NAVIGATING A SUCCESSFUL PROPOSAL PROCESS: PART 3 OF 3

The Proposal Team Kick-Off

Before your team meets, distribute the RFP to all members. Instruct them to read it from cover to cover and come to the meeting with questions. After all, you’re not the only one who should be preparing.

2. Choose the proposal management software

If the proposal is extensive and/or requires many different hands, you’ll want to consider software to help you manage the process.

Your company may already use a certain project management program.

But be aware that there are software applications designed specifically for answering RFPs.

Capterra, a website with the byline “The Smart Way to Find Business Software” has compiled a list called Top Proposal Management Software Products. It includes the names, reviews (when available), and links to the websites for 95 web-based and installed applications.

The list offers the capability filter your choices and select and compare products.

You will likely not have the time to weigh all these choices before your kickoff, but keep in mind that there are many tools available to help you.

It would be well worth your time to research these options before an RFP crosses your desk if your company is considering bidding on any proposals in the future

3. Decide how the various sections and related documents will be reviewed

Will you simply email drafts and versions to your team?

If the proposal is small enough, this might be sufficient.

But for complex projects, consider document management software such as SharePoint® or a repository such as Google Docs where contributors can add and review content.

Of the 95 proposal management software products listed on Capterra, 42 include a content repository and document management.

4. Go through the RFP again

Make a list of every project deliverable.

Outline the terms used in the RFP that may need clarification with your team.

The RFP may have a glossary of terms, but there may be other jargon in the RFP that is unique to its issuer.

5. Create a spreadsheet that lists every deliverable in the RFP

Even if you have RFP project management software, the experts we consulted still recommend a good old-fashioned master spreadsheet.

A spreadsheet offers an at-a-glance overview of what you’ll need to produce and shows team members the status of each action item.

Plus, even the most tech-averse on your team will usually be comfortable with spreadsheets.

“Include columns where a name or names will be placed beside every deliverable,” says Carey Miller, a professional writer who has project managed dozens of RFPs. “Add column heads for project milestones, due dates, and reviewers for the initial drafts as well as reviewers for the final package.”

Please feel free to use our spreadsheet template to get you started.

Conducting the Kick-Off Meeting

Your team members must be absolutely clear about their roles, deliverables, and deadlines when they leave the first meeting.

It’s also critical that you cover certain rules of the game, so they’ll understand the company’s RFP process and some best practices in proposal writing.

Cover the topics that follow for a successful meeting.

1. Address the team members' questions about the RFP

When you circulated the RFP, you asked that team members come prepared with their questions about the RFP.

Address those questions up front so that they’re not interfering with people’s concentration during the other meeting topics.

2. Assign team members their roles

As each team member is assigned a role, clarify the responsibilities associated with that role.

3. Place a name or names in the column besides each deliverable

Go over the spreadsheet, one deliverable at a time. Determine whether the Subject Matter Expert (SME) will write it or if someone else will write the section using information provided by the SME.

Miller notes that the writer should be clear about the point person for information: “With an unusually complex proposal, there may be several point persons for various sections.”

4. Establish the reviewer for each section

The reviewer’s name may appear in multiple rows, depending on how many deliverables are in a section and how many sections that reviewer is qualified to review.

Hewitt stresses, “Designate reviewer(s) for the various sections and the reviewers for the packaged proposal.

The drafts can be reviewed by multiple SMEs; the finished package should be reviewed by only a small set of key players.”

5. Establish a timeline

In Winning Library Grants, A Game Plan, Herbert B. Landau writes, “To ensure that the deadline will be met, I start with the proposal delivery date and work backwards to the present.” \

Build in a pad in case something unexpected results in a project slowdown.

Landau also suggests, “To allow for all contingencies, set the date to have the complete proposal, including all forms, the narrative, the budget, and all attachments, at least four days before the day the proposal must be submitted.”

Include each of the following milestones in your timeline:

  • The completion date for the initial draft of each section or part thereof (according to the list of deliverables)
  • The completion date for the initial review by one or more SMEs
  • The completion date for incorporating the requested changes into the initial draft
  • The completion dates for any additional review cycles
  • The required submission date for the budget numbers and any attachments
  • The completion date of the draft of the packaged proposal
  • The completion date of the package review
  • The completion date for incorporating review revisions
  • The completion date of the final proofreading (ideally set at four or more days before proposal delivery)

Tip: Build in as much time as possible for the proposal writer to organize and format the information, write the executive summary and conclusion, ensure that everything in the RFP has been addressed, incorporate the required dollar amounts, and ensure that the proposal reads as though one person wrote it. If there is a particularly tight deadline for proposal submission, consider insisting on very tight deadlines for reviews.

