In a perfect world, the government customer would always know exactly what they want, would always publish clear and thorough solicitation documents in a timely manner, and would explicitly and clearly explain how they plan to evaluate you and your competitors to make an award decision.
Unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world.
Often the customer experiences delays upon delays, and industry is forced to wait for the RFP, or even a draft RFP, to obtain the guidance they need. In other instances, the customer chooses to use an entirely different process, such as an OTA (Other Transaction Authority), which provides no Section M or evaluation criteria whatsoever. Regardless of the reason, there are many times when capture and competitive intelligence efforts must move forward cautiously in the absence of clear instructions from the government customer.
The question is, how do you evaluate your competitors against the customer’s criteria when the government hasn’t provided that criteria? The answer is NOT to simply kick the can down the road or forego that evaluation altogether. No, the answer is to use the next best thing—a notional (or strawman) evaluation model built on a series of assumptions that can be updated later as more information becomes available. There are almost always clues at your disposal that you can use to develop a notional evaluation model.
In developing a notional evaluation model, remember the goal is to approximate the process the customer will most likely use to evaluate proposals. As a starting point, always consider whether the opportunity in question is a new program or a recompete. If it is a recompete, there is a strong possibility that the customer will reuse the same evaluation process from the prior iteration of the contract. Even if it’s a new program, customers often use and reuse (and reuse again) the same evaluation process for all of their solicitations; so it may be a safe bet to use the section M from a similar, recent program from the same customer. You can see what standards and requirements they deemed important, and it can give you the foundation you need.
Another valuable source of data on customer evaluation plans is the Government Accountability Office (GAO). For those unfamiliar, the GAO is the government entity responsible for adjudicating protests filed by contractors in response to a procurement decision. All of the GAO’s protest decisions are made publicly available on their website, GAO.gov, and can be very useful in getting detailed insight into not only the customer’s evaluation criteria, but also how specifically they rated certain competitors, and in some cases, even the prices proposed by those competitors.
Finally, remember that key requirements and evaluation plans are often communicated in general terms via industry day materials, or presentations given at trade shows, which can provide helpful clues for building a notional evaluation model.
We continually stress the importance of customer intimacy. You must know what the customer truly cares about in order to develop an accurate evaluation model to objectively and effectively examine yourself and your competition.