Unofficial Oral Proposal Guide
What Do Vendors Think of Oral Proposals?
If you’re wondering if vendors will balk at using oral proposals, most won’t. In fact, most will prefer them, provided you use the techniques in this guide and don’t duplicate effort.
To make your oral proposal process better, ask vendors for feedback on the submission instructions and evaluation criteria before you release the formal solicitation, if possible. When the oral proposals have been briefed, you can ask for feedback then as well, after the evaluation or after award.
Here’s an example of the kind of feedback I ask for when I request it immediately after a presentation:
(Directed at the vendor) I’d like to thank you for participating in this source selection. We appreciate having this opportunity to hear your proposal. We’re now done with the presentation and clarification period and have completed our initial evaluation in real time based on what we’ve heard. I’d like to take a moment to ask your feedback, separate from your presentation.
(Directed at the evaluation team) Team, would you please close your notes/worksheets/laptops? Thank you.
(Directed at the vendor) I’m not sure if you’ve ever delivered a proposal orally before or used this particular process, but how did it work for you? Was there anything in particular that didn’t work? Anything we can do better to improve the process? How can we make it better?
In every case but two, vendors told us the process was less resource intensive for them and they didn’t have to spend weeks writing a narrative proposal. The oral proposal process was faster and therefore kept them from holding together a team for unnecessarily long. In cases where it was hard for the vendor to explain in written words what they hoped to accomplish, they were able to provide a brief video or demo that told the story in a simulation better than a printed page with graphics could.
Only one vendor gave a neutral review. The vendor liked the process and appreciated its speed, but their large corporation’s internal policies forced them to create a written narrative in addition to the oral briefing. Their own internal polices required far more of them than the government did.
Did anyone hate oral proposals? Yes. One vendor. Actually, one lone team within a company that tended to like oral proposals. The team arrived unprepared for their presentation and essentially chose to “wing it.” During the post-proposal feedback, they faulted the government team’s poker face—something I’d mandated!—because they were unable to “read” the team to know which nuances of their proposal to talk to. Their presentation charts were vague enough that the vendor team could slant the proposal in several different ways, and while they were adept at body language, they had difficulty with the government evaluation team’s lack of cues. What we as the evaluation team wanted was for the vendor to describe their best approach to solving our problem, not parrot back what we already thought the solution was.
I’ve heard of a few other vendors who disliked oral proposals because they were required to have the key personnel proposed for the contract when they delivered the oral proposal. If they didn’t already have the skillsets in-house, they had to hire/transfer personnel in advance of the oral proposals and the resulting award. For some vendors this might be expensive, but it also flags which vendors don’t have a particular capability.
The requirement for key personnel on the prospective contract to present orally might also serve to narrow the competitive range early by weeding out less qualified vendors who don’t stand much chance of an award. Maybe I was lucky, but most of the many vendors I worked with could have given a decent overview of their approach within a few days because their expertise was that strong.
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