposal evaluators may question whether features are proven and benefits are achievable. Proof points make your proposal compelling to a customer.

Proof points often describe performance on similar past efforts. They can be project data, case studies, customer quotes or testimonials, awards or recognition earned, and more.

Crafting effective proof points requires understanding your win strategy before the RFP is released and conducting a data call to gather information. After the RFP is released—when you know the RFP requirements and have a refined win strategy—you can conduct more data calls to gather additional information for credibility, persuasion, and compliance.

Best Practices

1. Understand your win strategy and corresponding win themes.

Your win strategy is the collection of plans and actions you develop after a pursuit decision to win a bid. It is documented in the opportunity/capture plan you develop to win a specific opportunity. A win strategy is made up of win themes.

Effective win themes must contain a feature, benefit, and corresponding proof(s). Proof points deliver the evidence to give the customer confidence that you can provide the feature and corresponding benefit(s) that you promise. Without proof points, the proposal evaluator may identify weaknesses in your solution and perceive risks to successful performance.

2. Get started before you have an RFP.

The Bid or Proposal Manager should partner with the Opportunity/Capture Manager to understand the win strategy and the proof points you need. The Opportunity/Capture Manager should provide the following information:

  • What are the customer’s hot buttons?
  • What features and benefits are you proposing in response?
  • How can you best discriminate your bid from the competition?
  • What do the teaming partners bring to the table to fill any gaps?

You should also critically assess past proposals and customer debriefs to determine which proof points were perceived as most compelling. Often, customer debriefs offer clues as to which data helped convince the proposal evaluators of your proposal strengths, as well as which proof points (or lack thereof) contributed to perceived weaknesses or risks.

Where possible, before the RFP is released, gather and review solicitations from the same customer acquisition shop. Often, solicitations from the same acquisition shop require certain information to be submitted as part of every bid. The data related to required proof points can be gathered early in the proposal process.

3. Conduct data calls before and after RFP drop, both internally and from teaming partners.

Proposal proof points should be presented for both the prime contractor and any proposed teaming partners.

To build your proof points, you need data. And to collect this data, you must conduct data calls. Data calls are requests to members of your company and teaming partners for information to be used to build proof points. When conducting a data call, specify a point of contact (POC), the data you need, and detailed instructions for providing data, including clear due dates.

Craft and issue data calls both pre- and post-RFP release to gather and aggregate proof point data. Gathering information in advance gives your team a significant competitive advantage by going beyond compliance to a compelling bid.

Pre-RFP, the Opportunity/Capture Manager and the Bid or Proposal Manager should determine the following:

  • What data best substantiates your features and benefits?
  • What data is needed to substantiate your discriminators?
  • What data will require long lead times?
  • What data sources must you research and reach out to?

Post-RFP, the Opportunity/Capture Manager and the Bid or Proposal Manager should analyze the solicitation to determine the following:

  • What additional data is needed for compliance-related proofs?
  • How can you refine proof points to further substantiate your features and benefits?

4. Maintain a repository of proof point data.

As you conduct multiple data calls, you will collect large amounts of information to support proposal proof points.

Many proof points can be reused, but you should appoint someone to make sure that the data being used is updated or refreshed. Some organizations appoint a Knowledge Manager who has the sole responsibility of making sure that the reusable data is up to date and refreshed. In addition, based on customer debrief results, the Knowledge Manager should be able to provide lessons learned regarding which proof points are most effective. This is more difficult to do if the role of Knowledge Manager does not exist, as the lessons learned will be disparate among many team members.

Know whom to ask for various sources of proof point data. Some examples of data and POCs for data sources include the following:

Staffing data call

POCs: Human resources (HR) and recruiting

  • Personnel details (clearances, education, certifications, domain areas)
  • Recruiting statistics (average time to fill positions, number of recruiters, size of recruiting database, recruiting sources)
  • Retention rate (companywide and project specific)
  • Meatball charts (experience versus functional or technical requirements)
  • Representative resumes

Past performance data call

POCs: Project managers, SMEs, proposals, and contracts

  • Customer information
  • Project information (period of performance, size in full-time equivalents [FTE]/contract value/users, scope, complexity, relevancy)
  • Award fees and incentives earned
  • Contractor Performance Assessment Reporting System (CPARS)/Past Performance Information Retrieval System (PPIRS) ratings
  • Achievements and innovations (performed testing with zero rollbacks, brought in web redesign under budget, identified efficiencies and/or new technology that saved the customer money)
  • Meatball charts (past performance examples versus functional or technical requirements)

Corporate background and experience data call

POCs: Contracts, Chief Financial Officer, marketing, proposals, and SMEs

  • Logos
  • Corporate history
  • Corporate revenues, personnel, customers, and locations
  • Certifications and appraisals
  • Industry awards and rankings
  • Research and development (R&D) efforts
  • Centers of excellence
  • Recognized experts
  • Publications and white papers

Customer kudos

POCs: Contracts and project managers who can coordinate with customers for approval, if needed

  • Congratulatory emails
  • Awards and certificates of appreciation
  • Quotes
  • Success stories

Administrative/financial data call

POCs: Finance and contracts

  • Federal Employer Identification Number (FEIN)
  • Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS)
  • Dun & Bradstreet (D&B) ratings
  • Financials
  • Rates
  • Indirect costs
  • Other direct costs (ODC)
  • Accounting system
  • Purchasing system
  • Estimating system
  • Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA) approvals
  • Uncompensated overtime policy
  • Compensation plan
  • Representations and certifications
  • Lines of credit
  • Banking information

A proof points tracking checklist is provided among the tools and templates for this section. You can use this checklist to inventory and maintain a repository of reusable proof points.

