A fire-proof method to assess written consulting proposals

September 15, 2018

That’s what good salesman is. Make you buy what he wants to sell. – James Joyce

In short

Once you have received the proposals, take the time to review them with the other stakeholders. Always keep your objective in mind: maximizing the chances of success of your project. You need the candidates to submit their best proposals, and for that, they need to understand the problem very well.
Level the ground, so all companies have a fair chance in the competition. It is in your best interest to do so too. Don’t hesitate to explain in length the background of your company, and the context of the assignment, and to take some time to polish the Q&A documents.

Your winning RFP process has attracted a score of proposals. Once the elation of that bounty fades, you come face to face with the daunting task of selecting the winning proposal.

Don’t just dive right in. Never lose track of the notion that it’s not about just making a purchase—it’s about solving a problem for your company. That’s why this task cries out for employing a sure-fire process that marries alignment with inspiration.

In this post, we’ll look at how to evaluate the quality of a proposal with an eye towards identifying the highest-quality solution for your company’s needs.

Warning: this information may run afoul of the herd approach to RFP evaluation.

Funnel down to potential winners, setting aside the rest.

Think of the process as a funnel into which you pour all the proposals.

  • At the narrow end will settle just those proposals that, even at first glance, make your heart skip a beat. At the least, they meet every one of your RFP’s criteria. Plus they landed in your inbox on time, are well-organized, and seem promising.
  • A bit higher up the funnel are the proposals that are slightly off-track but still workable. Maybe they came in late with a good rationale or missed an inconsequential step, but some look promising. You want to avoid eliminating a potential gem too early in the process.

At this point, your impulse will be to shred the rest. Stifle that impulse.

Yes, anything high up in the funnel should be set aside for now as an unlikely fit, but keep these two key cautionary notes in mind:

  • Don’t overlook or toss aside too quickly a proposal from an upstart entrepreneur with a great idea but less than desirable proposal-writing skills. There may be a way to have that idea become all or part of your business solution.
  • Be careful not to burn bridges when you send your response to vendors with rejected proposals, regardless of how you view their current proposal. Here’s why:  In an environment of rapid change, these vendors may evolve into great partners or suppliers. Moreover, your company’s needs can evolve to the point where you might realize that one of these rejected proposals now would be a good fit.

Gather a team of proposal evaluators.

A fire-proof method to assess written consulting proposals

Okay—you now have the proposals in hand that, at first glance, meet your eligibility requirements and your other basic criteria. It’s time to get serious and pick your evaluation team.

Who might be among your team of reviewers? Procurement professionals, to be sure. Perhaps a senior executive or two, depending on the type of solution you are seeking.

  • Consider including end-users where appropriate. One hallmark of innovative companies is that they view end-users or customers as partners rather than consumers of a new product or service.
  • Seeking input from a range of stakeholders helps ensure that the evaluation process is perceived as fair and is more likely to result in selecting the best proposal for your company’s needs. Both of those are vital to successfully implement the new idea or project.

If your team lacks deep experience in the area of procurement processes, consider including a qualified and experienced consultant on the team to help build a process designed to procure the best solution for your company.

Review all the criteria: the forest and the trees.


Keep in mind that some people on your review team will be attuned to seeing the big picture—the forest—while others will focus on details—the trees. Having both types on your team is an advantage.

Start with these reminders:

  • Your project’s objectives which any winning proposal needs to fit.
  • Your corporate culture and the type of partner or supplier that might complement that culture and be the right fit.
  • The approach selected reinforce and support the overall purpose of the project, as such, depending on the context :
    • Look for an entrepreneurial approach and an idea that may act as a company spark plug.
    • Look for an approach that is innovative, original, breakthrough, or transformational, and a concept your company can leverage.
    • Be on the lookout for a particularly intelligent solution using advanced technologies and outside-the-box thinking.
    • … Or look for a proven and reliable approach

Ask the team to review the proposed solutions along the lines of problem resolution, clarity, internal consistency, and ease of implementation, as well as outside-the-box approaches.

Next, jump to the standards:

  • Eligibility

  • Ethics and any potential conflicts of interest
  • Transparency in the content of the proposal
  • The proposal meets or exceeds all or nearly all the criteria in the RFP
  • Ease of implementation and future buy-in
  • How thoroughly did the vendor research your company’s needs?
  • Quality and expertise of the team that will deliver the job
  • How does the proposal price align with your budget?

The fun begins with scoring/weighting/ranking.

A fire-proof method to assess written consulting proposals

In the initial round, go for individual scores based on a matrix. Embed a weight to each scoring criterion.

Since we are limiting our discussion to the quality of the proposal, weighting may look like this, depending on your current needs:

  • Meets functional requirements – 30%
  • Aligns well with corporate culture/fit – 15%
  • Inspirational, breakthrough thinking; originality – 15%
  • Team expertise – 10%
  • Quality of written proposal and clarity of deliverables – 10%
  • Price 20%

Next, gather the team back together to build a consensus score. Why? Procurement is one of the backbones of your company’s path to increasing its ROI and keeping its competitive edge. The procurement process is simp

ly too important to be left to a flat averaging of reviewers’ scores.

What can you gain from a consensus score?

  • You get beneath an outlier number to identify whether that evaluator, for example, has had a past experience that has informed the scoring. A key learning experience!
  • On the other hand, perhaps a reviewer uses the scoring to put a personal agenda into play—a move that can be revealed in building consensus.
  • Finally, a consensus score is more likely to be perceived as fair on the part of potential partners and suppliers, as well as your employees and end users.

This all sounds as if it is more work than a simple matrix of X criteria and Y responses—and it is. But the outcome will be worth it: a workable solution that will help keep your company’s competitive edge.

Last, if none of the proposals fits either your requirements or your budget, do not hesitate to have a second round of discussions with the shortlisted companies. The better consultants understand your needs, the better they will be able to tailor the solution (scope, timing, team size) to accommodate your requirements.

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Helene Laffitte

Hélène Laffitte is the CEO of Consulting Quest, a Global Performance-Driven Consulting Platform. With a blend of experience in Procurement and Consulting, Hélène is passionate about helping Companies create more value through Consulting. To find out more, visit the blog or contact her directly.

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