Proposal Management: How Did We Get There? Where Are We Going? How Are We Going to Get There?

Proposal management has made great strides as a profession in the last decade. It is easy to forget the laments we had a few years ago about some company leaders thinking of proposals as an administrative job. Once in a while we get a reminder, though: when I attended the 2013 APMP International Bid & Proposal Con Chapter Officers Workshop, a woman from Egypt erupted into a passionate speech about the plot of proposal professionals in the Middle East where companies still believe them to be glorified admins, while truthfully they are the lifeblood and the growth engine of an organization.

It seems like we have come a long way here in the U.S. Although there may be holdouts in certain markets, at least in the federal community, we are appreciated more. In general, people seem to be more aware of this profession when they ask us about what we do. Company management is starting to recognize the need for training more readily. They find that ignorance, with mistakes repeated, is infinitely more expensive.

Academia is catching on as well. Programs sprout at universities, although some professors report that they are having a hard time gaining recognition for their programs and courses from those more used to traditional disciplines such as marketing or finance. Little research exists in the field, although APMP is seeking to fill the gap with the Journal’s entire editions dedicated to research.  Companies are also recognizing the value of certification, and are starting to encourage their personnel to pursue the route. Of course, this elevates the prestige of the profession.

APMP itself has achieved some spectacular growth, surpassing 5000 members, and having an unprecedented 716 attendees at this year’s Conference. It is particularly impressive knowing that this is the year when most companies are tightening their belts and conference attendances dwindle.

Finally, the trend is that the commercial world is transitioning away from handshake deals, and government world is slowly moving away from sole source contracts. Everyone is headed towards strategic sourcing, group decision-making and complex procurement/sales where a proposal plays a prominent role. With the industry changing across the board, internationally and domestically, we can enjoy the results of the progress, and be optimistic about further positive shifts.

Some challenges still remain, however. I have recently presented a webinar on the top 10 Proposal Management Challenges (you can download it for free at http://bit.ly/ZA7NFI). I have collected notes over the past 8 years, reviewing global survey results, keeping logs, reading professional literature, and attending APMP events, to put my observations together. I have also conducted LinkedIn discussions on the top three proposal management challenges to refresh my information and get a current snapshot of the state of the profession, with the goal of providing a few ideas on how to make lasting changes.

To preface my findings, I was surprised that some challenges didn’t make the LinkedIn list, but I have heard fellow professionals mention at the Conference:

 

  • Working with remote contributors, and even having writers in foreign countries (adding cultural and language issues)
  • Under-resourcing proposals due to poor planning or lack of resources
  • Waste of resources due to poor proposal management skills (no smart staffing approach, no proposal plan, no checklists, poor kickoff, lack of proposal risk management, and duplication of effort)
  • Waves of layoffs while working the remaining staff around the clock
  • Focus on running the proposal process and turning the crank instead of delving into the content

 

Here are the top three of the 10 challenges that actually made the list:

Challenge 3: The shortage of Subject Matter Experts (SME) on proposals, which leads to no real solution and poor content. Nearly 20 percent of the respondents stated that companies are afraid to ask their customers to let the incumbent SMEs participate in proposals, because they walk on eggshells and are afraid to anger clients. Then, SME proposal hours are pushed to nights and weekends, making participation harder and work less productive. Many companies have cultures not conducive to personnel on client sites helping out. Onsite personnel don’t have any incentives to care about company allegiances, and they watch the clock to leave the office. They are not particularly helpful to their employers, and don’t have motivation to make a difference. Such employee cultures make our jobs more difficult.

How do we change it? There should be best practices published on good incentives structures for SMEs and business developers. There should be training and leadership development for talented onsite personnel.  Management commitment is the key to solving this problem where it comes to allocating resources to proposals and changing cultures. There should be also good discipline to make no-bid decisions to walk away from opportunities where the company doesn’t have any SMEs.

As proposal professionals, we can make a difference as well. The secret is to give ample direction and help to SMEs, to take maximum advantage of the little time we get with them; use structured approaches to brainstorming to prevent waste of time; and teach SMEs speed-writing techniques to maximize their usefulness.