5. Ensure that proof points are persuasive, tangible, and credible.

Make proof points persuasive by substantiating features and benefits that meet or exceed customer objectives and requirements. Here is an example of a persuasive proof point:

  • We know that staff retention is of utmost importance to the project. Our retention rate across the company is 90 percent, compared to 82 percent industrywide for similar IT positions. On helpdesk projects such as this one, our retention rate is 98 percent because of our focus on leveraging Help Desk Institute certifications and best-practice processes.

Show that proof points are tangible by providing quantitative facts and figures. For example, see the following:

  • Our company has performed 24 software development projects for 13 customers over the past 3 years, all of which were performed at CMMI Level 3 or higher. We have the reachback to staff the task orders through 5,700 qualified and cleared IT personnel across the team, of which 750 hold the required ITIL Foundation-level certification, 25 are ITIL experts, and 5,000 hold Secret clearances or higher.

Finally, demonstrate that proof points are credible by providing verifiable information. For example, see the following:

  • We will meet or exceed performance expectations. In all 12 of our PPIRS ratings for eight agencies over the past 3 years, we achieved no lower than excellent or outstanding ratings. On all six of our performance-based contracts, we have achieved maximum award fees and incentives.

6. Verify accuracy of proof points.

Proof points must be accurate; therefore, ensure that proof points contain specific numbers rather than approximate ones.

The customer must be able to verify the proof points. Therefore, the proposal should identify data sources where possible and provide specific customer references and quotes (ask for customer permission before using direct quotes). Some potential sources include the following:

  • Specific project examples, case studies, and lessons learned that provide evidence
  • Verifiable reporting tools. For example, in the United States, CPARS/PPIRS ratings and customer quotes are sources of verifiable data because they can be confirmed by the Source Selection Board
  • External, unbiased third parties, such as industry appraisals, awards, or ratings, that offer confirmation of corporate experience levels
  • Data aggregation that shows size and strength
  • Comparisons to show meeting or exceeding industry standards to ghost the competition
  • Results that point to specific achievements

7. Aggregate and interpret data.

To demonstrate size and strength, the proposal should present aggregated proof point data across company locations, divisions, subsidiaries, and programs/projects. When bidding with teaming partners, the prime contractor should gather and total team data, such as revenues, locations, FTE, similar projects, certifications, and so on.

Aggregating data is not sufficient, however. Don’t just list numbers; explain to readers what the numbers mean. To provide further substantiation, focus data on results achieved and accomplishments met. Examples include dollars saved, percentage increase in efficiency, awards received, percentage increase in customer satisfaction, and decreased wait times.

Importance in all proposal settings

Whether small, medium, or large, all companies must develop proof points to substantiate features and benefits. Without proof points, the proposal is incomplete because the customer will not be able to verify claims. All companies should maintain a knowledge base of reusable proof points as well as issue-tailored data calls for each solicitation to build proposal-specific data.

Common Pitfalls and Misconceptions

Waiting until the RFP drops

Start gathering proof points pre-RFP. Starting early allows your team to identify gaps in supporting evidence. For features and benefits lacking proof, the Opportunity/Capture Manager may need to add teaming partners to fill gaps. Proof points should be gathered for the prime contractor and teaming partners through detailed data calls prior to RFP release.

Relying on features to sell the company

Many proposals are feature rich but lack proof points showing that features will work and benefits will be realized. Proof points provide verifiable substantiation that increases customer confidence.

Believing that benefits are enough

Stating the benefits of a proposed feature is not sufficient. Customers may not believe that benefits will be realized unless the proposal gives verifiable proof. The best proof points discriminate your company by demonstrating that your proposed benefits are better than your competitors’.

Assuming that general statements are acceptable

Many companies use general proofs that do not provide the customer with verification. Typical “generic” proof points include statements such as:

  • We enjoy high levels of customer satisfaction. How high?
  • We have low employee turnover. Compared to what?
  • We offer relevant experience. In what?
  • We have the personnel reachback to rapidly staff task orders. Prove it!

Putting proof points only in callout boxes

Proof points should be woven into the entire proposal: features and benefits tables, the technical narrative, action captions, graphics, resumes, past performance, and even the pricing narrative. Don’t restrict proof points only to callout boxes or graphics.

Summary

  • Proof points assure the proposal evaluator that features and benefits claimed are real, verifiable, and achievable. Effective proof points reduce the customer’s risk perception because the data provided substantiates claims made in the proposal.
  • Assembling, analyzing, and presenting proof points requires time. Gather data early to substantiate proposed features and benefits.
  • Conduct data calls with your team and partner contractors to collect data needed for persuasive, tangible proof points.
  • Establish a repository of reusable proof points and continually update it based on lessons learned.

Terms to Know

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