Proposal management: what it is, how it works, and what you need to succeed

Written by
Aaron LaVigne
Aaron LaVigne
Updated on
  11 min read
Woman watching screen of RFPIO

For many businesses, responding to requests for proposals (RFPs) is a regular occurrence. Every RFP is a sales opportunity that can contribute to business growth. The success of each proposal hinges on its execution. Accordingly, the practice of proposal management makes a significant impact on the final outcome.  

If you respond to RFPs, you already know that proposal management requires a diverse set of skills. Identifying and honing each skill can quickly help improve your proposal process and your win rate. 

In this post, we’ll explore what proposal management is, who is responsible for it, the key skills it requires and resources to help along the way. With this information, you’ll be more efficient, effective and successful as you manage the proposal process.

What is proposal management?

Proposal management is the process of overseeing and facilitating the completion of a proposal with the goal of winning new projects or contracts. It involves coordinating various tasks, such as understanding client requirements, developing a tailored solution, and presenting it in a clear, compelling manner. 

This strategic approach combines project management skills with business development strategies to effectively address and meet potential clients’ needs, enhancing the chances of securing business opportunities.

How does proposal management improve the RFP response process?

The primary objective of proposal management is to help drive more sales. More specifically, the process objectives include:

  • Determining the right opportunities
    • Is the bid winnable based on similar past projects?
    • Can you fulfill the customer’s needs?
    • Is the request consistent with your company’s business objectives?
    • Can the response nurture brand awareness?
  • Selecting the right team – A typical response team might include a proposal manager, writer, editor, and a team of subject matter experts (SMEs). The SMEs, and frankly, the whole team, can come from any department in the company as long as their expertise aligns with the request.
  • Crafting a quality response – Proposal management is just one of the places where sales and marketing intersect. It’s vital that the response represents the company in the best possible light, adhering to the company voice and tone while providing incentives for the customer to buy.
  • Meeting customer expectations – Submit your well-crafted proposal within the allotted timeline and in the customer’s preferred form

 

The benefits of proposal management 

The simple answer is: proposal management enables consistency and accountability. These two simple traits yield benefits throughout an organization.

 

  • Increased productivity – Productivity is perhaps the essential goal of a proposal management system. When you design a repeatable process, you can start right in on your response rather than reinventing the wheel each time you receive a request.
  • Better collaboration – A well-designed proposal management process helps form a team of allies, even in a remote or distributed environment.
  • Streamlined workflow – Project management is a core part of a proposal management system. Track your project’s and stakeholders’ progress to ensure on-time delivery.
  • A single source of truth – Another critical component of a proposal management system is consolidating and continuously auditing your company’s records, documents, and previous proposal question-answer pairs. Democratization of your content library puts knowledge into the hands of everyone who needs it.
  • Greater revenue – The more winnable proposals you produce, the more revenue you will generate.

3 key skills for successful proposal management

No matter the role, if you find yourself responsible for proposal management you’ll benefit from brushing up on several key skills. Explore these areas to successfully manage the proposal process and save time.

  • Project management
  • Knowledge management
  • Content editing

1. Project management

Project management is the core of an efficient and effective proposal process. The Project Management Institute (PMI) defines project management as “…the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements.” If you have previously managed a proposal you can probably look back at the process you used and see how it might overlap with this definition. Whether you knew it at the time or not, you were project managing.

The stats about project management are impressive. An estimated 77 percent of high-performing projects use project management software. While 97 percent of organizations believe that project management is critical to business performance and organizational success. Apply project management principles to proposal management to see big benefits.

Project management for proposals can be broken down into five steps:
  1. Initiate
    Receive and evaluate the RFP request and conduct a bid or no bid analysis
  2. Plan
    Outline the proposal process and all of the involved contributors, reviewers and stakeholders
  3. Execute
    Find and reuse previous RFP answers and send updates and new questions to subject matter experts
  4. Monitor and control
    Track response progress, follow up for approvals and update stakeholders as needed
  5. Close
    Review and compile all elements, seek final approval and submit the completed proposal

Proposal management requires a great deal of careful planning and facilitation. Coordinating between half a dozen departments, making sure no details are missed and trying to meet a deadline can be overwhelming. But, using the five steps of project management can help make the proposal process more manageable.  

