One of my clients shared an embarrassing story during a workshop. It seems that after laboring on a proposal for several weeks, she found herself, accompanied by a colleague, shuffling papers in the back seat of a cab as it raced across town, desperately trying to assemble three copies of a proposal in hopes of beating a 3 p.m. deadline. Along the way, their frantic efforts so distracted the cab driver that he hit another car. At that point, my client grabbed her papers and began running, in high heels, toward the client's headquarters. Snapping one of the heels off, she hobbled the last couple of blocks. She got there too late, and her proposal was not accepted.
Sadly, most people who have done a few proposals have their own horror stories. These are the folks who know the location of every overnight delivery service, which ones have late pickups, which copy centers are open all night, how to save time by printing on multiple printers simultaneously, and other last-minute, time-saving tricks. Clearly, something has gone dreadfully wrong if this is the way proposal projects are managed.
Managing a complex proposal can become a real nightmare. It can threaten your sanity. At the end you may feel you've gained new insight into the concept of a Pyrrhic victory—your victory has cost you far more than you'll ever gain. But it doesn't have to be that way. This chapter addresses some of the key issues involved in managing a proposal project and in assembling a successful, cohesive team to put that proposal together.
Basically, the flow of activities involved in developing your proposal should look something like Figure 8-1.
Winning proposals have their roots in good sales and marketing. I have never believed that a proposal by itself was likely to win business if there was no prior relationship, no effective positioning or branding, no information gathering to provide insight into the opportunity. As a result, there are numerous pre-proposal activities that must be carried out long before you begin to work on the proposal.
However, sometimes you will have an RFP thrown on your desk, or a salesperson will call up and say, [Can you put together sort of a standard proposal for me?] Naturally, these are always terrific opportunities, can't miss, gotta go for it, just do the proposal and the rest will be easy.