When is a proposal manager not a proposal manager?

When people use the term proposal manager they often mean different things. When people think of a proposal manager as the person ultimately responsible for delivering the proposal, they sometimes make the mistake of rolling up all the possible roles and responsibilities and assume the proposal manager should fill the gaps. Different sized companies often have different expectations, based on how many proposal specialists they may or may not have. There are also different sizes of proposals. In some companies, the proposal manager can be knowledgeable about all the content that goes into their proposals. In other companies, they can’t. Then there’s how centralized or decentralized a company is. And how consensus driven or authoritarian the culture is.

The result of all this is that in some companies, proposal managers write. In others they don’t. In some companies, the proposal manager figures out the bid strategies and in others they don’t. In some companies the proposal manager formats and produces the proposal. In others there’s a whole department that handles that. In some companies, the proposal manager tells the sales and operations staff what to do to win the proposal, while in other companies the sales and/or operations staff tell the proposal manager what to produce. In some companies, the proposal manager manages staff. In other companies the proposal “manager” is on their own.

Letting the proposal manager's role get defined by who’s in the role and what gaps you have is not very strategic. Instead, you should define the role by how you want to win.

At your company:

See also:
Proposal Management
  • Should the proposal manager be part of the sales function, or is he or she administrative support to the sales function?
  • Should the proposal manager have responsibility for your win rate and will he or she have sufficient authority to impact it?
  • Is the proposal manager responsible for win strategies and messaging, or will someone else be responsible for that?
  • Is the proposal manager supposed to figure out what to offer, or will someone else be responsible for that?
  • Does the proposal manager play a role in deciding whether to bid, or is the proposal manager stuck with someone else’s decision?
  • Is the proposal manager responsible for filling gaps in proposal staffing, or will someone else be responsible for that?
  • Who defines the sales and proposal processes?
  • Do you want a leader who will decide the direction things should go in, or a manager who will accomplish what they are assigned with maximum efficiency?
  • Who will manage volume and capacity issues, especially where it impacts win rate?

These questions are trickier than they appear. How you answer will have a big impact on what the proposal manager does, or does not, do to contribute to winning. It will affect how people look at your proposals. It also impacts what others at your company do. Instead of answering these questions with the status quo based on who’s available, trying thinking through how your company should approach winning. Focus on what your sales process should be, how your company develops customer awareness and opportunity insight, and how that should get into the document.

In larger companies, designing the offering, developing the win strategies, and formatting and producing the document are performed by people other than the proposal manager.


When we provide coaching and training to companies, we focus on how to win and not just how to get a proposal out the door. We walk companies through answering questions like those above so they can understand all the implications and take the approach that's right for their particular business. The right approach depends on your market, customers, the nature of your offering, sales volume, company size, resources, and more.

When people use a term like proposal manager to mean different things, or when they use it as a title for the stuckee who "does their proposals" regardless of their experience or actual role, the term becomes meaningless. It makes far more sense to ignore the title and focus on how you want to organize the effort to win new business. Your ability to give people raises, hire new staff, promote people, develop your capabilities, extend your reach, compete, thrive, and simply continue to exist as a company depends on winning new business. If that business requires winning proposals, you might want to think through whether your proposal manager really is a proposal manager, and what you really need them to be.

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.

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

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