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Executive sponsor

The Executive Sponsor is the business unit manager with profit and loss responsibility who owns the proposal and the project that results if it wins

Key responsibilities include:

  • Opening the doors to resources
  • Setting the tone
  • Fighting indecision
  • Providing oversight
  • Approving the review plan

The Executive Sponsor’s hands-on involvement with the proposal may be extensive or could be very little, depending on his or her interests and priorities.  If you are the Executive Sponsor for a proposal, even if you never touch the proposal itself, you can have a major impact on the success or failure of the overall effort.

Here are some things that you can do to make a big difference to the proposal that do not require a lot of your time or require you to get down into the weeds and micromanage things.

The Executive Sponsor Opens Doors to Resources

See also:
Roles and responsibilities

Instead of the best staff being assigned to a proposal, most proposals are done by staff who happen to be available.  This often means staff who have never done any proposal writing before.  The number one thing that you can do to help a proposal is to make sure the best resources are assigned to the proposal.  Often proposals do not need a lot of people participating; what they really need are people with experience who are good at proposal writing.  These people tend to come at a premium and are often highly in demand and swamped with requests for support.  The Executive Sponsor has the clout to get their time, whereas the Capture Manager and Proposal Manager may not.


If you want to win, you should push resources on the proposal team instead of waiting for them to ask for resources. Most staff have had managing to a budget drilled into them for their entire career. They are used to compromising and working with the limited resources available. They may not even think about using staff on priority projects or that report to other business units.  They may be too quick to accept the resources made available to them instead of getting the right resources.

In addition, you will usually have more experience and know more people in the organization.  In addition to staff, you can suggest other things that might not normally be considered, like training or the use of consultants.  If you want to win, you will make sure that your staff are not pulling their punches regarding resources, and open doors that normally wouldn’t be open to them.

The Executive Sponsor Sets The Tone
The staff contributing to the proposal will usually not report to the Proposal Manager.  The Proposal Manager will need your support in order to drive the staff working on the proposal. Don’t wait for an issue to develop before providing that support.  Instead, set the right tone from the beginning.  If the proposal may require an all-out effort, then tell your staff that is what you expect.  Tell them what the stakes are and how the organization will benefit if you win.  Tell them that you expect them to work late or on weekends if they need to in order to meet their deadlines.  It’s so much easier for the Proposal Manager when staff have already heard from their supervisor.  It means something different when it comes from you.  When it comes from the Proposal Manager it may mean a power struggle or passive resistance (which can be even worse).

The Executive Sponsor Fights Indecision
Indecision can kill a proposal.  Proposals get started late because people can’t decide whether to bid.  Writing assignments are late because people have trouble making trade-off decisions regarding what to bid.  When decisions are made, they are often revisited when people have second thoughts or others get involved.  If you want them to make the decisions on their own, then tell them that (and avoid the temptation to second guess once they are made).  It helps to make your expectations clear. As the Executive Sponsor you can help force decisions and make it hard for people to revisit a decision once it’s been made.  Sometimes all you have to do is say from the outset that you want people to be decisive and stick to their decisions once made.  If you want them to bring decisions to you, then tell them.

The Executive Sponsor Provides Oversight
Do you want to participate in reviews?  If so, which ones?  Do you want to be the last person to read the proposal and make comments before it goes out the door?  Unanticipated change cycles can be a major problem in a deadline-driven situation.  Your level of involvement may depend on whether you just need to be comfortable that they are doing a good job or whether you expect to read every word and personally do everything you can to improve the document.  You need to be upfront about your expectations so that the team can anticipate and accommodate them.  As the Executive Sponsor, you also need to provide some level of oversight to make sure that the team is working in a way that will produce the level of quality you expect.  As the Executive Sponsor, you define the standards for quality and performance.  If you want the team to take the review process seriously, you need to communicate to them that you take it seriously.

The Executive Sponsor Approves the Review Plan
Sometimes the team will anticipate an Executive Sponsor’s involvement in a review, only to find that the Executive Sponsor doesn’t have time to commit to it.  Executive Sponsors often show up to review meetings without having read the RFP or even the proposal itself!  If you don’t have hours to dedicate to a review, then let the Proposal Manager know so they can assign someone else to that spot on the review team.  They can still provide you with a copy so that you can look at it when you have time.

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