Proposal management has made great strides as a profession in the last decade. It is easy to forget the laments we had a few years ago about some company leaders thinking of proposals as an administrative job. Once in a while we get a reminder, though: when I attended the 2013 APMP International Bid & Proposal Con Chapter Officers Workshop, a woman from Egypt erupted into a passionate speech about the plot of proposal professionals in the Middle East where companies still believe them to be glorified admins, while truthfully they are the lifeblood and the growth engine of an organization.
The trend is that the commercial world is transitioning away from handshake deals, and government world is slowly moving away from sole source contracts. Everyone is headed towards strategic sourcing, group decision-making and complex procurement/sales where a proposal plays a prominent role. With the industry changing across the board, internationally and domestically, we can enjoy the results of the progress, and be optimistic about further positive shifts.
Here are the top three of the 10 challenges that actually made the list:
Challenge 3: The shortage of Subject Matter Experts (SME) on proposals, which leads to no real solution and poor content. Nearly 20 percent of the respondents stated that companies are afraid to ask their customers to let the incumbent SMEs participate in proposals, because they walk on eggshells and are afraid to anger clients. Then, SME proposal hours are pushed to nights and weekends, making participation harder and work less productive. Many companies have cultures not conducive to personnel on client sites helping out. Onsite personnel don’t have any incentives to care about company allegiances, and they watch the clock to leave the office. They are not particularly helpful to their employers, and don’t have motivation to make a difference. Such employee cultures make our jobs more difficult.
How do we change it? There should be best practices published on good incentives structures for SMEs and business developers. There should be training and leadership development for talented onsite personnel. Management commitment is the key to solving this problem where it comes to allocating resources to proposals and changing cultures. There should be also good discipline to make no-bid decisions to walk away from opportunities where the company doesn’t have any SMEs.
Challenge 2: Authors missing deadlines imposed by proposal managers. Nearly 24 percent of the respondents listed this as their number one problem. It seems like proposal managers struggle with lack of training and skills in proposal contributors, and suffer from lack of management support. Their companies take their dear time to decide whether to bid, so they end up starting late and have less time for each activity. There may be wrong resources assigned, resources may not be committed to the proposal enough hours, being too busy with other work; the budget may not be enough or personnel allocated to resource the proposal to win; and resource allocation may be done using a SWAG, not a formula. Proposal contributors may have little training to understand the proposal process and why deadlines are necessary. Proposal managers’ clout may be small in the organization. Or, there may be issues with proposal managers’ own managerial abilities to compel people to follow their requests.
Challenge 1: Having none or poor capture effort. To be honest, I am peeved to see that this one is at the top again, and keeps emerging as the most problematic issue. Nearly 25 percent of all respondents listed issues that are directly related to insufficient advance preparation. This is a systemic problem, having to do with lack of business development process maturity in many companies, and lack of leadership’s training to understand the importance of capture. It is also related to the shortage of SMEs, and perhaps poor training of capture managers themselves.
It seems we have made significant progress in the past few years, but challenges remain. Addressing some of the top challenges will help us get to a better place where hopefully we grapple with the new realities, rather than being stuck in the same place several years down the road.Proposal Management: How Did We Get There? Where Are We Going? How Are We Going to Get There?