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Who do you need on your proposal team?

How do you figure out the staff you need to win a major proposal?

Who do you need on your proposal team? The place to start is with what activities need to be covered and what skills are needed. The easiest way to account for all the activities and corresponding skill requirements is to categorize them by the roles that people play in proposal development.

Proposal development roles

See also:
Proposal Management

We prefer to define roles functionally. It doesn’t matter how many people you have doing the work, as long as you have every function covered. On a small proposal you might have one or two people doing everything. On a large proposal you might have someone dedicated to each function. Some functions might need multiple people. The roles we start with are:

  • Business development manager: You need someone to find the lead, qualify it, and develop customer relationships. Without these you are likely to find yourself doing proposals without having an information advantage over your competitors.
  • Capture manager: You want your business developers spending their time looking for as many leads as possible. If you want someone focused on winning this particular lead you need to assign a capture manager. Otherwise lead generation will grind to a halt every time a lead becomes a proposal. You need a capture manager to figure out how to win.
  • Proposal manager: You don't need a proposal manager to do the proposal. You do need someone to define and lead the process of developing the document needed to close the sale, and to coordinate all the people who will be involved in the proposal. That will end up being far more people that you may realize. Proposal managers make all the people contributing to the proposal successful. If the proposal "manager" is one of the people writing the proposal, they aren't managing. You need a proposal manager to turn what it will take to win into a winning document.
  • Proposal writers and contributors: You need proposal writers because writing and management are two different things. But sometimes the people involved in proposal writing don't actually do any writing. Subject matter experts and others can contribute to the proposal without necessarily writing sections. Depending on the nature of your offering, you may need highly technical people involved. Or estimators. Or experts who can address one specific requirement. The nature of what you offer, the RFP requirements, and the capabilities of the staff you have available will determine whether contributors prepared finished copy or not.
  • Production coordinator and staff: Someone has to format it, print it, and stuff it in binders. If there are enough people involved, coordination becomes a full-time level of effort. Even if it’s just an electronic submission there is still significant production involved.
  • Pricing and contracts: Someone has to prepare the pricing and business volumes. Someone has to read and understand the terms and conditions specified in the RFP. For a small business this might be one person. For a large business, this might be two or more departments with specialists like estimators, contracts, legal, supply chain and subcontract managers, human resources, facilities, etc.
  • Reviewers: Not only do you need someone to double check everything, you need enough people to read both the proposal and RFP, understand the issues, and go beyond simply rendering their opinions about the proposal to validate the decisions, trade-offs, and presentation of your proposal. That takes time, experience, and knowledge. You may need technical experts in addition to the ones who wrote the Technical Approach to validate the approaches being proposed. People do not learn how to define proposal quality criteria or validate them in college. So you must find the people who are capable of doing this, and if you want objective opinions, you need to find people with this expertise who are not already working on the proposal.

Organizing proposal staff 

If you have 2-3 people on the proposal team, organization is not that big a deal. If you count all the SMEs/writers, ancillary help, and review participants and realize that you have dozens of people touching the document, you need to bring some structure to the organization.

Proposal writers are typically organized around their sections, and in large proposals a number of sections might be grouped into a volume. If you’ve got enough writers, you might want one person in charge of each section or volume. This person is typically called a Volume Lead. 

Once the proposal gets started, the Proposal Manager defines and leads the proposal process. The Capture Manager defines the offering and makes decisions regarding what to propose. The Capture Manager usually isn’t a writer and doesn’t usually manage the writing. The Capture Manager’s role is to figure out what to offer and how to win (leading and representing the technical staff). The Proposal Manager is in charge of getting it in writing.

If you have one or more teams of reviewers, you should appoint a review leader to manage the participants and oversee the fulfillment of the review process. Even if the review team is small, it works best if the Proposal Manager defines the process and someone else takes over the job of making the reviews happen. If you don’t have a review process, then the Review Team Leader will have to make one up. This creates all kinds of problems and conflicts. A review process is a lot more than a box and a date that says “review happens here.”

Your production staff will format and finalize the proposal for submission, whether electronic files or hard copies are required. This may require one person. Maybe a few. It depends on how complicated the proposal is. If you're lucky, it will include at least one proposal graphics specialist. Luckily submitting hard copies is becoming more and more rare, because they take more effort to produce. The level of effort for proposal production also depends on how complicated your layouts and graphics are. If you need multiple people to support production, you’ll probably want a single point of contact in charge of them and setting standards.

All the others

What about contracts? Supply chain specialists? What about pricing? What about other stakeholders? More people touch the proposal than you probably realize. I've seen people from facilities being involved. The core team may be small. Maybe you think it's one person. But there are many others who play small roles that are often vital and need to be accounted for.

What does it all add up to?

The number of bodies will vary. But people may cover multiple roles so long as they aren't overstretched. And that's the real challenge. Calculating the number of people you need to write a winning proposal has many factors and considerations. The level of effort for every proposal should be different. If it's not different, then you are not tailoring based on the customer, offering, and competitive environment, and your win rate is suffering as a result. Winning pays for all the effort many, many times over. Putting effort into winning has a better ROI than trying to reduce the effort it takes to submit. Instead of trying to calculate the fewest number of people, look at the roles, what should be accomplished by each, how well they were covered, and what the impact was on your win rate. Don't settle for we only have so many people to work with. Get data driven. You might find that by overstretching, you're losing far more than you are saving.


Let's discuss your challenges with preparing proposals and winning new business...

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.

Click here to learn how to engage Carl as a consultant.

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