A big thank you to the members of our Readers Panel for their response to the first question we threw in their direction. (You can read the panel members’ profiles here).
The issue we asked them to debate was as follows:
“What are the single most (a) frustrating and (b) rewarding aspects of proposals in your organisation?”
The challenges start with the poor quality of the RFPs that proposal teams receive from potential clients, described by David as containing “irrelevant, repetitive, and conflicting questions.” The proposal team wastes time responding “to questions that have nothing to do with the current sales opportunity”, which “could be better used in other areas of the response document.” And “inconsistent formatting and numbering in the RFP is also frustrating. It should not be the proposal manager’s responsibility to correct formatting mistakes in the prospect’s RFP.”
For Lisa, a frustrating aspect of proposal creation is getting hold of the information needed for RFP responses.
This is a large firm that has undergone several acquisitions and managerial changes over the years; systems have been added and accountabilities have been spread around. With multiple systems and people managing different subsets of information, the whole statistical snapshot of a given time in the company’s existence between annual reports can be difficult to find. Luckily, management is aware of the problem and steps are being taken to correct it…
Lesa hates the last minute changes prevalent in her organisation. “We work directly with our sales people on every proposal and it seems that no matter how well organized we are by pre-planning and engaging them in the process up front, there are still “reasons” that pop up necessitating last minute changes and rework on our proposals. And we all know that means sacrificing final quality checks and risking errors in the final proposal, which we as proposal professionals loathe.”
For Jeff, “the most frustrating part is the lack of belief in our, or any, proposal theory or best practices. Like most organizations, we have our proprietary proposal “textbook” and program. Both are great too! However, getting the students to actually crack her open, let alone read and believe in her, is another matter.” He continues:
My advice to firms that are crafting such a document and program (e.g. Propose to Win, Refuse to Lose, Pitch to Perfection), before you put anything down on paper, you should figure out how you can get your folks to change their current behavior. More likely than not, even if you have a program and document as good as ours, getting the individuals to change their current behavior as a result is is another matter entirely.”
Once the sales person has been through the process, they “get it”, resulting in a new found respect for the writers. HOWEVER, that does not mean that the sales person can dump it in our lap the next time and not participate! They are sales people – they use flattery to sell! Don’t buy the “I trust you know what you’re doing so send it to me when you’re done” nonsense!
the follow-up questions that trickle in or the request for presentation assistance or ‘can you find X’ for me. We bend, we are flexible, we are always willing to help, but we will not be used. We are not your clerical staff, we are professionals.
Every Proposal Manager I know is a perfectionist. And a bit of a control freak. But that’s okay, we’re allowed, because we have to be, to get the job done. Except that only Proposal Managers themselves recognise that, and can sympathise and empathise.
If we were brain surgeons, we would be applauded for being particular about detail, thorough to the end. As a Proposal Manager, I am frequently prodded, rushed, and harrassed, to the tune of phrases such as ‘Don’t bother reading it, I checked it myself – it’s complete’, ‘Does the font REALLY matter?’, ‘You’re too fussy’, and worst of all – ‘It’s only a proposal’.
These are the moments when I quietly slip outside for blessed fresh (usually dewy) air and a shot of nicotine. No-one tells a surgeon that ‘It’s only a brain’. Okay, so they aren’t REALLY comparable, no-one ever died as a result of a dodgy proposal, but Proposal Management is our discipline, our art, and it needs more respect.