Proposal teams are great at filling voids and getting things done without proper direction. They’ll complete the proposal no matter what. And that’s part of the problem. If they have to, they’ll water things down to gain acceptance. If they have no choice, they may even fake it. They are quite good at making the most of their circumstances, but they can’t read minds, and their authority is limited.
Make things clear and your people will work more quickly and be better focused on winning instead of working around indecision. There are things that need your involvement. They don’t require a lot of time. But they do require decisions that the proposal team can’t make on their own. The team will do the work, but they need you to decide:
- Who defines quality and leads the review process? Proposal quality is too important to be left to opinion. Getting a group of people, no matter how experienced, around a table for a review without any definition of proposal quality is no way to achieve it. One of the key functions of the executive level is to define standards. Proposal quality should be defined in a way that can be validated so the reviews will be effective. Your entire proposal review process succeeds or fails based on how you define quality. But if you don’t do this before the writing starts, then don’t bother. Changing the definition of quality in the middle is worse than a consensus driven subjective and undefined concept of quality. If you feel the temptation to jump in at the end and fix the proposal because they don’t understand your vision for proposal quality, that’s your failure and not theirs.
- Who is responsible for identifying contributors? The proposal team can identify what is needed, but they don't own the resources required to get things done. They need help, both with identifying relevant resources and with obtaining their participation. Especially when it requires crossing organizational boundaries.
- Who is responsible for identifying, articulating, and approving bid strategies? If you wait until the proposal to figure out your bid strategies, or if those involved in the pre-RFP pursuit show up without anything to differentiate your bid, it's probably too late. Even though the proposal team should participate in articulating the bid strategies, someone else needs to be responsible for bringing the winning strategies to the table, and doing so at the start of the proposal. If the proposal lacks solid bid strategies, that should not reflect on the proposal team. Working out who is responsible for bid strategies and when will have a huge impact on your win rate.
- Who decides whether to cancel the proposal? The person who approved the bid almost never wants to cancel it. When a bid goes bad, a ton of money and effort usually gets wasted as a result. The proposal team can tell when the plug should be pulled, but who's going to listen? And if it’s worth continuing anyway, who’s going to explain why?
- Who is responsible for making decisions regarding contractual matters? What terms and conditions are acceptable? Who’s responsible for knowing what the small print means? Who is responsible for regulatory and other compliance? When, where, and how does that review take place?
- Who is responsible for making sure contributors meet their deadlines? Expectation management is crucial. The proposal team is responsible for setting the right expectations. And then others are responsible for fulfilling them. What happens when they don't? You can leave it to the proposal team to try to exert pressure while doing the proposal, or you can help with expectation management.
- Who is responsible for making sure teaming partners make their deadlines? If you have subcontractors or teaming partners contributing to the proposal it can be like pulling teeth to get their assignments completed. The people who network with them don't want to be the bad guys and enforce the schedule. Who's going to step in with enough clout to get the attention of staff at another company?
- Who makes decisions regarding what is being proposed? Who is responsible for determining what to offer, as opposed to how to describe it? Who is involved and who has the final say? With authority comes responsibility. Someone needs to define the offering competitively and on schedule for the proposal team to do its job.
- Who makes decisions regarding proposal content and presentation? Should it say this or that? Be organized this way or that way? Who can make changes? And who has the final say? Instead of letting games and power struggles figure it out, just put it on the table and tell them straight up.
Isn't it interesting how many are all about "who?" Your staff can figure out "what" to do. But "who" does things is usually best decided higher up on the org chart. This means you.
The proposal team can figure out what to do. But they can’t assign resources. They can't decide among themselves who has the final authority to make decisions without a consensus. They can negotiate with other staff to get what they need, but this takes time and often results in somewhat less than what they really need, which has a negative impact on the proposal.
As an executive, you can have as much impact on your organization’s win rate as the proposal writers, without ever setting pen to paper. All you have to do is be decisive, and clearly communicate roles and responsibilities. If you are decisive, your win rate will go up. If you are indecisive, your organization will produce watered down proposals, do it more slowly, and with more risk, resulting in a lower win rate.
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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.
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