3 Best Practices: Proposal Management and Bid Qualification

As a busy proposal manager, you’re juggling a lot of different tasks, from writing and reviewing and monitoring and reminding to compliance and deadlines. To keep your team in sync on a large, complex proposal, you follow a predefined process, or a process tailored for a specific proposal, comprised of a series of activities and milestones. All aimed at delivering a high-quality, high-scoring and stand-out proposal.

Your success relies on how effectively you shepherd your team through this process. Leveraging best practices will help you improve the efficiency of that process, empower a productive team, and, most importantly, influence how well your proposal resonates and scores with evaluators.

In the first of this four-part Blog series, we will explore proposal management best practices with a focus on business development and proposal management team intersection.

Opportunity Qualification

The proposal management process begins where the business development and proposal management team meet in the sales cycle; qualifying an opportunity. There are a lot of things to consider when qualifying a bid. What are the customer’s pains and goals? How will your solution address them? What proofs do you have that you can do the work? Is the RFP hard-wired for someone else? The goal is to share opportunity information and agree on whether or not to invest in the proposal.

Challenge: When the proposal manager is absent from this milestone, you establish a dangerous transition, or hand-off, gap. The gap lies between what the business development team knows and the details the proposal team needs to write a compelling proposal. As the team begins to write, this gap widens, causing confusion, lack of focus and unproductive reviews that force additional review and revision cycles.

Best Practice: Include your proposal manager in this milestone. Your proposal manager is your strategic partner in getting the proposal project done, not just on time, but up to evaluator expectations. They are familiar with your solution and your approach to winning, and can bring valuable insights to the qualification process.

When your proposal manager is armed with opportunity background and strategy details from the start they can more quickly identify resource and planning challenges. They can inform and educate the team and point them in the right direction on reusable content and valuable proof points. And they can keep misinformation to a minimum and the writing process advancing smoothly.

A lot of improvisation and innovation goes into developing a winning proposal, and what your proposal manager doesn’t know can hurt you, and the pursuit. If the proposal manager is responsible for helping you win, then they need to be part of the discussion about what it’s going to take to invest and win.

Capture Strategy Development

The capture strategy is an opportunity-specific document that carefully outlines exactly how the team will close the sale. It typically includes an opportunity assessment, a competitive assessment, a solution or services capability assessment, a teaming assessment, and an initial price-to-win analysis. It is drafted in support of the opportunity qualification, or the bid/no bid decision, and forms the basis of the proposal management plan. Once the bid decision is a go, the capture strategy is refined and honed into a roadmap focused specifically on what it will take to win.

Challenge: When the capture strategy document is simply served up to the team as-is you establish a dangerous precedent. When the team doesn’t have an opportunity to ask questions, questions about the strategy’s thoroughness or validity will arise as they write. When the team doesn’t understand, or can’t get on board with, the capture strategy, delays in the writing process will quickly impact reviews, proposal quality and win probability.

Best Practice: Invite the team to react, ask questions and discuss details as the capture strategy is refined. This discussion will build better understanding and acceptance, empowering the team to move more quickly to the writing phase. This understanding and acceptance will also eliminate questions and doubts that arise as they write, aid compliance across sections, and smooth the narrative between different writers. Plus, you might just identify solution or strategy issues that are better discovered now than deep in the writing and reviewing cycles.

When everyone on the team understands the big picture, and where their piece of the puzzle fits, they are more likely to step-up, engage, and deliver.

Capture Strategy Discussion

A productive team dialogue is critical to effectual proposal management; it addresses differing opinions, resolves doubts, and aligns strategy. It is distinct from one-way communication exchanges, such as with email, in that it promotes a discussion with a center, rather than from all sides. As much as a “killer app” email is, it is not well suited to a productive team dialogue, especially when the goal is to get everyone on the same page with strategy

Challenge: Group emails are a good example of pushing email to do something that it's not really designed to do. It may be as every day and accessible as coffee and doorknobs, but it’s also where attention and clarity goes to die.

First, email requires attention, a never-ending triage as people respond and reply, distracting you from your task at hand. When it comes to scope, email can be a real time-suck as people reply to the wrong subject, the discussion moves off-topic and the discussion thread becomes convoluted and confusing. In the end, if the team can’t easily participate in the discussion they will simply ignore it.

Best Practice: Experience demonstrates that the more collaborative the capture strategy discussion, the more efficient the writing and reviewing phases of your process will be. When you centralize this discussion, you more quickly socialize the capture strategy with the team and empower their consideration and collaboration. The team visits the capture strategy online, reviews and comments on the details with their questions and concerns. Other team members chime in with their thoughts or explanations. If someone has missed the conversation, they can visit the capture strategy online, review and provide their thoughts, building on what’s come before.

As a result, the team quickly comes to consensus; identifying issues, clarifying questions, resolving differing opinions, and agreeing on the strategy details they’ll use to write the proposal. Plus, the team can always return to the discussion, sorting and filtering to understand how you arrived at a decision. When everyone on the team focuses on a centralized discussion, you save time. Valuable time the team can invest in the quality that resonates with evaluators.

Your success relies on how effectively you shepherd your team through your proposal process. Leverage these best practices to close the gap between what business development knows and the details the proposal team needs to advance the win probability of your next proposal.

Cultivate a More Productive Online Proposal Team Dialogue