6. Distribute and discuss your list of terms in the RFP and their definitions as they apply to the contract

This will ensure that, in echoing the lingo of the RFP, the terms will be accurately and consistently applied by your team.

7. Explain how documents will be reviewed and progress tracked

As the leader of this meeting you should have a clear idea from your pre-meeting planning as to how these processes will flow.

8. Discuss lessons learned

Consider including a brief review of lessons learned by previous proposal teams.

You may have conducted lessons-learned reviews following other proposals, but, depending on how long it’s been or whether there are members who didn’t participate on those teams, it may be helpful to review a few of them now.

CONGRATULATIONS!

You have successfully put the proposal process in motion.

You have scrutinized and absorbed the RFP, captured the requirements, consulted various key players, anticipated and worked through potential roadblocks, made critical project management decisions, initiated a team, and put the team in motion.

NAVIGATING A SUCCESSFUL PROPOSAL PROCESS: PART 2 OF 3

We’re Going Forward. What Next?

The Go/No-Go meeting was held, and the decision’s been made: Your company is going forward with the proposal.

Now the ball is back in your court. You’ve managed a proposal team before, but the contract was simple and called for far fewer resources. This one will require input from several divisions, and somehow, they all need to coordinate on a single 100-page document in just a few short weeks.

You know the first step is setting up your team, but you’re not sure who should be on it. What resources do you need, and what should they do?

Choosing the Right Team

We asked a series of experts on proposal writing for some tips and best practices on setting up proposal teams. Meet our experts:

  • Stephanie Hashagen – Professional writer who frequently works on clients’ proposal teams
  • Dan Hewitt – Process safety specialist who participates on well-orchestrated proposal teams using a proven approach at a major engineering firm
  • Marion Winsett – Career sales manager in oilfield equipment who has negotiated contracts and written countless proposals

They gave us some time-tested advice, starting with a very important key concept:

Be realistic.

It’s easy to put together a team based on a best-case scenario.  It’s much safer to put together a team based on a real-life scenario.

That is, assume the RFP will take more time than you think, and your team will have less time than they think.

“It’s imperative you choose individuals who are capable of responding quickly to the proposal time constraints,” Hashagen says. “Be sure they don’t have too much on their plate, and consider whether their other responsibilities might require them to address something unexpected that is time critical for another client.”

The size of your team will likely depend on the size of your company and the complexity of the proposal. However, for most proposals, eight key roles must be filled.

  • Proposal manager
  • Sales team representative
  • Contract manager
  • Subject matter experts
  • Estimator
  • Writer
  • Graphic artist (optional)
  • Editor

A few of your team members may wear more than one hat, but Hashagen advises, “Remember to be realistic and be sure there are enough people on the team to meet the deadline.”

Proposal Team Roles

A. Proposal Manager

Who is in charge of getting this proposal to the finish line?

Since you brought the proposal this far, you might be the assumed leader for this proposal project. But keep in mind that you may not be the best choice for the role of proposal manager.

To be fair to yourself and your team, you must consider your strengths and the demands on your time:

1) Are you extremely detail-oriented, comfortable with pestering people, and used to juggling tight schedules on a day-to-day basis?

2) Are you managing other proposal teams, or are there significant demands on your time outside the proposal process such as managing other projects or generating sales?

You must be able to answer yes to the first question and no to the second before you should consider yourself for the role of proposal manager. Failure to consider these questions honestly can result in a proposal that looks and reads like it was hastily put together.

Hashagen goes on to outline the proposal manager’s responsibilities:

  • Managing the schedule to make sure all deadlines are met
  • Tracking the progress of each part of the proposal package
  • Maintaining close communication with everyone, including subcontractors, who will provide information for (or write sections of) the proposal
  • Collecting the information and the draft documents and distributing them to the right parties, or, if documents are to be routed and tracked in a document management system, ensuring that the information is relayed by the deadline and tracked in the system
  • Providing the reviewed and revised input to those who will produce the final version of the proposal
  • Distributing the package to the final review team
  • Ensuring that the final review comments are provided to the proposal writers, the final proposal package undergoes a rigorous proofreading process, and the proposal is delivered on time.

B. Sales Team Representative

Hewitt emphasizes the importance of having someone from your sales force on the team.

“A person involved in external sales can provide important information about the company issuing the RFP. A person in inside sales lends experience in the proposal process and the proper organization, formatting, and template (if any). Either one can review the finished package with an experienced eye.”

 

C. Contract Manager

Not to be confused with proposal manager, this person is the individual designated to manage the project once the contract has been won.

Depending on the demands of his or her current project, the contract manager may or may not be expected to participate on the proposal team.

