The Danger of Not Following RFP Instructions

The story goes that some years back one of the federal agencies — I think it might have been NIH — was surprised by the overwhelming number of companies that responded to the RFP for a particular contract. There were way more competitors than they wanted to handle.

So, they thinned the herd.

They eliminated every proposal that failed to obey RFP instructions to the letter. Suddenly, proposals with wrong fonts, wrong margins, all sorts of picayune mistakes — were gone.

Result: no more herd. Just a manageable number of proposals to evaluate.

No doubt the agency tossed out some very fine proposals that day from companies that could have done a great job. But it had to be done to make life livable.

Fact of Life: RFP competitions are not made for your convenience

My point is that the RFP competition system for federal contracts, including NIH RFPs, VA RFPs, FDA RFPs, NSF RFPs and RFPs for all the other federal science and health agencies,  is set up to make competitions livable for the agencies. They don’t care much about making competitions livable for you.

This means that grousing about RFP proposal instructions being unjustified, unnecessary, repetitive, or illogical won’t get you much, if any, sympathy. You aren’t be first, and won’t be the last, to make these observations.

This can be especially difficult for people with technical educations, particularly engineers and scientists, to accept. We expect instructions to have consistency and logic.

But RFP life isn’t always like that, and if you want the contract you better accept it. Follow RFP instructions for preparing your proposal as close to the letter as you can, even when you think you have a more sensible way of preparing your proposal and presenting what you offer the agency.

RFPs are about sales, not logic

Remember, a proposal is a sales document and all this work is about doing your part to help your company win a contract. It’s not about proving who’s right about the most reasonable or logical way to prepare the proposal.

“Ours is not to reason why. Ours is but to do and die.”  — Tennyson.



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