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Alternate Proposals – Why You Should (Almost!) Never Submit One

As a part of Government solicitations, the customer will occasionally offer the option for offerors to submit an Alternate Proposal. My experience as a Proposal Manager tells me that this is rarely, if ever, a good idea, for the following five reasons:

  1. The customer has no resources to evaluate it – Remember that the more proposals the customer receives, the more work is required by the Government. The Government’s budget to accomplish the evaluation of proposals– in estimated manpower – is typically established by the time the final version of the solicitation comes out. Therefore, the customer is more interested in DECREASING the evaluations required than in INCREASING the evaluations required, and an Alternate Proposal represents additional, and probably unbudgeted, work. This is NOT a good thing for the customer or for the offerors.

  2. The customer doesn't want it -- In general, the solicitation tells just what the customer wants to buy. In the best circumstance for you as an offeror, you have been able to influence (in a legal way, of course) the customers’ description of what he wants to buy. So any OTHER solution is likely NOT what the customer wants to buy, and is therefore definitely "swimming upstream, against the current“, with the customer.

  3. Doing so reflects the offeror’s arrogance – As an offeror, by submitting an Alternate Proposal, you are very likely demonstrating technical arrogance. In essence you are saying, "I have a BETTER idea.“ Unfortunately, that is a violation of one of my own personal rock-solid proposal rules, which is, "Don’t have a better idea; have HIS idea.“

  4. It dilutes your own resources, and makes a quality job on the responsive proposal more difficult – Just as the Government has finite resources to evaluate incoming proposals, your own resources are finite, and probably determined no later than the release of the final solicitation. Therefore, using resources on an Alternate Proposal dilutes the resources for the responsive proposal. This makes doing a quality job on the responsive proposal more difficult. You don’t need this distraction.

  5. It confuses the customer about what your firm really WANTS to do, and can be taken as a sign of a lack of commitment on the part of your management team to really DO the work described in the responsive offer – When you offer an Alternate Proposal, this says to the customer, "Hey, I’d really RATHER give you this Alternate Solution, and I really don’t believe in the Responsive Solution. Therefore, even if I WIN the contract based on my Responsive Solution, I’m not going to support that solution wholeheartedly, and I’m probably going to be fighting you during this entire contract." Again, this is NOT a good position to be in, as it decreases your chances of winning. AND even if you win, is likely to make program execution more difficult.

"Almost"

When I say, "almost" never, I HAVE seen some circumstances where an alternate makes sense. Some circumstances where it makes sense to provide alternate proposals are as follows:

  1. We were bidding to the USPS to manage Remote Bar Coding System (RBCS) sites. Each RFP included about 11 sites in different cities where the USPS needed service. The bidders could bid to operate a single site; all sites; or any number of the sites that were up for bid. The bidder opted to submit multiple proposals because different combinations of sites produced organizational advantages and disadvantages with an overall value to the USPS that couldn’t be predicted.

  2. Sometimes it is the case that a bidder can offer a solution providing overwhelming value to the customer but which might cause the bidder to be unresponsive in some particulars of secondary importance.

  3. Sometimes there has been minimal contact by any prospective offeror with the customer before the solicitation comes out, and the customer truly DOESN’T know what he wants to buy.

I think these exceptions are RARE. So before planning to submit that Alternate Proposal, be sure it makes good business sense, and you have a specific strategy for winning, based on that Alternate Proposal.

Summary

It’s difficult enough to respond to the solicitation of record, and tell how you plan to provide a solution that the Government suggests. Diluting your proposal efforts with an Alternate Proposal is generally NOT a good idea.


Written by John Lauderdale. Published by Organizational Communications, Inc. Republished with permission.



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