“In instances when the contract manager is too heavily involved in another project to participate on the team, the proposal manager relays team members’ questions to the contract manager and provides information from the contract manager to the team,” Hashagen says.

D. Subject Matter Experts (SMEs)

Select an SME from each discipline who will be involved in project delivery if the contract is won.

“The SME may simply provide the necessary information for a particular section or sections of the proposal,” Hashagen explains. “Or the SME may actually write the initial drafts of the sections pertaining to his or her discipline.”

SMEs participate in proposal team meetings so that important questions aren’t overlooked. Interdisciplinary communication improves the consistency and accuracy of the initial drafts.

The combination of the SMEs’ expertise and experience is the reason your company should be chosen above your competitors.

E. Estimator or Proposal Finance Manager

This person is responsible for providing the projected costs that the RFP requires.

If the estimator or proposal financial manager does not participate on the team itself, the person in this role is still responsible for providing the numbers to the proposal writers and for proofing the final proposal to ensure the accuracy of the financial data.

F. Writer

Your proposal package must be cohesive and written in a single voice. Although there are multiple contributors, someone must write the proposal so that it is properly organized, precisely stated, and consistent.

In addition, the writer ensures that the proposal has an executive summary, a table of contents, and a conclusion, as well as a list of tables and figures and a list of related documents when required.

If your business employs a writer or communications specialist, that person may serve as the writer. If not, a writing agency can be contracted for this role. How the writer proceeds will be determined at your first meeting.

On some proposal teams, the proposal manager funnels all the information to the writer in the form of SME-drafted content and financial data.

G. Graphics Artist (optional)

If your template requires custom artwork for each proposal or you are preparing your first response to an RFP, you may need a graphic artist. This team member ensures that logos, illustrations, workflow diagrams, and organizational charts are attractive, consistent, and accurate.

In an article for Entrepreneur called The 10 Things You Need to Know When Responding to RFPs, George Debb, managing partner at Red Rocket Ventures, suggests, “Intersperse the company’s logo and images throughout the presentation so you look like you put customized work into your response, tailored just for your recipient.”

H. Editor

A capable editor carefully proofreads the final package with a fresh set of eyes. Significant errors in the proposal may cause the potential client to question whether your approach to the project itself will be less than fastidious. The editor must carefully double check the entire proposal to ensure that every deliverable requirement and every stipulation in the RFP has been addressed.

Photo by Startup Stock Photos from Pexels

Addressing the Need for Outside Resources

It is likely that you addressed the need for additional resources in your early discussions with key personnel within your company, and also during the Go/No-Go meeting. (See our first blog post in this series, ““To Bid or Not To Bid.”)

If subcontractors are required, a team must be assembled to source and select the contractors. This team is often independent of the team writing the proposal and may be members of your sales force, as they likely have existing relationships with the subcontractors.

This selection team must begin its work as soon as the decision has been made to proceed with the proposal.

When selecting a subcontractor, your selection team should consider how much of the proposal you’ll need the subcontractor to handle.

Winsett stresses the importance of working closely with the subcontractor(s). “The (proposal) team and the subcontractor must agree to the terms in the RFP. Terms stipulated in the RFP that the subcontractor sees as roadblocks must be addressed immediately.”

Depending on the complexity of the contract, the subcontractor selection team or some of its members “may be required to work with the subcontractors throughout the proposal process,” Winsett adds.

 

Providing for Content from Sources Outside Your Company

If the only information from outside sources is the cost of materials or hourly rates for extra resources your employees will be managing, the proposal team’s estimator can furnish that data.

In cases where the subcontractor contributes expertise or unique solution, the subcontractor may need to provide  proposal content. In that case, the proposal manager will transmit their contribution to the appropriate SME for review and to the writer for editing.

Next in this Series: Ensuring a Successful Kickoff  

Now you’re equipped to map out the key roles your proposal team should include and identify the optimum people to fill them. You also have the information you’ll need to help your team members understand exactly what they’ll be expected to do. Now all you have to do is hold a kickoff meeting with your team to get the proposal process in gear. What should you cover? How can you avoid missteps — and the risk of confusion, communication failures and missed deadlines?

Read the third blog in our series to learn how to prepare for your kickoff and what you’ll need to cover to give your proposal the best possible chance of succeeding.

RFP Writing, Preparation, and Review Services

Your staff is overloaded and don’t have time for this last-minute RFP.

You think you’re mostly there, but you just need a second set of eyes.

You’re staring at a 100-page government RFP and you realize the only way you can make the deadline is by pulling four all-nighters in a row.

You may even be ahead of the game, gearing up to define key win strategies for the RFI phase.

