Please could you describe your current role?
While at Medical Transportation Management (MTM), my official title was Director of Quality Management. However, I was also occasionally referred to as the “Proposal Witch”. I always preferred to think that people meant that in a good way. I am now happily retired and when I think about proposals, I recall them fondly. I suspect this may be a product of time away from them.
How did you first get involved in sales proposals?
When I started, MTM was a small but growing company where we everyone wore many hats. To capture our first real piece of business, we needed to respond to an RFP. I had a higher degree and enjoyed writing, so I was given the proposal hat. We won that opportunity and proposals became a part of my job description. Interestingly, we didn’t have any written job descriptions at that time and writing them also became part of my job description.
Any advice for proposal people needing to get greater sponsorship from senior colleagues within the business?
I firmly believe the only way to get greater sponsorship is to educate senior management. In our case, I gave a mini-presentation to people at various levels within the business – anyone who would be asked to contribute or whose buy-in we needed. During my presentation, I presented many of the points I picked up from BJ when I attended a conference which he presented. Many of the people to whom I presented commented that they had not previously understood the work involved to produce a proposal. They had a mentality of “it’s all done by elves and magic”. (BJ used this term during his presentation.) Sr. management needs to understand what it takes to develop, produce and submit high-quality proposals and not support the elves and magic mentality in order for the quality of proposals and the way in which they are produced to improve.
Every proposal professional has a favorite horror story of the proposal that nearly (or actually) went wrong. What’s yours?
When proposal writing was still a one man show (or woman in this case), we were working on a very large proposal. It was due the next day, tasks were overlapping one another and I needed someone to oversee assembly. Another management person said she would handle it. This person then left, promising she would, “Be right back.” She never returned. It was a mad scramble to pull everything together and while the people who came in at the last minute did their best to help, they proved the adage that “Availability is not a skill.” (Another apt term I picked up form BJ would say.)
It was a very long night and a nightmare from which I felt like I could not awake – total mayhem. The proposal ultimately went out on time, but just barely and certainly not in the manner for which one would hope.
What’s the single most successful thing you’ve done to improve your organisation’s proposals?
That’s an easy one. I attended a conference on RFP’s and met BJ. I knew we needed help so I looked for a proposal course and, though this particular one was intended for the financial management community, I thought I might get at least a few ideas and tips by attending.
As I sat there listening to BJ, I was like the cartoon character with light bulbs going on over my head. With each topic or idea that BJ discussed, I recognized the many, many things we could easily change to be more effective. Of course, once back in the office, the changes didn’t happen overnight. But over time, with lots of learning and BJ and his team providing support, the quality and the physical presentation of our proposals improved significantly.
The second thing I did was to build a proposal team. When selecting the first person for this team, I knew I’d found the right person when she commented, “I love working on proposals.” This person, Marlene, has gone on to become the Proposal Director and to head up the MTM team. Marlene also presented at last year’s APMP conference. As the saying goes, “We’ve come a long ways.” And I owe a lot of our success to BJ’s support.
How did you come by your belief in the importance of proposals?
Quite simply, all of our business was done by RFP and our revenue literally depended on our being able to submit the winning proposal.
What’s the worst (or funniest) proofreading error you’ve ever seen in a proposal?
I have seen many, and although I can’t recall one specifically, I have found several expletives which were correctly typed and not picked up by spell-check.