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10 ways that proposal management is different from other kinds of management

The last person to touch it always gets the blame

At most companies, the proposal management role is not well defined. What you are managing is not well defined. The processes you are supposed to implement are neither written nor well defined. Who you are managing is not well defined. The resources at your disposal are not well defined, and they're usually minimal. Your responsibilities are all-encompassing. 

In larger companies, there are multiple roles (business development, capture, subject matter experts, writers, proposal specialists, etc.) that contribute to the proposals that you ostensibly manage. But sometimes that just means more cats to herd. In small companies, you have the opposite problem. Writing a proposal sounds like a single thing, so it’s often given to a single person. That person is usually not a proposal specialist and is often a stuckee low on the org chart, with none of the authority and all of the responsibility.

See also:
Proposal Management

That’s okay. It creates an opportunity, since proposals are competitive. You can beat companies who don’t take proposal development seriously and try to slack their way through them. But you might have to transform your entire company to do it, since most companies are organized around functional operations and not around growth.

It often falls to the proposal manager to see the needs, define what needs to be done, and become the change agent. Proposal managers are often the tail that wags the dog. Proposal managers, no matter how humbly placed on the org chart, often have a disproportionate influence over the company's future, including everything from how work will get done and how it will be managed, to what the company values. This, by the way, should not be the case. But when you leave things undefined and require a proposal manager to fill the voids, they often do such a great job they fill voids you didn't realize you had.

Most of the issues below will appear unsolvable if you just try to resolve them with improved procedures. They require change at the organizational level. This is often above the pay grade of a proposal manager. And no matter how motivated proposal managers can be to fill the voids, they can get stuck by a lack of collaboration. This, by the way, is not a recipe for winning.

But if you build the right types of communication into your process, you can make it clearer to The Powers That Be what needs to be done to increase your win rate. Create reports that show the performance of the handoffs that occur in your process, the flow of information, and how they impact the return on investment. Make your process speak for itself regarding what should be done to maximize win rate and return on investment. If you don't have the authority, try being an advocate. And if you can't be an advocate, try being a decision support resource. Enable data driven executive decisions by providing the data.

Some of the issues that proposal managers face are not exclusive to proposal management. However, these issues can almost be inherent in the proposal management role, even though they shouldn’t be.