Challenge 2: Authors missing deadlines imposed by proposal managers. Nearly 24 percent of the respondents listed this as their number one problem. It seems like proposal managers struggle with lack of training and skills in proposal contributors, and suffer from lack of management support. Their companies take their dear time to decide whether to bid, so they end up starting late and have less time for each activity. There may be wrong resources assigned (whoever is available, not whoever is right); resources may not be committed to the proposal enough hours, being too busy with other work; the budget may not be enough or personnel allocated to resource the proposal to win; and resource allocation may be done using a SWAG, not a formula. Proposal contributors may have little training to understand the proposal process and why deadlines are necessary. Proposal managers’ clout may be small in the organization. Or, there may be issues with proposal managers’ own managerial abilities to compel people to follow their requests.

In figuring out how to solve this problem, it is important to say that enforcing the deadlines is not a one-dimensional whip-cracking job. Regardless of what kind of resources one’s team gets, all proposal managers will benefit from training in leadership and management. It is like a Super-Nanny intervention with parents who cannot manage their kids; it’s not that the kids are bad, it’s the parents’ lack of skillful parenting. Our profession will benefit a great deal from advanced proposal management courses to pick up the techniques to get people to honor the deadlines. And again, management support is key to creating a culture where proposals are taken seriously by everyone in the company.

Challenge 1: Having none or poor capture effort. To be honest, I am peeved to see that this one is at the top again, and keeps emerging as the most problematic issue. Nearly 25 percent of all respondents listed issues that are directly related to insufficient advance preparation. This is a systemic problem, having to do with lack of business development process maturity in many companies, and lack of leadership’s training to understand the importance of capture. It is also related to the shortage of SMEs, and perhaps poor training of capture managers themselves.

Consulting support is always an option in the interim, with in-house capture talent development as a longer-term solution (while using consultants for surges). To fix the root cause of the problem, in addition to proper education for their capture personnel, companies have to actively invest into reaching their business development organization maturity. With APMP’s merger with the BD Institute, a new 2.0 edition of BD Capability Maturity Model is out; companies should follow BD CMM to build capabilities to add capture as a core competency.

It seems we have made significant progress in the past few years, but challenges remain. Addressing some of the top challenges will help us get to a better place where hopefully we grapple with the new realities, rather than being stuck in the same place several years down the road.

If you are short-staffed, your proposal load is heavy, or you need additional skills to support your efforts, we can get you the right help, usually within hours of the request, in all areas of proposal development support. We have ready over 900 consultants including: Capture, BD, Proposal Management, Writing, DTP, Graphics, Pricing, Orals and many technical and professional SME skills. Contact us so we can connect you with the professional you need to help you win the business you want. Learn more at: http://www.ostglobalsolutions.com/services/proposal-development-service.htm

 

Even for a busy proposal professional there comes a moment when in order to move forward we need to stop, look back, look around, learn, rethink, and then keep on moving in the right direction, faster, more efficient, and with better results. The article below describes the current environment of Proposal Management, where it will be in the future, and the challenges that are being faced by proposal professionals today. Before we delve in the article though, please check out a couple of announcements that you might find very useful:

  • Next month: Developing a Winning Cost Volume workshop on July 16-17, 2013, will give you the latest best practices and techniques for dominating your competition in the cost volume, and the Advanced Proposal Management class on July 18-19, 2013, will teach you the advanced skills of proposal management, allowing you to expand your abilities through best practices-based methodologies, and the tool sets for immediate effective implementation.
  • In two months: Learn the skills of effective proposal management and writing through our 2-day workshops on Foundations of Proposal Management on September 10-11, 2013 and Writing Persuasive Government Proposals on September 12-13, 2013.

Learn more or register for these classes at: www.ostglobalsolutions.com/training/schedule

 

P.S.: If you need business development, capture management, proposal management and writing, or onsite proposal training support using OST’s proprietary methodologies, contact us 301-384-3350 or email service@ostglobalsolutions.com. We have supported 18 out of the top 20 Federal Contractors and have won $19 Billion for our clients not counting the IDIQ ceiling values. We are here to help you to solve your proposal resource problems in a pinch!

Best regards,

OST Global Solutions, Inc.
…Because There is No Second Place in Proposals! TM
https://www.ostglobalsolutions.com

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