Your Top Ten Proposal Challenges, Part II

Top10

Continuing from last week, today we finish counting down the proposal challenges that APMP’s Olessia Smotrova-Taylor‘s has uncovered in her more than a dozen years of proposal manager experience. We are talking about the six most popular struggles proposal managers face, with ways to solve them to boot.

So let’s get down to solving those challenges you and so many proposal managers are facing!

Screen Shot 2013-06-10 at 7.46.29 PMChallenge #6: Proposal Manager Poorly Supports Team

Olessia says the worst part of this poor proposal management process is the “shotgun method” of simply shooting off responses to requests for proposals like thoughtless bullets. Sure, you think if you cast your net wide enough, you’re bound to catch some new customers, but you’re more likely shooting yourself in the foot, with the average win rate lower than normal.

She also says proposal managers often don’t know a lot about their role and are therefore slow and sporadic to manage. This includes jumping in with 11th hour, too-late, nonconstructive criticisms, and not providing guidelines, task distribution or schedules in general.

Like most of the challenges, proposal managers can overcome them by planning ahead and making sure your whole team is aware of the steps to tak.e

Challenge #5: Problems with Proposal Reviews

A proposal review is the chance you have to see if your proposal is, well, good enough. This is truly another time where the proposal manager can either make sure things are done properly or miss the boat. Olessia says that the review has to be set up for the right time — when the first draft is complete, but with room to spare before the deadline. The proposal manager must set up a clear agenda, strongly telling the reviewers they can’t be “nice,” but that they are there to give solid constructive criticism.

If the proposal manager has asked the right questions of the client, then they can create a list of pains that they must solve and clearly outline those pains for the reviewers to check.

Challenge #4: To bid or not to bid, that IS the question!

Many times, the process all comes down to the decision to bid — and if you have started bidding, knowing when to walk away. Obviously, if you don’t have a chance of getting the project, you are wasting valuable resources and time. “No matter how much you have invested, have the courage to stop throwing good money after the bad,” Olessia says. Hoping to win is never a good strategy. She says this decision should inevitably be made by the bidding company itself, without outside influence. She says companies typically make poor decisions in this area because of these reasons:

  • Your company doesn’t have a decision-making process in place
  • There is a process, but it isn’t applied correctly

Only when proposal managers plan ahead can they be successful.

Challenge #3: Shortage of Subject Matter Experts

It won’t due to just have someone in the technical department writing a stagnant, jargon-filled proposal, but it also won’t do to only have a sales person pushing around features and cliches. If your proposal-writing team doesn’t feature experts within specific areas, you are unlikely to be able to adequately explain how your services can act as the solutions to your clients’ pains.

Proposal managers often make these common mistakes:

  • Not having the courage to ask the right questions of their perspective clients.
  • Not giving their employees the time to go on-site to talk with those clients.
  • Not focusing on the proposal, but pushing it until stressful nights and weekends.

How to fix it? Incentives! Make proposal-writing a part of your employees’ goals — your win rate helps them win, too. And don’t just incentivize them with money, but make it a part of any leadership training. Plus, remember your SME may not be the perfect writer, but they act as an invaluable resource to your top proposal writer.

And again, it’s all about planning ahead. You need to know what resources, time and staff you have available to write a proposal that correctly answers your client’s concerns.

Note: Olessia admits that the final two are pretty much neck and neck, as they are both equally common errors…Screen Shot 2013-06-03 at 8.00.58 PM

Challenge #2: Ignoring Deadlines

They call them deadlines for a reason — if you don’t adhere to them, you are dead out of the running. Procrastination and tardiness are obvious flaws within many proposal managers, however the reasons that most often cause them may not be. Deadlines are missed or near-missed because:

  • There is a lack of training — your staff needs to know why they are doing certain things to understand their impact.
  • A lack of support from the proposal manager.
  • Starting late (well, this one’s obvious.)
  • There is a lack of incentives, leaving staff unmotivated.
  • A lack of organization resulting in not enough time or resources are dedicated to working on the proposal.
  • You only focus on that final deadline, not interval deadlines and goals to get it completed in a timely fashion.

Plan ahead to conquer these steps and your job as proposal manager is a thousand-percent easier!

And finally…

Challenge #1: Making Little to No Capture Effort

Yes, we are beating a dead horse here — planning is crucial — but the numbers Olessia shared speak for themselves.

Companies that have high win rates of 75 percent or higher, spend 60 percent of their budget on the capture planning.

Efficient capture planning requires careful preparation and execution in order to succeed — in other words, it takes time and commitment. We have already covered our five-step process toward building a successful proposal via capture planning. Note that in ours, writing the business proposal is actually the third step. Olessia presented something similar in the overlapping 6-petal flower plan. What it comes down to is that knowing what your clients need and presenting those solutions are key to successful capture planning.

And remember, the risk of poor planning is found both in a lower win rate and in staff burnout, which means poor prospects in the future. So the solution is simple, plan, act, plan, discuss, deliver solutions, repeat!

What are some struggles you and your business face during the proposal lifecycle, and what have you done to overcome them?

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