Will a robot evaluate your next proposal?

We’ve noticed a trend in proposal debriefs, where the comments are more and more likely to be based on black and white criteria like “did address” or “did not address.” Never mind whether what the proposal said made sense or is qualitatively better than what your competitors have offered. The criteria have been made objective so that the evaluation can’t be questioned. It’s been made black or white, with no protestable shades of gray.

When this is the case, the evaluation is performed mechanically. There were always forms to be completed, but now instead of providing a rationale for a score, the evaluator may just be checking the boxes and going down the list. The evaluator could very well be a robot, and no one would ever know.

When an RFP is written to make the evaluation of the proposal formal and objective, there’s a good chance that it will be reviewed by a robot. Or at least a human pretending to be a robot. Sooner or later they’ll get around to replacing that human with an actual robot. How you write your proposal depends on whether it will be evaluated by a human or a human pretending to be a robot.

This trend has accelerated recently, due to a focus on awarding to the lowest price technically acceptable offering. When these are the evaluation criteria, then the technical evaluation is pass or fail. The evaluation criteria are no longer about scoring the offers to determine the best, they're about creating an objective standard for what is sufficient. If a proposal meets the standard, then they evaluate the price and pick the lowest one.

There are signs you can look for in the RFP that will help you determine whether your proposal will be evaluated by a human or a robot. If the evaluation score is turned into a label, such as “outstanding,” “satisfactory,” or “unacceptable” and the evaluations are performed on the labels, it’s a sign that robots have taken over the evaluation. There is no precision. All the bids fit into a few categories. Everyone within a category is treated equally.

The next thing you will probably read in an RFP like this will sound like they are evaluating based on best value, but it’s just a ruse. It will say “price is not the most important factor” but when the evaluation scores are the same “price becomes more important.” Guess what? Everyone who has a chance at winning will be labeled “outstanding.” Or if they pick the lowest label then everyone who has a chance at winning will be labeled “satisfactory.” So what really determines who wins is the price.

But if you really want to know for sure, you have to look at how they evaluate the assignment of the labels. If it’s based on “did/did not” or any other variation of Boolean logic or other objective criteria, then the robots are in charge. If the criteria require subjectivity or judgment, such as determining which is better, then there might be a human in the loop.

The reason you need to know is that a human can be persuaded by providing a rationale. A robot is persuaded by the completion of their checklist. A human will be persuaded by what they want and what best meets their needs. A robot will be persuaded by the presence of keywords.

We always hope there is a human behind the scenes ready to step in and apply some judgment. We try to fulfill the structure and keywords, while providing a rationale to persuade someone not to pick a proposal with better keyword stuffing. We hope that the objective criteria are just there out of protest paranoia. So the question remains, is the evaluator of your next proposal a human or a robot?

Our MustWin Process, which is part of the PropLIBRARY Knowledgebase, shows you how to plan the writing of your proposal so that it responds to the factors that drive what it will take to win.



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Carl is the Founder and President of CapturePlanning.com and PropLIBRARY.

The materials he has published have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is an expert at winning in writing. He is a prolific author, frequent speaker, trainer, and consultant.

In addition, the groups Carl moderates on LinkedIn provide a place for tens of thousands of business development and proposal professionals to discuss best practices and network.
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