Start with Section M
A lesson in writing effective government-contract proposals
Government contracts are an open-book test. At every level of government in the United States, the government will tell you two things (1) what they're looking for, and (2) how they're going to pick the winner. Usually, when people talk about government contracts, they focus on the first thing: what the government is looking for, also known as the “requirements.” In my experience, though, it's better to start with the second thing: how the government is going to select the winner, also known as the “evaluation criteria.”
Why should you start with the evaluation criteria? From the government's perspective, the evaluation criteria are intended to “[r]epresent the key areas of importance and emphasis to be considered in the source selection decision.” FAR 15.304(b). In other words, the requirements may be what the government needs, but the evaluation criteria show what's important when making an award to a contractor. And, from the contractor's perspective, the evaluation criteria are used by the government to “[s]upport meaningful comparison and discrimination between and among competing proposals.” In other words, evaluation criteria are the difference between winning and losing.
When I read a solicitation, the very first thing I do is search for the evaluation criteria. [In federal contracting, a common convention is to identify the evaluation criteria in section M, hence the title for this blog post.] The evaluation-criteria section tells me whether the government has seriously considered what they want in a contractor: do they want an expert delivery partner or do they want a commodity provider. Starting with section M is also essential for writing the proposal because, although it sounds elementary, effective proposals for government contracts constantly refer back to the evaluation-criteria and are built around them. After all, the government has to tell you what's really important when putting together the evaluation criteria, and they are the difference between winning a contract or not.