When a huge opportunity crosses your desk in the form of a detailed RFP, there’s a lot of pressure to get it just right. Will you be ready to create the proposal of a lifetime and seal the deal? If you’re not quite sure, hiring a proposal development consultant may pay off in a big way.
Proposal development consultants go by a number of names. Titles of the role include proposal consultant, proposal writing consultant, strategic proposal consultant or even marketing consultant. No matter what you call them, their goal is to improve your chances of winning the business.
In this post, we’ll explore everything you need to know about hiring and working with a proposal development consultant. We’ll start with what you can expect from your proposal consultant, why you might hire one as well as interview questions to help you find the right fit.
What is a proposal development consultant?
As you might expect, a proposal development consultant works with businesses to create proposals. Sometimes they are called proposal consultants or RFP consultants. These consultants offer an outside perspective, insight and expertise.
Typically, they have years of experience in the field. Many started their career answering proposals themselves before making the move to consulting. So, your proposal consultant should have a deep understanding of your challenges and industry.
Why hire a proposal consultant?
There are a lot of reasons to consider engaging with a proposal development consultant. For example, you may need expertise in a particular industry you’re selling into, or you may need someone to finesse your responses for a particularly lucrative opportunity. Bringing in a little help to ensure your proposal hits all the right notes will help you move forward with confidence.
When it comes to small and medium-sized businesses, they likely don’t have a dedicated proposal coordinator or manager. So, creating a timely and compelling proposal is a challenge. Beyond pulling resources away from their full-time work, it’s easy to let proposal deadlines sneak up. However, engaging with a proposal development consultant will take the burden off of the team and ensure that the project stays on track.
On the other hand, large, dedicated proposal teams face a different set of challenges. RFPs are a huge part of the overall business strategy. In these cases, proposal managers must find a balance between volume and quality. A proposal writing consultant can help by managing overflow work, consulting on key projects, evaluating and optimizing processes or simply providing an outside perspective.
It’s easy to get entrenched (and a little blinded) by a repetitive RFP process. When creating proposals becomes routine, it can be easy to overlook things that aren’t clear. In addition, little mistakes can pop up here and there. But little mistakes can make a big impression.
A good illustration of this comes from an interview with Betsy McDonald of the Chicago White Sox. When the team was looking for an advertising agency, they received more than 60 proposals and some were memorable for all the wrong reasons.
“Our stuff needs to be perfectly proofread, so typos and mistakes in the RFP response were hard to overcome.”
Proposal development consultant services
When you hire a proposal consultant for the first time, it’s hard to know what to expect. Generally, businesses seek a proposal writing consultant to help them create content. However, they can be a great resource to your entire proposal team. They’re a wealth of knowledge, so explore the services they offer beyond writing proposal content.
Additional proposal consultant services may include:
- RFP response process review and optimization
- Go/no-go evaluation and guidance
- Review and management of proposal content library
- Training for your in-house proposal writers and proposal coordinators
- Proofreading and editing
- Visual proposal design, proposal template design or print production
Types of strategic proposal consultants
In your search for proposal help, you’ll find a range of organizations and individuals eager to work with you. Before you engage with one, it’s important to understand your options. Your needs will determine what type of consultant you should hire and for what services.
Proposal consultancy firms
There are some great proposal consultancy firms that are laser-focused on finding new ways to win RFPs. Often, these organizations work in a variety of industries. One benefit of working with a group of consultants is that efficiency is built into their business model. Therefore, they probably have a tried and true process. They should be highly organized, communicative and prompt. So if speed is your highest priority, this may be the way to go.
Marketing consultant or sales consultant
Proposal management often falls into the marketing or sales department. Accordingly, you may find that a marketing or sales consultant has the proposal expertise you need. Thanks to their broad focus on the marketing landscape or sales lifecycle, these consultants can offer trend and process insights. If you’re looking for a holistic approach to RFP management consulting, this might be the way to go.
Independent proposal consultants
When you need expertise about your potential customer’s industry, there’s an independent consultant out there for you. Solo proposal development consultants generally specialize in one field. Because of their experience, they are able to create tailored responses that use the right terminology and tone. More importantly, they understand the underlying need and logic behind the questions in the RFP. To leverage the full value of this insight, engage them to perform regular reviews of the content library as a part of your knowledge management strategy.
Freelance proposal writer
Almost all proposals can benefit from an outside perspective and a second pair of eyes. In this case, a proposal freelancer may be your best choice. Often, it’s difficult to make a proposal consistent. After all, proposals are frequently written by a handful of subject matter experts and stakeholders. A freelance proposal writer will review the content to make it more powerful and compelling while creating a cohesive and error-free final product.
The Association of Proposal Management Professionals (APMP) offers a directory with proposal consultants of all types. APMP members can access the entire catalog, while non-members have limited access. Check it out here.
How to pick a proposal development consultant
From a full proposal consultancy firm to a proposal freelancer, there’s no doubt that the right consultant can be the difference between winning and losing. Speed is a crucial factor, so start with these questions ready when you interview candidates. Ultimately, the right answers will depend on your needs. But, remember to trust your gut. All the experience in the world can’t make up for a poor communicator or a bad culture fit.
What is their process?
This should be your first question. The process they use will impact your entire team and your success. All proposal development consultants should be able to clearly articulate their best practices and work process. Be sure to communicate any relevant project background as well as your goals.
How will they communicate with you and your team?
Collaboration will be key to success. While the consultant will be able to provide input and advice, they don’t have the expertise about your business to complete the proposal themselves. Communication must be a two-way street throughout the process. How and when will they share updates? Will they need to set meetings with stakeholder and subject matter experts? How will they collaborate with you and your team?
What proposal technology do they use?
Speaking of collaboration, how does the consultant leverage technology? An RFP management tool delivers a ton of value when working with a consultant. Will they work with your team within your existing process or will they need you to adapt to them? Do they use a file share system to gather information?
Who have they worked with in the past?
Ask for references and success stories from previous clients. Inquire about their background in the industry and relevant experience. Did they do a little homework about your business? If they specialize in your industry or work with potential competitors, ask about confidentiality and data security practices.
What will they need to get started?
Once you’ve made your selection, you’ll want to move quickly and empower them with the information they need. After all, the proposal deadline waits for no one. How can you prepare your team and empower the consultant to be successful?
Investing in proposals
We all need a little help sometimes. With so many people, questions and elements involved in the RFP response process, there’s no question that organizing a proposal can be a challenge. Luckily, proposal consultants are experts that have worked through dozens, if not hundreds of similar RFPs. Their experience can provide important insight about what you may have forgotten and ideas you should consider as well as subtext about what the buyer is looking for. At the end of the day, engaging a consultant is an investment, but for the right opportunity, it can really pay off.