Project management resources:

Managing smaller and medium-sized projects ⁠— Ebook by Dr. Jim Young, PMP

This ebook is full of great insights that will help build your project management skills. It includes roles and responsibilities, terminology, templates and more. It’s free and well worth your time.

Projectified ⁠— Podcast produced by PMI

This podcast is perfect for brushing up your skills and learning the latest trends in project management. With most episodes clocking in at under 20 minutes, it’s a great way to spend your daily commute.

2. Knowledge management

Chances are you’re not the first person at your company to be tasked with responding to an RFP. Every proposal, past and future, is a significant business investment. The detailed research, business insights and skillful storytelling that go into a proposal represent hours of work. But what happens to that knowledge once the proposal has been submitted? Does it just get filed away to collect dust?

The practice of knowledge management (KM) keeps valuable information from going to waste. Author, speaker and KM pioneer, Tom Davenport, offered this succinct summary of knowledge management, “Knowledge Management is the process of capturing, distributing, and effectively using knowledge.” Davenport gave that definition in 1994 and the practice of knowledge management has grown steadily since. The Market Research Future reports that global investment in knowledge management software will soon hit $33 billion. 

Applying knowledge management to your proposal content can save hours and days of work. for proposal managers and SMEs alike. Subject matter experts trust you to ask the right questions, save that knowledge and use it again. One sign that proposal management is being done well is that over time, SMEs will need to write fewer and fewer new answers. As the knowledge library grows, it saves even more time as common questions and answers are tagged, categorized and continually updated. Knowledge management allows SMEs to focus on their day-to-day work because proposal content is easy to find and reuse.

In addition to improving efficiency, KM protects your business from loss. For example, if one of your key stakeholders leaves the business, they take their knowledge with them ⁠— unless you’ve retained it in the knowledge library. If responses are stored in the knowledge library, new, onboarding team members can find crucial information quickly.

Knowledge management resources:

Responsive RFP software

This platform is designed specifically for response management. Its robust Content Library makes it easy to collect, categorize, collaborate on and search for RFP responses within the Content Library. It also captures data about who authored the question, when it was last updated and how many times it’s been used. Responsive integrates with the most popular CRMs, productivity and communication tools. 

Five tenets of corporate knowledge management infographic ⁠—  University of Southern California

From benefits to best practices, this infographic offers a high-level view of knowledge management. The ideas can easily be applied to proposal knowledge management.

3. Content editing

The best proposals tell a story. They are engaging, interesting and they clearly express why partnering with your business will benefit the buyer. Unlike a traditional story that has one author, a proposal has many. Unifying the perspectives and voices of all your subject matter experts into one cohesive narrative is a challenge. Excellent proofreading, editing and writing skills are critical to proposal management.

Writing compelling proposal content isn’t easy. You’ll find that while your SMEs all contribute vital expertise, they may communicate it in very different ways. Some people will relay the facts in the most concise way possible, while others may add unnecessary detail that could confuse the reader. Merely copying and pasting RFP answers is risky. It can create an unprofessional, disjointed narrative with an inconsistent style and tone. 

The Association of Proposal Management Professionals (APMP) offers a great editing checklist. In general, you’ll want to carefully review each answer for three things:

  1. Content
    Does it answer the question? Does it provide the required information in the requested style?
  2. Tone
    Does it sound and look like your brand? Does the tone sound consistent throughout the proposal?
  3. Grammar
    Is everything formatted, spelled, capitalized and punctuated correctly?

In a proposal with hundreds of questions, reviewing each question may seem overwhelming. However, this is where the value of your knowledge library comes into play again. If you consistently add your RFP answers to the library, you’ll have a head start with proposal content you’ve already edited. You can simply customize the answer to the customer and move forward.

Quick tips for proposal content editing:

  • Write in an active voice as much as possible ⁠⁠— it creates a more confident and knowledgeable tone
  • Create a style sheet to share with SMEs like this one: APMP style sheet template
  • Strike a balance to make sure your content isn’t too dry, but also not too fluffy and verbose
  • Format the proposal in a way that makes it visually approachable and scannable, include bullet points where possible
  • Include the proposal cover letter and any other standard documentation in your content editing review

Content editing resources:

LinkedIn Learning ⁠— Online video courses

These quick courses are great for brushing up on grammar, copy editing, identifying active voice and more. There are even quick videos that cover proposals if you’re looking for even more tips and tricks.

