Unofficial Oral Proposal Guide

The Process

The specific techniques I’ve found to be so successful follow a simple three-pronged process: the proposal presentation, the caucus, and the clarification phases.

TIP:

 

I like to have the team lead meet the vendor to establish hierarchy so that the vendor doesn’t fill in the awkward gap by trying to take control themselves. The government is the host and should take control.

Here’s the step-by-step.

 

The Presentation

When the vendors arrive, make sure a team member—probably a non-evaluating member or the lead if enough time—is there to meet them early.

Have a guarded or safe area set up where they can leave their electronics if they didn’t leave them in their vehicle or elsewhere for the duration of the presentation and follow-up. Most likely, it will have a small mountain of phones and watches belonging to government team members already in the room. All phones should be off.

Have the vendor’s team members sign the attendee list (don’t co-mingle with the government team’s attendee list) for the official record. If the host facility, such as an innovation hub, requires a separate sign-in for “credit” for the number of guests, specific names and companies should sign in as “Vendor B, 5 attendees,” because the vendor and personnel names must still be treated as source selection sensitive.

Bring the vendor into the presentation area at the appointed time. Make sure your entire team is already present and seated with their worksheets or laptops in front of them. Team members should already have signed a source selection sensitive sign-in sheet that will reside in the official file for that vendor.

Team members should be quiet and attentive, with no phones or other distractions present. They should also be dressed appropriately for the occasion, with no badges or name tags visible. If any are military, consider having them dress in civilian clothes.

Have the vendor’s chart file ready to present, preferably with the first chart open on the briefing screen(s).

You may choose to have bottles or pitchers of water available to the government and the vendor team, or the vendor may bring their own.

The Welcome

Plan for the welcome period to last about 5 minutes—no more than 10—and don’t start the clock on the vendor until they are ready to present. Do NOT introduce the team or allow the team to introduce themselves, as that information is source selection sensitive. Do NOT allow the vendor to take control of the moment and ask the evaluation team to introduce themselves. The Contracting Officer, Contract Specialist, and Program Manager are already known names and can introduce themselves.

The welcome is generally scripted and sets a few very basic rules. It goes something like this:

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Good morning! I’m Lorna Tedder, the Contracting Officer for the Zombie Weaponization Program Office. Thank you for submitting your proposal in response to our requirement for Faster Zombies.

Everyone on our side of the line is a government employee. There are no support contractors present. No introductions will be made on our side as the evaluators’ names are source selection sensitive.

Would you introduce your company and attendees at this time, please, giving us your name and role on this effort should you be awarded a contract?

NOTE: You can change this up slightly, having the vendor introduce last.

[Vendor makes short intro]

Thank you! Please listen closely to the rules of engagement for today’s presentation:

  1. You will have 60 uninterrupted minutes to present your technical proposal orally when the clock starts. We will be in “receive mode” during your presentation and will interrupt only if there is an administrative reason. Only I or my co-lead, Knight King, Program Manager for the Faster Zombies program, will interrupt. Administrative questions will be of the nature of an upside down chart, an obviously misplaced decimal point, or standing in front of the clock or outside the view of the video camera.
  2. If you need a restroom break or water break during your presentation, we can stop the clock and you will be escorted alone to the nearest bathroom; otherwise, our next break is in approximately 60 minutes.

NOTE: This has happened a few times, both for the vendor and the government teams.

  1. Your proposal will be evaluated based on the evaluation criteria outlined in the solicitation released on [date].
  2. The government will ask you to leave/hang up and will have a caucus for up to 20 minutes.
  3. Concluding the government caucus, my co-lead and I will be the only government representatives asking you questions.
  4. Charts can be updated “real-time” during the Question and Answer session. If “real-time” corrections are unable to be performed, the government will allow revised charts to be submitted within 48 hours from concluding today’s oral presentations, reflecting the correction resulting from the clarification question.
  5. Is any of the information that is presented today classified?

[Vendor answers.]

Thank you. Do you have any questions regarding the rules of engagement before we begin? If not, your presentation begins … now.

[Clock starts]

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At this point, the vendor takes the stage and briefs, hopefully uninterrupted, for the length of their time period. You may ping them at intervals if you or they wish, with the last one at 5 minutes before time is up. Whatever charts are not briefed at the end of the time period are not viewed, and nothing beyond that point is evaluated.

During the presentation, the evaluation team is busily, silently filling out their evaluation worksheets and taking note of any questions they may have.

When the presentation is over, turn off the video camera or audio device if you have been recording.

