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7 examples of meaningless RFP evaluation criteria and what to do about them

With real evaluation criteria examples

Sometimes the customer recycles their RFPs. They use generic evaluation criteria. They hurt themselves when they do this, but they still do it.

The advantage of using generic evaluation criteria to the customer is that they can interpret them any way they want. They can select the bidder they prefer and then justify it. It’s not supposed to work that way, but when you see generic evaluation criteria, you have to wonder…  

The disadvantage to the customer is that generic evaluation criteria doesn’t tell bidders what the customer’s priorities are and what matters about what they are buying. This makes it more difficult for bidders to provide an offering that reflects the customers preferences and priorities. It makes it more likely that the buyer will get less of their needs met, even by the winning bidder.

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Here are some examples of meaningless evaluation criteria:

  1. Bidder has sufficient capacity to deliver the project requirements. How does the word “capacity” apply to what is being procured? Are you supposed to guess? Is it a performance metric? Or is it having the staffing available, the right skill sets, sufficient financing, productivity, resources, span of control, or something else? 
  2. Experience with the type of services specified in the solicitation. Does the customer care more about the size, scope, or complexity of the work you’ve done in the past? Are they looking for specific details, such as services performed or technology used? Do they care more about the amount of experience, the relevance of the experience, or what you actually achieved? Simply “having” experience doesn’t add much value or help the customer perform their evaluation. But what is it about your experience that they are concerned with?
  3. Objective and subjective criteria will be used to evaluate the proposals. Gee, I never could have guessed that. Does this say anything that can be used to ensure the customer gets what they want? How exactly will they evaluate these criteria? The answer is however they want. This is not a criterium, it is a justification for acting on a whim.
  4. Meeting the mandatory minimum requirements. I already understand that you have requirements. Because I want to win, I’d like to do more than the minimum. In fact, I’d like to give you more of what you want than anyone else, while still remaining cost competitive. So how will you score something that goes beyond the minimum? 
  5. Addresses the issues discussed in the RFP. This is the same as telling me that I must meet the minimum requirements to win. The challenge for the bidder isn’t addressing the issues discussed in the RFP, it’s knowing what matters to you about the issues that matter to you and any preferences you might have regarding how those issues get addressed. When there is more than one way to approach an issue, we want to do in the way that you prefer.
  6. Illustrates a comprehensive understanding of work requirements and mastery of the subject matter. What do you, as the customer, consider to be a comprehensive understanding? Does that mean a proposal in which the bidder says “we understand” the most sincerely will win? Or should the bidder restate the requirements that you just gave them? Or repeat the mission statement you have on your website? Or will you score understanding based on which proposal has the most detail? Or select the bidder with the most experience? Or the staff with the most experience? Or does the customer want to see credentials and qualifications to establish “understanding?” Will the best approach prove understanding? Or will it be the proposal that comes closest to your budget? When you use a term like “understanding” without saying how you will assess it, you are more likely to get proposals that lack clarity and make a lot of claims.
  7. Overall quality of the proposal. This tells the bidder absolutely nothing about what you want to see in the proposals you receive. What bidders would like to know is what you think would indicate a quality proposal for this specific procurement. When bidders have to make a trade-off decision, and proposals often require hundreds of them, we’d like to make them based on your preferences instead of just guessing at them. 

When the evaluation criteria are this poorly defined, the customer will get proposals based on guesses instead of what they really want. The bidder that guesses the best may not be the best vendor and what they offer will not add as much value as they would have if the customer said what is important to them. Getting the best value is worth doing more than just releasing a generic or recycled RFP. So hopefully the RFP moves from these meaningless criteria into details that shed some light on what’s important and not just what’s required. 

How should you write your proposals when the evaluation criteria don’t provide any real guidance?

If the RFP only provides meaningless evaluation criteria, bidders have to go beyond them to develop win strategies. This is where it’s really important to know the customer. You need to know what matters to them, how they make decisions, and what they need to see in a proposal to give it the top score. If you haven’t had a single conversation with the customer, you’re at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to interpreting what they wrote in the RFP. This is especially true when the RFP evaluation criteria are meaningless.

If the customer gives you meaningless evaluation criteria and you don’t know how to interpret them, try explaining your rationale and why you’ve made the choices that you did. It is entirely possible that the evaluator doesn’t understand how to score against their own meaningless evaluation criteria, in which case your rationale will appear stronger than someone else’s claims of greatness. You’ll need to cover the bases on the more quantifiable considerations like qualifications and experience. But the reasons why your approaches are the best will give them reasons to give you a good score. Your reasoning about what matters may help them to apply their ambiguous evaluation criteria in your favor. 

In the absence of knowing what matters to the customer, focus on what should matter to them. And articulate all of your features, benefits, and reasons in ways that present them as strengths. You may not know how they’ll score their ambiguous evaluation criteria, but most scoring systems look for strengths and weaknesses in the proposal, even if they don’t use the terms “strengths” and “weaknesses.” 

And if you find out that the customer was looking for something else, you would never have guessed it anyway. If only they’d have told you, maybe you could have offered something better than what they accepted.

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More information about "Carl Dickson"

Carl Dickson

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

Carl is an expert at winning in writing, with more than 30 year's experience. He's written multiple books and published over a thousand articles that have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is also a frequent speaker, trainer, and consultant and can be reached at carl.dickson@captureplanning.com. To find out more about him, you can also connect with Carl on LinkedIn.

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