Online style and grammar tools: 

Grammarly ⁠— Available as a free web app or a Chrome extension, Grammarly will offer suggestions to fix spelling and grammatical errors

ReadablePro ⁠— With Readable, you can quickly check your proposal’s readability, tone and sentiment. It will also identify passive voice, long sentences and cliches to avoid

The challenges of proposal management

Most large business deals require proposals, which means that proposal managers are vital to achieving company revenue goals. Dedicated proposal managers understand the challenges of their jobs, and hopefully, they’ve established systems to address the challenges before they become problems. That’s not always the case, however.

Here are some of the challenges that full- and part-time proposal managers face:

Company buy-in

Do you ever feel a little like you’re whistling in the wind at work? You know you need processes for timely and accurate responses. You know you need the cooperation of subject matter experts, but finding support is a challenge. Buy-in from executives and other key stakeholders is critical for a successful response management process.

Consistency

One of the key factors in an effective system of any kind is repeatability. For example, your proposal go/no-go process should be nearly identical from one RFP to another, even though each process might yield different results. Your collaboration, writing, editing, and design process should look very similar to your last response, even though the two responses might be very different.

Quality responses

Think of each response as a marketing document. It should look as polished as your website or any other asset.

Take the opportunity to tell compelling stories highlighting how your company will meet the customer’s needs. Be sure to include graphics and other images to break up dense copy. Edit each document for accuracy, character counts (if there are limits), and grammatical errors.

Submitting your proposals on time (or early)

When a proposal is due at midnight on Tuesday, it’s due at midnight on Tuesday. Don’t shrug your shoulders, assuming no one will be in the office in the middle of the night to confirm. Customers pay attention to time stamps. Some customers give higher priority to early responses.

Maintaining a knowledge library

One of the most time- and resource-saving aspects of a quality proposal management system is a well-maintained knowledge library. In an ideal world, your knowledge library will house, in an easily accessible manner, every relevant piece of information from the day your company opened its doors to today. No one, including SMEs, wants to repeat answers.

It’s a never-ending circle. Workers spend almost 20 percent of their time tracking down company knowledge. Employees are far less likely to share their knowledge when stored company knowledge is inaccurate or difficult to find. When that happens, workers spend even more time trying to find knowledge, at least until they throw their hands up in frustration.

How Responsive can help

Building your proposal management system is a bit like building a house. The proposal manager coordinates the materials, hammers the nails, and decorates the home. Responsive can provide the building plans and all the tools to help you overcome the challenges outlined above.

Company buy-in

Company buy-in is a top-down process. First, you must prove to executives that a system like Responsive will improve your proposal management process and drive more revenue. Then, you need to show SMEs that by investing time in setting up the Content Library, they’ll save time in the future.

Responsive’s proven ROI is as high as 600 percent. Many customers reach a total return on investment in less than a year. RFPIO’s advanced analytics provide the data executives want.

Introduce your SMEs to the Content Library. Show them that they have ownership over their content and that you’ll only call on them for clarification or answers they haven’t already provided. Review the content auditing features to ensure that regular content review cycles will require less work in the long run.

Consistency

Responsive is a project management platform. It will provide the data to help with your go/no-go process, help you assign tasks, and track progress. Its built-in integrations with the most popular communication, productivity, and customer relationship management apps help keep everyone together, even if they aren’t physically together.

Maintaining your Content Library

Responsive will track your review cycles and remind you when it’s time to look at a document or answer or when a record approaches its shred-by date.

Quality responses

I already mentioned that Responsive’s auto-response feature could answer up to 80 percent of an RFP’s questions with marketing-approved content. That means more time to craft an accurate, competitive, and genuinely compelling response.

Submitting your proposals on time (or early)

Responsive’s project management features help keep your project humming along and will remind you when each deliverable is due.

About those small and medium-sized companies

Responsive can help you level the playing field by providing the same actionable insights, project management features, Content Library, and accessibility as enterprise organizations receive.

Responsive isn’t just an RFP response platform. It’s a powerful revenue generator. Schedule a free demo to see how we can help you win more bids and become more profitable.


Aaron LaVigne

Aaron LaVigne is a dedicated Senior Account Executive at Responsive. He builds relationships with customers and prospects, helping them take meaningful steps toward overcoming challenges and achieving their goals. Aaron’s approach leverages his growth mindset, persistence and passion for analytics to ensure success.