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Proposal director vs proposal manager vs proposal coordinator vs proposal writer

Proposal development is bigger than one person or a single role

The scope of work required to achieve a high proposal win rate is bigger than one person. If your company depends on winning proposals for its revenue, you may need a Proposal Department instead of a proposal person. Or you may be starting small, but hope to grow into a company large enough to need a Proposal Department. Here are some of the differences in the roles that proposal professionals often play:

See also:
Proposal Management
  • The things that a Proposal Director does are different from what a Proposal Manager does. A Proposal Director might not even manage individual proposals. A Proposal Director sets standards, defines processes, ensures staff are trained, and allocates resources across all of the company's proposals. They play a critical role in quality assurance for proposals. A Proposal Director also addresses problems that cross organizational boundaries, which is a common problem for proposals. A good way to look at it is that instead of managing proposals, a Proposal Director manages the win rate, ensuring that all proposals do what it takes to maximize their win rate and that the win rate continuously improves.
  • A Proposal Manager has responsibility for implementing the process for the development and submission of proposals. In an organization with a Proposal Director, they focus on the individual proposals they have been assigned. Proposal Managers herd the cats guide the proposal contributors through the process to complete their assignments. If the company has capture managers, a Proposal Manager works with the capture manager assigned to their proposal. A key requirement for a Proposal Manager is to understand how a compliance matrix helps you create a structure for the document that will meet the customer’s expectations. This is key for understanding the relationship between achieving RFP compliance and maximizing your evaluation score, and for providing a structure you can build your messaging around.
  • An organization with multiple Proposal Managers, may also have a Production Manager who specializes in formatting and file management. The Production Manager is responsible for configuration management of the proposal information to prevent version conflicts, ensure backups, enable people to find the information they need, and improve efficiency. The Production Manager handles the initial setup of files so the proposal team can get to work, final production and formatting of files for delivery, and any baseline changes or file management at milestones in between.
  • In most organizations, the role of Proposal Coordinator is poorly defined and ends up being a mini Proposal Manager, or someone who is cheaper, has less experience, has little or no authority and who assists the Proposal Manager. I prefer not to use the title "Proposal Coordinator" because it is too ambiguous and results in misuse of the role. I prefer to call them "Proposal Process Administrators" because what they should be doing is ensuring that process deliverables are completed, enhancing communications, facilitating expectation management, and helping to surface issues. The Proposal Manager sets expectations. The Proposal Process Administrator documents the expectations, makes sure that everyone is aware of them, and discovers if there are any issues in fulfilling the expectations on time. 
  • Proposal Writers are responsible for completing the narrative portion of the proposal. Most Proposal Writers are not specialists, and many proposals have at least one person doing proposal writing for the first time. A distinction can be made between Subject Matter Experts and Proposal Writers. Sometimes Subject Matter Experts are Proposal Writers and write proposal copy, and sometimes they just provide information to Proposal Writers. Either way, Proposal Writers are responsible for fulfilling expectations regarding their proposal assignments.
  • Proposal departments usually include specialists who form a supporting cast for the proposal. These may include graphics illustrators, editors, content managers, tool administrators, review team managers, production support staff, and others.

Proposal organization at small companies vs large companies

Large companies have more people. But small businesses can be better organized. This directly impacts proposal development and win rates. Small businesses can have better win rates than large businesses. There's also the difference between small proposals and large proposals to consider. 

Small businesses often have one proposal specialist. Large businesses may have a whole department. But the curious thing is that what it will take to win your proposals is functionally the same whether you have a single person or a whole department to do it. Titles do not matter. What matters is whether you understand what it will take to win, have people with the skills to turn that understanding into proposals, and have the capacity to meet your bid volume. 

  • Proposals at small companies. When a small business has one person effectively “doing” the entire proposal, it should still think in functional terms. Each person you hire will have strengths in some but not all the functions required. How will you fill the gaps? If you start with a junior or mid-level proposal specialist, who will play the role of Proposal Director? If you hire a proposal writer, will they be capable of creating a compliance matrix? 

    As you grow, how will you split the functions? Will you promote your first proposal specialist? Will they be capable of fulfilling the functional aspects of their new role? Will you hire someone new, give them a title, and just expect the work to get divided up? Or will you hire someone who can fill your functional gaps? As you grow, it is better to organize around covering the functionality required to win than it is to create positions based around the skills of the people you have or hire. First, identify your functional requirements and then map your people to them. Then fill the gaps. Along the way, you can also use consultants and training to address your gaps.
     
  • Proposals at large companies. Large businesses need the ability to do more proposals at one time than a single person can support. They have multiple Proposal Managers. Their proposal volume also supports having specialists and a supporting cast (see above). As the number of Proposal Managers increases, they begin to need a Proposal Director. If they have a high volume, multiple locations, and major impact on the company's financial health, a large business might also add a Proposal Vice President. The difference between a Proposal Vice President and a Director is that the Proposal Vice President focuses on ROI. Proposal resourcing should be based on the ROI contribution of the Proposal Department to the company. When the Proposal Department plays a key role in the financial health of the company, ROI management needs the attention of someone who understands finance as well as proposals to interface with the company.
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Carl Dickson

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

Carl is an expert at winning in writing. The materials he has published have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is also a prolific author, 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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