What can an overworked proposal specialist do to make things better?

Where should you focus your efforts?

Companies often ask their proposal specialists to wear many hats. They blur the lines between sales, business development, capture, and proposals. And when it comes to proposals, they don’t make any distinction between proposal management, proposal writing, or proposal production. Some companies, usually the smallest ones, have one person doing all of them. 

When that person is working on a proposal, prospecting for new leads stops. When someone is writing, they stop managing. And capture gets dropped completely because they go straight from database searching to bidding with no relationship marketing in between. This is a great way to stay small.

But you’ve got to start somewhere. And all service contractors are understaffed, no matter how large. This is actually a good thing, because keeping overhead low is critical for ensuring cost competitiveness. And cost competitiveness helps achieve growth. And growth is the primary source of opportunity for the staff working at a service contractor.

The first thing an overworked proposal specialist needs to do is to figure out what kind of proposal specialist you want to be. Are you the kind of proposal specialist that:

See also:
Faster
  • Takes ownership of winning
  • Supports others leading the effort to win
  • Owns message development
  • Produces what others give you
  • Ensures absolute accuracy
  • Obsesses over compliance
  • Orchestrates the process
  • Defines the process
  • Makes it up as you go along
  • Creates and maintains the resources that others use
  • Builds what you need and uses it yourself
  • Enforces deadlines that others have to meet
  • Is at the mercy of others who determine when deadlines get met
  • Coordinates proposal reviews
  • Manages proposal reviews
  • Participates in proposal reviews
  • Etc.

There is no single, right answer that applies to every person in every corporate culture. If you are overworked, you probably cover several of the bullets above. You still must decide what kind of proposal specialist you want to be, because that determines how you should invest your time.

How to invest your time

If you are responsible for winning or message development, then your time should go into creating tools that get you the information about the customer, opportunity, and competitive environment that you need to articulate the winning messages. If others are involved in sales or the customer relationship, you need to create tools to get input from them for the proposal. You need to guide them to bring you the right kind of input. You can’t expect them to realize what input you really need. If you have to go get the information yourself, then you need tools to make that quicker and easier.

If you are producing what others bring you, you can help them get it to you on time and in better shape by providing checklists that facilitate their ability to do that. The more you help them understand what is required to play their role, the more likely it is to come to you quickly and without defects. Just don't give them an entire style manual they'll ignore. Keep it simple. Spending some time making their job easier will pay off for you by making your job easier.

If you are responsible for accuracy and compliance, then consider creating tools that will help them define proposal quality and provide quality criteria that they can use to self-assess before the material even gets to you. You can only accelerate a review after the writing is complete by so much, and then you have to deal with fixing the defects on the back end. It is much better to be the guide on the front end than one blocking crossing the finishing line because their work wasn’t good enough.

If you define the proposal and implement it, then you need more than a diagram and templates for your process artifacts. Spend some time creating goals for each activity in your proposal process, because people are more responsive to accomplishing goals than completing steps. Give them checklists that let them know when they’ve done a good job.

The one thing that's absolutely vital

But by far, the most important thing you can do is educate your stakeholders about return on investment (ROI). If your proposal function is profitable, then The Powers That Be will throw resources at it to maximize their return. It is well worth spending the time to:

  • Understand how to calculate the return on investment of the proposal function
  • Being able to demonstrate how revenue growth benefits the people you need to motivate
  • Get, track, and analyze the data needed to assess ROI
  • Enable data driven decisions based on ROI
  • Use ROI to track performance
  • Prepare reports and educational materials to teach it to others

Telling The Powers That Be that every time you work on a proposal you stop looking for leads may sound compelling to you. But what sounds compelling to them is how much money they lose as a result. It is one thing to evangelize about improving the company’s win rate. It is another thing to quantify the money to be gained by investing in improving win rate. The Powers That Be are not born knowing these things. If you want them to share your understanding you have to guide them to it.
 

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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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