What is Proposal Management?
Proposal Management is the process of preparing a business proposal, submitting it, and tracking its progress after submission.
In business operations, proposal management plays a very important role, especially in companies that have large-scale projects. The task of proposal management involves a number of stakeholders and requires meticulous planning and execution so that proposals can be created, tracked, and managed effectively for the clients.
The process starts when a company or business requires a certain service, or project to be done. They issue a request for proposal (RFP) mentioning the details of the project, soliciting bids from qualified parties.
In response to an RFP, the business collects information, collates it, and submits their proposal explaining how they are the best-suited bidders.
However, a thorough proposal management process does not just end with the submission of the proposal, it also includes monitoring the responses from the businesses that raised the RFP and maintaining a relationship with them once the proposal is submitted.
A well-placed proposal management system helps businesses in streamlining their operations and managing the resources required for proposal preparation. Also, it helps the business ensure that it is providing its clients with accurate, comprehensive, well-prepared, and timely proposals.
A good proposal management system can help businesses save time by automating processes like proposal writing and proposal review. It also helps businesses in tracking the progress of proposals and measuring their success rates. As a result, the businesses can make the adjustments needed in the proposal so that they are optimized to give the best results.
Managing the Proposal Process
There are five steps in the proposal process:
- Raising the request for proposal by an organization or business, inviting other businesses to provide a service or work on a project
- Planning the proposal development process, including selecting the right team, and putting the process and technology in place to make and track the proposal
- Writing the proposal
- Submitting the proposal to the potential client
- Tracking the status of the proposal after submission
There is a need for strategic, as well as tactical, elements to develop a well-drafted, well-researched and accurate proposal. Teams need to strategically identify and understand the needs of the customer by researching solutions and preparing a tailor-made solution fitting the needs of the client. Tactically, teams must design eye-catching proposals, collect evidence and key company details to answer questions, estimate potential costs, and prepare various supporting documents like price estimates or financial forecasts.
After a proposal is developed, the next step in the process of proposal management is to ensure that it meets all the legal or regulatory requirements necessary for submission. This may include compiling procurement documents, contracts, certificates from vendors, and other regulatory paperwork.
Risk assessment is another prominent part of proposal management. This is done to ensure that the business is aware of the potential risks which are associated with their proposal or rather, the proposed solution.
Another important step in the process of proposal management is strategizing methods that will increase the visibility of the proposal submitted. This may include organizing meetings with decision-makers to pitch the proposal and give them an experience of what it would be like to work with the company.
To sum it up, proposal management is the ability of a business or a company to develop a comprehensive proposal that represents its capabilities to handle the given project, while at the same time ensuring the visibility of the proposal and letting the business know about the risks involved.
Proposal Team Roles and Responsibilities
In big companies, there is usually a dedicated team to manage proposals. This team’s sole focus is to develop winning proposals. It is usually led by a proposal manager who works in coordination with other team members including proposal coordinators, researchers, writers, and graphic designers.
However, hiring an exclusive proposal management team can be an expensive affair. In such a situation, the job can be assigned to individuals from varied departments. The decision of who the task will be assigned to depends on the type of RFP, the solution that must be proposed, the value of the RFP, the size of the project, and other factors.
Some common roles in the proposal management team include:
- Writers – Team members who will put together the proposal and present it in an easily understandable yet presentable way
- Sales people – Team members who understands the needs of the potential client and can provide context that will help sell the idea
- Marketing team members – Team members who have knowledge not just of their own business but also of the competition. They help in giving insights that help the proposal stand out
- Business operations members – Team members with loose relationships with different departments, coordinate with the experts on the subject matter, and can see the big picture objective of the business.
Skills Required for Proposal Management
While writing a winning proposal requires several big and small skill sets, there are three key skills that are must have for any proposal team:
While there are various big and small types of skill sets required to write a winning proposal, the three key skills that are a must are:
- Project management
- Knowledge management
- Content editing
The most important skill needed for an effective proposal management process is project management. Statistics show that around 77% of high-performing projects are managed using project management software. Also, 97% of businesses feel that project management is very important for the success of the company. If the principles of project management are applied to proposal management, it can prove to be very beneficial. Good project management requires a lot of hard work and coordination between many departments. Teams can improve their project management processes by using the following steps:
- Receive and evaluate the RFP
- Plan the outline of the proposal process and get all the contributors and stakeholders involved
- Find previous RFP answers and reuse them if needed along with sending new questions to the subject matter experts for answers
- Monitor and track the proposal progress, take approvals and updates from stakeholders as required
- Complete the review process, compile all the elements, get final approvals, and submit the proposal
Every business submits multiple proposals as responses to various RFPs. Managing these proposals takes hours of work analyzing, researching, writing, and managing content. Typically, good content management includes categorizing, tagging, and updating key company information on a regular basis, ensuring easy access and reuse. If done correctly, it can save days of hard work for both the proposal managers, as well as the subject matter experts. Subject matter experts expect proposal managers to ask the correct questions and save key answers for future and current use.
When teams practice good content management, subject matter experts spend less time answering previously asked questions and more time crafting unique responses to new questions. Additionally, practicing good content management can prevent potential losses in a business. For instance, if a stakeholder leaves the company, their knowledge is stored in the content library and can be retrieved whenever needed.
Content writing is a must-have skill for proposal management. The best proposals are the ones that tell a story. They are interesting and engaging, and clearly explain why partnering with the business will be the best option for the client. However, proposals have many storytellers (subject matter experts) and compiling these stories into one easy to understand, yet fascinating story can prove to be a big challenge. Every subject matter expert will have a different style of answering the questions, and just copy-pasting their answers will lead to the proposal looking unprofessional and disjointed.
