How to Deliver The Perfect Proposal Basket to the Government


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Spring never fails to remind me of the Easter Bunny and eggs, even though it’s been a long time since I’ve made up an Easter basket of colored eggs. I was thinking that if I wanted to deliver the perfect proposal basket to a government agency in response to a Request for Proposal (RFP), I should put a selection of very important eggs into my basket.

I would put in a few big colored eggs representing the major selling points in my proposal (my win themes and discriminators) that have been carefully chosen to address the specific needs of the evaluators.  I would then sprinkle the basket with medium and smaller candy eggs — the proof points and metrics that substantiate these selling points and reinforce my company’s capabilities to perform the work. I would make them highly visible so that the evaluators wouldn’t have to comb through the grass in the basket to find them. I would present my relevant win themes at the beginning of each major section of the proposal and put the introductory text in a colored box so that evaluators could quickly find it.

Then, as I write my narrative, I would support these win themes with the details (what we will do, and how, when, where, and who will do it). Next, I would create colored hot boxes with my proof points and metrics that substantiate the claims made in support of my win themes and detailed narrative in each proposal section. And last but not least, I would include a “features and benefits” chart for each section so that the evaluators know the exact benefits of my company’s approach to performing the work, usually expressed in terms of cost savings, expected outcomes, or improved schedules.

Here’s my response to a few frequently asked questions (FAQs) are likely to come up about delivering a proposal basket to evaluators:

Question: How will I know what types and flavors of eggs to put in my proposal basket?

Answer: Your business development/capture team should have enough ongoing contact with, and knowledge of, the customer to identify the types and flavors of eggs the evaluators are looking for. An evaluator who is looking for innovation might prefer an egg that does something new (for example, a plastic egg that also acts as an egg timer). Another evaluator may be completely risk averse and your only choice is to present him or her with a hard-boiled egg in a primary color with which the evaluator is intimately familiar, based on the contents of prior contracts of this type. The important thing is to have eggs that resonate with the evaluators.

Question: How do I develop major selling points, win themes, and discriminators that I can turn into eggs?

Answer: Prior to RFP release, hold a win strategy conference to discuss how your company and the team plan to win the proposal.  Identify the evaluators’ preferences, concerns, issues, agendas, biases, and “hot buttons”. Identify the keys to winning the proposal. What characteristics will the company need to be successful? Analyze your company’s strengths and vulnerabilities. Where your company is strong, determine how you can maximize this strength or advantage. Where your company is vulnerable, determine how you can minimize these vulnerabilities.

Develop your win themes. These are messages that contain a feature or benefit likely to resonate with evaluators because they address some critical or major issue of concern to the customer. What will differentiate you from your competitors? Discriminators are those features or benefits that truly distinguish you from your competitors.

The most important of your win themes and discriminators can become a major feature of your company’s approach to performing the work.

Question: Should I put ALL my eggs in the proposal basket?

Answer: Be selective. Win themes and discriminators should clearly discriminate you from your competitors, align smoothly with the customer’s needs, support your overall strategic approach, and provide features and benefits that are important to your customer. You may only have 3 or 4 true discriminators. The important thing is to put the right eggs in the basket.

Question: I have a rubber chicken. Can I put that in the proposal basket?

Answer: Not unless you REALLY want to lay an egg!

Originally published February 2015, updated March 30, 2018

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AuthorEllen Perrine

Ellen Perrine is a Vice President at AOC Key Solutions with more than 30 years of experience in federal proposals including strategy development, proposal management, compliance management, and technical writing.


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