 

The Caucus

Once the vendor team leaves the room and all recording equipment is off, the lead or co-lead quickly begins to jot down questions, taking them from the evaluators with limited, focused discussion of each question. These must be relevant, focused questions needed to evaluate, not things that would be nice to know. The lead or co-leads keep the team tightly focused, as there is no time to get into the weeds with unnecessary questions or chatter.

If you are hoping to award without discussions, you must be very careful how you phrase your questions. The following template was created by Alan Luthy, my government legal counsel for over two decades, in an effort to help my team and others to stay within the lines. It’s provided here with his express permission:

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PK Legal Counsel’s Recommended Wording for Clarification Questions

Used with permission from Paul Alan Luthy. Discuss with your legal counsel for any tweaks.

The following questions present a framework for seeking clarifications in

conjunction with the upcoming oral presentations in order to prevent crossing the line into discussions.

– When Slides/Written Info Not Verbalized

Please note that the RFP states only the information presented in the oral briefing will be evaluated. The written information on the briefing slides is not being evaluated. In this regard, we noted that briefing slide(s) _____ contained information concerning ___________________________. We did not hear comparable information addressed in your oral presentation. You are afforded the opportunity to orally brief further details on this subject. Please limit your response to _____ minutes.

– Insufficient Detail for Technical Acceptability

The subject of _______________________ was addressed in your oral presentation in conjunction with slide(s) ___. Regarding ___________________________, Section M, paragraph ___, of the RFP states the standard for technical acceptability is: _____________________________________________________. We did not hear sufficient detail in your oral presentation to demonstrate full compliance with the evaluation standard. Please provide

additional details on _____________________________. We especially need to hear more details on the aspects of ______________________________, _____________________________, and _______________________________. Please limit your response to _____ minutes.

– Insufficient Compliance Detail for Technical Acceptability

Regarding the subject of ___________________, Section M, paragraph ___, of the RFP states the standard for technical acceptability is:

__________________________________________________________________. We did not hear information in your oral presentation to demonstrate compliance with the evaluation standard. Please provide information on your _____________________________. We especially need to hear information on the aspects of ______________________________, _____________________________, and _______________________________. Please limit your response to _____ minutes.

– Contradictory Verbal Statements

When you addressed the subject of ___________________ in connection with slide ____, we believe we heard you state that ______________________________. When you addressed the subject of______________________ in connection with slide ____, we believe we heard you state that ______________________________. These two statements appear to be contradictory because ______________________________________. We would like you to clarify your proposal with regard to ____________________________. Please limit your response to _____ minutes.

– Contradictory Written and Verbal Statements

Please note that the RFP states only the oral briefing will be evaluated. The written information on the briefing slides is not being evaluated. However, we noted an apparent discrepancy between what was stated on slide ___ and what we believe we heard during the oral presentation. Specifically, slide ___ states ________________________ with respect to the subject of________________________. When you addressed the subject of ________________________ in connection with slide ____, we

believe we heard you state that ______________________________. These two statements appear to be contradictory because ______________________________________. We would like you to clarify your proposal with regard to ____________________________. Please limit your response to _____ minutes.

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To be proactive, keep a stack of these templates to write on for each vendor’s presentation.

If you have not used the full caucus time, give your team a restroom/water break for the unused portion, then call in the vendor.

 

Clarifications

This is the part of the process where the magic happens.

The vendor returns to the presentation room and the recording equipment, if any, is turned on again. The clock starts.

The lead asks the questions prepared in the caucus and the vendor answers. If necessary, a chart can be corrected/clarified on the spot.

At this point, the vendor and government usually have a good understanding of each other and the proposal. If the vendor briefs something not in the charts, you can agree to add it to the contract, most likely in the Statement of Work or Performance Work Statement. If necessary, they can provide you specific language to be added to the contract based on what they briefed orally.

INSIGHT:

 

In days gone by, when these valuable extras resulted in a blue (highest) rating that helped to win a contract, it was known as “capturing the blues.”

As soon as the vendor has answered all questions or the time limit is reached, the recording devices are turned off and the vendor leaves the room. This can be an awkward moment, so make it less so by having the Contracting Officer and Program Manager step forward away from the evaluation team and escort the vendor out, shaking hands with each member of the team and thanking them for the briefing.

Meanwhile, the evaluation team is completing their worksheets based on the clarifications so that their evaluations are done, needing only to be “rolled up” into the larger evaluation.

© 2020 The MITRE Corporation. All Rights Reserved.  The content provided in "The Unofficial Proposal Guide" does not reflect MITRE's opinions.

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