A good content writer takes all answers and uses a single voice, tone, and style to put together the proposal. Good content writers must also have impeccable writing, editing and proofreading skills to ensure that there are no errors in the proposal.
When reviewing a proposal, content writers should keep these three points in mind:
- Does the content answer the question that is being asked and does it provide relevant information?
- Does the tone, style, and voice read consistent throughout the proposal?
- Is the proposal formatted, spell checked, and properly capitalized and punctuated?
Best Practices for Proposal Management
Listed below are some of the best practices that can be followed for proposal management that will lead to higher chances of winning the bids and closing deals.
Understanding all requirements
The first step of proposal management is understanding the requirements of the RFP and accordingly deciding what should be included in the proposal, like the scope of work and the project deliverables. Setting timelines for each task also helps to ensure that the proposal is prepared and submitted on time.
Creating an organized system that streamlines the entire proposal management process is vital to a proposal’s success. This helps the stakeholders involved in proposal development have a clear vision of what their tasks and deadlines are. Also, it ensures that all team members working in proposal management have access to all information and everyone has a well-defined task with no duplication of work efforts or responsibilities. Finally, quality assurance checks are a must throughout the process to ensure the accuracy of the proposal.
Effective communication between stakeholders is crucial when team members are managing multiple proposals. Giving every individual involved in the proposal development process clear expectations, deadlines, and specific roles and responsibilities ensures proposals make it out the door, polished and on time. To communicate effectively, teams should look for software with robust collaboration tools. Features like in-product messaging, central content storage, and intuitive workflows, keep the proposal process moving and allow all team members to feel informed about the overall proposal creation process.
Proposal Management: The 5 Ps
There are 5Ps, which, if followed in the proposal management process, increase the chances of winning RFP bids.
Planning is the most important part of proposal management. Good planning helps businesses understand the market, identify target clients, figure out its strengths and weaknesses and write a proper winning proposal. First, teams should carry out a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis. A SWOT analysis enables businesses to answer difficult questions like whether the team is reaching its full potential, is the market changing and if the team is up to date with this change,
are the right operations methods being adapted, and what is the position of the business against its competitors in the market.
Planning also includes having realistic targets when it comes to client selection. As no business can respond to every RFP they receive, businesses should consider the characteristics of their ideal clients and only craft responses to clients that fit their identified criteria. Finally, all businesses should have a solid business plan that includes key clients, market analysis, growth strategies, and a marketing plan. If a client’s RFP doesn’t fit into this plan, businesses are better off responding to clients who do.
After a plan is made, the next step is to position it. This is where the marketing and proposal teams need to work together to solidify the leadership of the business in the market and at the same time ensure that it is backed up in the online space. For instance, if the sales team is tracking an opportunity (RFP), the business needs to market the skills that make it suitable for that opportunity through various channels, like case studies, blog posts, and other collateral. Businesses need to ask themselves 5 key questions while pursuing an opportunity that will help them position themselves better in the market.
- What do they know about the opportunity?
- Whom do they have relationships with (client)?
- Who comprises their team and has this team done something like this before?
- What is the winning strategy?
- How can the marketing channels be leveraged?
Once the RFP is received, the businesses should not directly jump into developing the response. First, they should decide whether or not this opportunity is worth pursuing. Having a meeting with the key stakeholders to discuss the opportunity can help make better decisions. Once everyone agrees to accept the RFP, the next step would be to start working on the proposal.
Crafting a proposal takes a lot of time and effort. Teams need to define winning themes, schedule regular reviews and check-ins, and lean on their content library when looking for answers and key company details. When the proposal is halfway through, it is important to review the content to see if it is on point or not and address any identified gaps. Once the proposal is 95% complete, a final review should be done by key stakeholders to identify critical errors and flaws. Setting up a custom workflow with clearly identified reviewers and approvers streamlines this process and ensures errors are caught and corrected in a timely and efficient manner.
Once a proposal is submitted, and then shortlisted, the next stage is the presentation or the interview round. The interview decides whether the proposal will be accepted by the client or not. For this, the team going in for the presentation needs to practice over and over. A pre-presentation meeting should be organized to decide on factors like who will be representing the business during the interview and what will be the delivery or presentation style. This meeting can also help in preparing for questions that
the client may ask. Before the meeting, the team must research the client, their market position, and their background, to be able to communicate better with them. This can be done through Google search or LinkedIn profile lookup. The most important thing is to rehearse over and over for the presentation.
Winning the RFP bid does not mean that the work of proposal management is over. The next and most crucial step is to promote this win, given it is announced publicly. Platforms like news announcements, social media posts, blogs, press conferences and case studies should be used for the promotion. This will not just promote the company and its new partnership with the client but will also make the skills of the company in a certain type of project management visible to other potential clients.
Proposal Management Software
Using proposal management software helps optimize the proposal management process by making it easier and faster. It ensures that all the people involved in the proposal-making process are kept in the loop during the entire proposal life cycle. Such software can also help give insights into the client’s engagements and win rates.
The various features of proposal management software like central content libraries, multi-step review and approval workflows, automating content suggestion and response, analytics dashboards, and much more, help streamline workflows and win more deals. By providing stakeholders with efficient ways to collaborate on proposals and centralized storage for key documents, answers, and content, teams have an easier time meeting crucial deadlines and crafting winning proposals. Additional features like automated notifications for approaching tasks and deadlines ensure teams remain productive, on task, and in the loop.
Proposal management software can benefit businesses that receive huge volumes of projects and proposals with increasingly complex requirements. As proposal management software can read and analyze huge amounts of data in a short amount of time, it saves time on proposals and leads to better, all-around decision-making. Additionally, using software to centralize data and information helps teams better manage the proposal process and increase visibility, accessibility, and efficiency.