  1. You’re closing someone else’s sale. Someone else found and chased the lead. And yet, it doesn’t close until the proposal is accepted. If they aren’t part of closing the sale, is it really their sale? Are they responsible for putting lines in the water, or reeling them in? Who owns the customer relationship? Who is responsible for representing the voice of the customer during proposal development? Regardless of how you allocate your sales resources, design your process to effectively close and not just produce leads. If you are on the receiving end of someone else’s lead, you should be able to articulate what you need from them to close the sale, while they are still pursuing it and able to get the information you need. You should be able to show the correlation between whether you start with what you need and your win rate. Does the proposal manager receive a handoff from sales or does the proposal manager provide assistance to close the sale? What kind of proposal manager does your company want to have?
  2. You have all the responsibility, with none of the authority. No one on your team actually reports to you. You don’t even control the proposal budget. Proposal managers are often called on to manage their own bosses and even their bosses’ bosses. Is it any surprise that people often repeatedly fail in their proposal assignments without ever being held accountable? It’s hard to manage expectations when you are not in charge of the expectations. Or their fulfillment. Building expectation management into your process helps change it from a chain of command issue and instead make it a natural part of the collaboration. Who sets the expectations? Who is responsible for fulfilling them? Where do the resources required for fulfillment come from? What happens when expectations are successfully fulfilled? What happens when they are not? If your company doesn't address these issues head on, then maybe the proposal manager will be able to fill the gap. And maybe not.
  3. You don’t get to decide who’s on your team. A proposal manager typically gets what they get as far as resources go, and is expected to take it from there. And win. If you want more resources, you need to be able to prove the ROI. Expect proposal contributors to show up without having any training, their experience to be from at least five years ago, and you may not know if they’re any good until it’s too late to do anything about it. This is one reason why building training into your process and making it part of performance instead of something separate can help so much. Proposal management success depends on being able to adapt to the resources you have to work with. But this can mean that the company ends up with compromised proposals instead of the maximum potential ROI. Proposal managers need to be able to teach The Powers That Be how to quantify proposal ROI in order to get appropriate resources.
  4. You are responsible for the information you’re not given. You are supposed to win. Unfortunately, not being given sufficient insight into the customer, opportunity, and competitive environment is never accepted as an excuse for losing. If you are expected to win, design your process to clearly identify what information you need to write a winning proposal, and put it in the hands of people who interface with the customer early enough to be able to get it. The more a proposal manager does to ensure they get the information they need to craft a winning proposal, the better their career will go. Structure your proposal around the information needed instead of draft cycles. Quantify what having an information advantage means, what its impact is on win rate, and what the impact of that is on the company's ROI.
  5. Your process will break. Every time. One reason people usually have more of a way of doing things than an actual proposal process is that the customer will do things that break your process. They will ask for unique things out of sequence, leave out critical information, be inconsistent, be self-contradictory, or simply change their mind. If you have to reinvent your process every time you bid, why bother to write it down? Most proposal managers do not have the ability to design a process that is sufficiently adaptable, and if they do, they won’t be given enough time to write it down. They end up with techniques that they call a "process." You can build an actual, survivable process around your information needs instead of steps. You can predict what information each participant needs to play their role, regardless of whatever wackiness the customer throws into the RFP. You can also cheat by starting with the MustWin Process on PropLIBRARY if you become a subscriber.
  6. You’re supposed to be able to write, present, manage staff, implement processes, design offerings, read the customer’s mind, provide quality assurance, and understand the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), DCAA compliant pricing, graphics, and publishing. And yes, you’re not only expected to supervise, you’re supposed to participate personally in doing all those things, and do them well enough to beat any potential competitor. It’s usually a mistake to give your proposal manager writing assignments, but it happens all the time. Overloading the proposal manager usually results from simply not sufficiently defining the role. When a proposal manager is writing, they are not managing. What do you think the impact of that is on proposal quality?
  7. Making an accurate, on time, within budget, and defect-free submission is not good enough. Sometimes the only thing companies care about is, did it win? Is your company assessing its proposal managers by things that are within their control? Do you want your company to focus on preparing by doing the things that enable proposals to consistently win and measure the win rate that results, or do you want people going after bids individually with great sound and fury but little silent preparation? Who will win more often, the tortoise or the hare? Your company's ROI depends on taking the right approach.
  8. You have no control over other people changing their minds. You’re outranked. It’s hard to give people a voice in the process and an opportunity to make or participate in decisions when The Powers That Be randomly change their minds later. It’s one thing when the customer does that to you. It’s another when it’s people in your own organization. Companies often invest a great deal into having standard processes leading to reliable outcomes in every part of the company, except proposals, which they treat as unfathomable unique creations that require figuring everything out and struggling until a hero comes in to "save" everybody at the end. Companies like that have low win rates and can't achieve their maximum potential ROI. If you want consistent professionalism leading to a high proposal win rate, you must oversee the proposal management function professionally and not arbitrarily.
  9. Everyone thinks they are more qualified than you, but no one wants to do your job. Or follow your instructions. Look at how most writing roles are staffed like people assume that anyone can write, so they use junior, inexperienced, less senior staff to do most of the proposal writing. Proposal managers are often seen as the pusher of paper that no one else wants to push. That makes them an asset, but not much of one. And certainly not a highly qualified one. Proposal managers are not indispensable just because no one else can push paper as well as they do. They become indispensable when they can show people how to win. If you are going to be responsible for the proposal process, then become the organizational developer who implements it, the trainer who shows people how, the indispensable helper who makes their lives better than they would be without you, and the only way your company can achieve its maximum ROI.
  10. Everyone resents that they have to work on your project. No one wants to work on proposals. If you’re not a proposal specialist, it’s a distraction from your real job and an extra set of deadlines. The more a proposal manager can do to link participating in the proposal with people's aspirations for making a difference on the project, the company, the customer, their career, and more, the better. Growth happens through proposals. The world changes through proposals. An operations manager can get by without being inspirational. For proposal management, inspirational leadership is a core competency.
     

PropLIBRARY helps companies become winning organizations through a combination of process guidance and training materials that are ready for immediate implementation. PropLIBRARY has off-the-shelf procedures for addressing the issues above, along with hours of online training to boost the skills of all your staff and get everyone on the same page. It is a tool for implementing organizational change and doing so less expensively than any other option. You can start with a single user subscription and upgrade to a corporate subscription.

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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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