The proposal manager role at one company can be very different from the role of a proposal manager at another company. This is often because the organization leaves it ambiguous. Position descriptions are often contradictory or too long to be feasible. The result is that sometimes the role is frequently defined by force of will of the person in it, sometimes by necessity, and sometimes by the organization’s culture. The differences end up being significant.
Here are 9 factors that drive those differences. They can produce very different proposal managers. And that is neither good or bad. The real question is what kind of proposal manager is a match for a given company and proposal effort? A company can use them to determine the kind of proposal manager it would like to have. And proposal specialists can use them to determine the kind of proposal manager they would like to be.
- Ownership. Who owns the proposal? Is it the executive sponsor, capture manager, project manager, sales, or the proposal manager? Who is responsible for funding and staffing it? Or owns the result after submission? Who is responsible for that result?
- Style. What should the management style of the proposal manager be? Are they a facilitator who builds consensus and creates the proposal through collaboration, a middle manager with no real authority, an actual manager with the authority to enforce, a process guide helping people who are not proposal specialists do a better job, or a teacher introducing a team to the world of proposals?
- Involvement. The majority of what impacts win and loss often occurs before the proposal even starts. Will the proposal manager be involved before RFP release, or will they start after RFP release? How does that impact what the role really is, and what it can rationally be responsible for?
- Outcomes. What outcomes must the role achieve? Is it RFP compliance, making the competitive range or any downselection, winning, or improving the company's win rate over time? Keep in mind that if you want a proposal manager to be responsible for winning, you have to give them authority over strategies, budgets, resource allocation, pricing, and the offering. These things have a greater impact on win or loss than the proposal manager does! If you scale the responsibilities back to mere RFP compliance, then who will drive the win? And if the proposal manager is responsible for RFP compliance or making the competitive range, then what happens when the offering or something else is flawed? Be very careful in how you allocate responsibility for the outcome of proposals. It affects behavior and can lead to CYA behavior that’s counter-productive.
- Deliverables. What deliverables do you require from your proposal manager? Focus on the minimum, because some things are merely increments toward a deliverable and can be considered optional, while some are firm requirements for every proposal. A compliance matrix and/or outline? The proposal content plan? The schedule, assignments, and other process artifacts? Questions to submit to the customer? Quality assurance checklists or criteria? Feedback forms? A list of themes or win strategies? An offering design? Pricing? On time submission of the proposal? Others?
- Management activities. Scheduling, facilitating, or leading kickoff and other meetings? Progress measurement? Stakeholder involvement? Staffing? Supervision? Resource allocation? Others?
- Quality assurance. What is the role of proposal management in quality assurance? Do they schedule it, facilitate it, participate in it, or lead it? Or are they responsible for the outcome of reviews? Who is responsible for the quality of the review itself --- what if the review is overly subjective or otherwise ineffective? Who decides how many reviews to have or when to cancel them? Should the same person be responsible for quality control and quality assurance? These questions are rarely asked related to proposal, and yet they have a large impact on your win rate.
- Writing. Who is responsible for writing the content? If the proposal manager participates, then while they are writing, they are not managing. What is your priority?
- Infrastructure. Is the proposal manager responsible for developing all of the tools, reuse libraries, budgeting procedures and allocation, staff oversight, and production in addition to managing and everything else? What is rationally achievable? What are you willing to tolerate not getting done?
Plus 6 tips:
- Proposal development is a team sport. There are far more people involved, and responsible, than you realize.
- Be careful what you wish for. You might just get it. And it may come with unintended consequences.
- Responsibility requires a certain amount of authority. If someone has no authority over something, what are they really responsible for?
- Customers do inconsistent, wacky things and proposals have to adapt. This can change the rules, and often does.
- Start from a strategic perspective and not from the staff you currently have. How do you want your organization to go about winning what it pursues?
The difference between small and large proposals is the number of people involved. If you want to be prepared for going after large wins, prepare for working with a lot of people.