There’s a line that you should not cross. It’s hard to tell exactly where that line is. But once you cross it, your proposal manager is no longer focusing on increasing your win rate and instead is simply getting proposals out the door.
At the simplest level, a proposal manager is responsible for implementing the process. And being the heroes they are, they tend to fill gaps. But each gap they fill means giving up something else. And when they cross the line from overseeing the process into being part of production, they put the proposal at risk because while their attention is on writing, teaming issues, pricing, tool implementation, staffing the proposal, etc., their attention is not on things that have a major impact on whether you win. When the proposal manager is overloaded, these are some of the things you give up:
- Defining what it will take to win. The biggest pursuits have dedicated capture managers to figure this out. Mid-sized pursuits sometimes have a business developer or project manager assigned as a “capture manager.” But most of the proposals submitted have a bunch of people sitting around a table shouting out potential “themes.” If the proposal manager doesn’t structure the proposal around what it will take to get the top score, who will? If the proposal manager isn’t putting time into this, it’s because they’re too busy fighting fires. Where do you want them to put their attention?
- Planning the proposal content and not just producing an outline. If the proposal manager is too busy planning a kickoff meeting, checking the status of teaming agreements, and building a compliance matrix so they can build an outline so they can start tasking assignments and discover just how short they are on resources, they are not likely to be focusing on planning the content of the proposal before people start writing. The result is that the proposal will be what you have when you run out of time instead of something planned and built around what it will take to win.
- Defining quality criteria. If your writers and reviewers aren’t given a set of written quality criteria to guide their efforts, why not? The answer will most likely be that the proposal manager “didn’t have time.” But what priorities are so important that they could take attention away from defining what it will it take to win? Only things that could prevent the proposal from getting submitted at all would come first. And if your proposal manager is responsible for production, writing, etc., they won’t have time to define quality criteria, let alone structure a review process that validates the proposal fulfills them.
- Providing coaching for writers and SMEs. Every proposal has a mix of people who have proposal experience and people who do not. Subject matter experts, in particular, can make great contributions. But they need coaching in the evaluation process and how that impacts what matters. This coaching simply involves a lot of discussion before writing, during writing, extra informal reviews, and help responding to formal review comments. The first thing that happens when the proposal manager is overloaded is that this coaching only happens when it’s requested, instead of being a constant presence.
- Tracking everything in real time. When the proposal manager is overloaded, they naturally focus on the critical path. When they are extremely overloaded, they do their best to make sure that they can see the critical path to an on-time submission. If your proposals lack thorough coordination and status awareness for everyone, the problem isn’t that it hasn’t occurred to the proposal manager. The problem is that they can only do it when they can get to it, and it has to wait in line.
- Production and review checklists. When you see people performing reviews and flipping through the RFP, it’s a sign that the things they should be checking haven’t been distilled into a checklist. By the time you get to the review and production stages, you will be pressed for time. Do you want people working inefficiently when they are trying to rush through quality assurance?
- Reviews focused on quality validation instead of opinions. When proposal reviewers are handed an RFP and asked for their comments, you’re not going to get the best quality. In fact, what you get might be worse than not having any reviews. You certainly won’t get past subjective opinions about how to win that come too little too late. Good reviews are based on a written definition of proposal quality, have well defined proposal quality criteria, and validate that the proposal is what it was supposed to be. This takes more than just a copy of the RFP that too many reviewers don’t even read to achieve. Who is going to provide that guidance? I’m all in favor of having a review team leader take on that responsibility. But how many companies do that? In the absence, it’s one more thing that lands on the proposal manager’s to do list.
Consider the sunk cost of the total proposal effort and the revenue lost if you do not win. When you see these things not being done, it’s a sign that you are trying to skimp on costs, not adequately staffing your proposal effort, and reducing your ROI.
Which of these things do you want to give up? How does the lack of having them impact your win rate? What is the cost of that reduction in win rate in terms of lost revenue? Proposal staffing decisions should be ROI decisions. If your proposal function isn’t delivering these things, you’re not achieving your maximum ROI, and you won’t get there with resources allocated the way they currently are.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out more about him, you can also connect with Carl on LinkedIn.