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How many proposal specialists do you need vs. how many you can afford

7 key considerations for making better decisions

Everything is a trade-off. You need to keep your overhead costs low, but you also need to win contracts in order to grow and increase the size of your overhead pool. A lot of companies make the mistake of treating the proposal function as an expense instead of an investment that can be approached mathematically. 

The purpose of this article isn’t to teach you that math. But you should know that going from a 20% win rate to a 30% win rate will increase your revenue by 50% with the same number of leads you already have. That 50% increase in revenue will more than pay for giving your proposals the attention they need to increase your win rate.

The purpose of this article is to show you how bad decisions will cause your proposal efforts to lose focus and hurt your win rate, so you can make better decisions. There is a natural tendency to want to wring more out of your staffing resources. And frankly there’s nothing wrong with that. But a small reduction in win rate will cost you far more than it would to staff the effort with the focus you need to win.

Here are some considerations:

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  • How many people do you need to develop the solution or offering? The more people involved in defining what you intend to propose, the more complicated the proposal and the more moving parts. With each person added, the level of effort to track all of it doesn’t just add up, it multiplies.  
  • How much time needs to go into herding the cats? This is part assignment management, part progress and completion tracking, and part training. Either the content is planned, which takes some effort, or it is unplanned which takes a lot more effort. Where do you want to invest some time? How much control does your proposal specialist have over assignment completion? Control takes some time. But uncontrolled content development and unmanaged assignments take much longer. If you want the people working on the proposal managed, you can’t load the manager up with production tasks.  When the proposal manager is writing and producing, they are not managing people. At some point this increases your risk and lowers your win rate, making it not worth the squeeze.
  • Is the proposal manager in charge of the entire scope of the proposal effort? Is the proposal manager responsible for the pricing? What about the other parts of the business volume? Or is it just the technical proposal? The wider the scope, the weaker the focus. And that’s before you start adding in the other elements discussed here.
  • How much time goes into figuring out how to win? And along with this, who should articulate the messages you need to get the top score? Do you just task this to your staff and expect them to figure it out? Or do you want someone who understands the evaluation of proposals involved to provide guidance? Do you really want everyone on the team to work on this separately and form their own opinion, or do you want coherent strategies figured out before writing starts and driven into the document by everyone involved? While this is a process question, it is also a staffing question. Who is the strategic planner and driver? Can they do that while also herding the cats and coordinating everything?
  • How much time needs to go into assessing and cross-referencing the RFP? If you want someone to read and understand the RFP in detail, you have to give them the time to do that. If you don’t do this, you are relying on everyone else involved to not overlook anything. That can be a very high risk assumption and win or loss depends on the outcome.
  • How much time needs to go into preparing the outline and proposal content plan? If you only allow time for a quick outline, don’t expect a winning outline. Expect the outline to have to change multiple times during the writing process, making things take longer and increasing your risk.
  • Who’s responsible for defining quality and validating it? The review process is practically a separate process. Do you want to take your proposal manager out of everything else to plan the reviews, coordinate participation, set procedures, and train the reviewers? Or do you just plan to hand them a draft and ask their opinion?

There are many things you might expect of your proposal specialists. But should you? Unlike many other tasks, if you overload your proposal manager with too many things to focus attention on, you will reduce your win rate. And this will likely cost more than adequately staffing the effort. Could you be better off with enough proposal staff to focus on each element that contributes to a high win rate?

If you understaff these things it will impact your win rate. If you expect a single proposal specialist to track assignments, cross-reference the RFP, develop the outline, track progress, prevent disaster, and validate quality you are either going to get all of them done partially or some of them not done at all. That’s what kills your win rate.

Everything is a trade-off. So do the math and understand what the value of a small increase in your win rate is. Then you can decide how to staff your proposal efforts.

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