Jump to content
PropLibrary Content

Two key proposal skills that are critical when building a proposal team

Everything else is secondary

The skills you need on your proposal team depend on the expectations of your company and the nature of what you are offering. What you need to write a proposal for complex services and unique solutions is different from what you need for engineering, which also is different from what you need for construction, product proposals, operations and maintenance, logistics, etc. Here’s what I like to have in the people on my proposal teams, which are mostly mid to high value US Government proposals, with some state and local proposals.

See also:
Proposal writing tips and techniques

I need people who can read an RFP. The proposals I do are measured by what’s in the RFP. People who need someone else to parse the RFP for them are at a disadvantage. Sometimes it’s okay if they just read the statement of work and respond to it point by point. But sometimes responding to an RFP can be a lot more complicated than that. And that’s when I need something more than just the ability to read the RFP. 

I want people who understand how a cross-reference matrix works. I don’t need them to build the cross-reference matrix or even know how to build it. But I do need them to understand how to integrate different sets of requirements into a single written response. For example, can they hold the instructions, the evaluation criteria, and the performance requirements, along with any customer and competitive intelligence, in their heads all at the same time and write a single, cohesive response? A team of people who can do that can achieve far more than a proposal team with only a chosen few who get it. 

When people understand the cross-referencing involved in proposal writing, they’ll be able to figure what to do with the input you give them regarding what it will take to win in writing.  This is key. It’s not just that proposal cross-referencing is an important skill. It is a skill that opens up all the other skills related to winning in writing, like writing from the customer's perspective instead of your own. All the other skills and considerations just get factored in as something else to cross-reference.

I routinely guide people who have never done this through their contributions to the proposal, but the people who do the best proposal writing are the ones who show up already understanding this. People who rely solely on the proposal manager to cross-reference everything for them lack a critical understanding of what’s involved in successful proposal writing. 

It also streamlines things if I can trust writers to take a section down to a more granular level on their own. Some RFPs are so straightforward that they really don’t need a cross-reference matrix. But they still need people who understand them to make sure what gets written addresses everything it should. 

Give me someone who understands how to cross-reference everything that goes into winning a proposal, and then when I create the cross-reference matrix and we work on the proposal content plan, they’ll understand how it all fits together. Their expectations for what’s involved in proposal writing will better match mine (and the proposal reviewers and most importantly the customer’s proposal evaluators). 

People who show up expecting to be spoon-fed what to write so they can write it and get back to what they were previously doing are literally doing the least they possibly can to help the proposal win. When people who show up not knowing what to expect, I am willing to invest in explaining everything today so they can make better contributions on future proposals. Usually, the choices are limited and we work with the resources made available to us and it feels like you are working for the underdog. When I have a team that understands how to cross-reference everything that will go into winning the proposal, it makes me excited about the prospects for winning.

One thing I don’t care about is proposal certifications. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that I prefer demonstratable talent over documented certification. HR loves them because they are easy to check in the hiring process. And people want to please HR. 

However, the knowledge and skills required to produce proposals are really pretty basic. What is advanced is the depth of understanding and insight into how to apply that knowledge and skills required to win proposals, and certification doesn’t deliver that if the talent wasn’t already there. A proposal certification may improve awareness, but it does not deliver the ability to write from the customer’s perspective instead of your own. 

I want a team of people with the talent for winning in writing. In my experience this talent has more to do with the individual’s sense of perspective and does not correlate at all with proposal certifications. If those on the team lack knowledge about proposal writing I can happily give them that. But if they lack perspective, it can be like pulling teeth. It doesn’t help that everyone thinks they have perspective — until you ask them to prove it by writing from the customer’s perspective. Some won’t understand what you are asking for and never will. And some will take naturally to it, even though they lack knowledge and experience, and are not certified.

I could write a list with hundreds of skills and techniques that are good to have during proposals. But you will never get them all and teams always have gaps. All I need to be happy is a team of people who understand proposal cross-referencing and have a wide sense of perspective. Give me that and we can fill in any other gaps on our way to winning proposal after proposal.

Let's discuss your challenges with preparing proposals and winning new business...

Access to premium content items is limited to PropLIBRARY Subscribers

A subscription to PropLIBRARY unlocks hundreds of premium content items including recipes, forms, checklists, and more to make it easy to turn our recommendations into winning proposals. Subscribers can also use MustWin Now, our online proposal content planning tool.

More information about "Carl Dickson"

Carl Dickson

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

Carl is an expert at winning in writing, with more than 30 year's experience. He's written multiple books and published over a thousand articles that have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is also a 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.

Click here to learn how to engage Carl as a consultant.

Proposal Help Desk
Contact us for assistance
In addition to PropLIBRARY's online resources, we also provide full-service consulting for when you're ready to engage one of our experts.

It all starts with a conversation. You can contact us by clicking the button to send us a message, or by calling 1-800-848-1563.

Sign up for our free newsletter and get a free 46-page eBook titled "Turning Your Proposals Into a Competitive Advantage" with selected articles from PropLIBRARY.

You'll be joining nearly a hundred thousand professionals.

Sign up
Not now
  • Create New...