Do any of these situations sound familiar? No matter where you are in the process, The Writers For Hire falls right into step with your team and works with you to complete your RFP on-time. And, perhaps more importantly, we get your RFP completed successfully: The vast majority of our RFPs clients are invited to the second round of interviews based on the strength of their initial proposals.

Government and Corporate Proposals

We are equally well-versed in both government and corporate proposals, and we have helped clients organize and write proposals for almost every major industry including:

Regardless of whether you are responding to a government RFP or a private proposal, we’ll help you ensure:

  • Your organization’s unique value proposition is clear and evident in every part of the proposal.
  • Your cover letter and executive summary clearly address what the buyer is looking for.
  • You have thoroughly – yet concisely – responded to all areas of the proposal.
  • By the end of the proposal, you have left your reader with no questions as to why they should choose your organization.

What Proposal Services Do We Provide?

Besides drastically reducing your in-house workload, we can fill multiple roles:

  • Project management (PM) – We can manage the entire RFP process, including drawing upon your in-house resources for the necessary information, writing and organizing the document, keeping track of deadlines for editorial approval for your team, and ensuring your RFP is turned in on time.
  • Strategic planning – Working with your team to refine your organization’s goals, technical strengths, and unique selling proposition (USP).
  • Quality Control – Reviewing all responses and documentation to ensure they fully and accurately meet proposal requirements and specifications.
  • Design – Basic or advanced layout and formatting capabilities for cover pages and RFP template, including custom graphics if necessary.
  • Editing and Review – Edits and rewrites to improve clarity, flow, and organization. Do you have several different subject-matter experts providing content? We will also ensure a common voice and style throughout the document.
  • Proofreading – Always completed by a previously uninvolved proofreading resource for squeaky-clean final copy.

Blue, Pink, and Red Reviews

If you are using a color-coded review schedule, our team of full-time writers can create, edit, and organize content from the blue (outline / planning) stage to the red team review (ensuring your value proposition is clear and all criteria are met).

The Writers For Hire Advantage

  • We can double or triple up on writing resources in order to make quick turnarounds.
  • We will choose the most efficient path – working to provide you with the best product, while saving you money. That’s why we start every RFP with a thorough review of all existing relevant materials, including your company’s existing marketing materials, financial reports, company history, and client lists. We determine what we can reuse, what we can edit, and what we need to rewrite.
  • You have the security of working with a familiar team of writers who know your company, your service offerings, and your value proposition. Your dedicated project manager and lead writer(s) will work with you every time you call us.

A Customized Process to Fit Your Unique Organization

No turnkey processes here! Your best-fit writing team will be fluid enough to fit into your organization – not a team that tries to make your organization fit to their processes. Our goal is always to work how you work best.

That being said, we have identified a few best practices that help ensure a streamlined, successful project:

Steps

  • Step 1: The Kickoff Meeting and Strategy. Before we do any writing, we schedule a kickoff meeting to discuss your project, define your goals, decide on takeaways for your executive summary and cover letters, and identify your subject-matter- experts (SMEs).
  • Step 2: Information Gathering: We will collect all data from the SMEs and help enforce their content submission deadlines.
  • Step 3: The Rough Draft. Once we’ve gathered all of the materials we need, we complete a rough draft of your RFP. At this point, we determine what information we have and what information may be missing.
  • Step 4: Back-and- Forth Editing. After we create a rough draft, we work with your team to fine-tune the copy, fill in missing facts and figures, create tables or graphs, and discuss formatting and style options.
  • Step 5: Final Proofing and Review. Once you’ve signed off on the final draft of your RFP, a previously uninvolved team member will complete a final proofreading job, and also double-check to see that all questions have been answered and any missing information has been filled in.

Request a Quote for Your RFP

To receive a no-obligation quote for your next proposal or RFP fill out the form above or call (713) 465-6860. To review general pricing, visit our copywriting prices page.

A standard-size RFP for most new clients runs $2,000 to $10,000. Most additional RFPs run $1,000 to $5,000.

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Interview: Simplifying the RFP Response Process

Regardless of the size of your business, you will likely have to answer a Request for Proposal (RFP) at some point, in order to secure larger, more lucrative contracts. But with so many RFPs containing 100 pages or more, the proposal writing process can be overwhelming for many companies. In this interview, writing expert Wintress Odom breaks down the response process into more manageable pieces and answers some of your most important questions about how to write a proposal that will land your company at the top of the “yes” stack, including:

  • What are some of the biggest mistakes companies make when drafting an RFP response?
  • How should you prepare for an RFP?
  • What challenges do companies typically face when answering an RFP?
  • How can you best overcome those challenges?

Click the play button below to listen to the interview.