Crap in, crap out

You can’t polish a turd. But unfortunately, one of the loudest and most consistent complaints I hear from proposal teams is about exactly this: getting a huge dump of crappy content at the last minute, from the very people in the business that they are trying to win work for.

Here are just a few ways that this frustration is playing out, right now, in organisations around the world:

The screed…

“Here’s one I wrote (three years ago) for another (vaguely similar, 100-page) proposal. There might be something in there you can use.”

The handball…

“Fred wrote about this in the XXX proposal. Can you ask him instead?”

The absentee (after two reminders)…

“Sorry! I completely forgot about this. What do you need me to do again?”

And let’s not overlook the passive-aggressive pushback, after four reminders, and three days after the deadline…

“I’ve been out on site for 14 days straight in outer Timbuktu and without wi-fi OR a shower. I might be able to get something to you next week.” (Just kidding! - don’t bet on it).

In my experience, there are three main reasons why this happens:

1.     Lack of skills,

2.     Lack of time, and

3.     Lack of responsibility

First, there’s a lack of skills.

Most people aren’t taught to write proposals. They learn the hard way through losses, disappointments, and kilos of red pen and criticism from higher-ups.

Many would also much rather talk than write. It’s no wonder they see proposals as a brain-draining, mind-numbing chore instead of as an exciting opportunity to win new work.

In my proposals training programs, I’ve seen a massive mindset and cultural shift among teams who previously thought this way. Training is not the only solution to the problem, but it is a very good place to start.

Next, there is always a lack of time.

Proposal deadlines have shrunk by half in the last decade, and in most organisations, there are only a handful of people who work on proposals full time.

For everyone else, it’s work that gets done ‘five to nine’ in the cracks and crannies that open up around their day job. Expecting them to produce considered, customer-focused content in this environment is a recipe for burnout and disengagement.

One simple fix is to allow people to block out time for proposal writing in their diaries – time that can’t be booked over by meetings and other priorities. Another is to reward them for their hard work, no matter what the outcome, and always make sure there is a real celebration when you win. 

And finally, there’s a lack of responsibility.

If I have learned anything from decades on this planet, it’s this: people do what they feel inclined to do.

Unfortunately, unless it is their actual job, most people just don’t feel inclined to work on proposals unless they are compelled to. After all, there are many more pressing technical and operational issues to deal with, as well as work that’s much more fun on offer somewhere else.

This leaves your proposals team begging for content and commitment when they really shouldn’t have to.

Take a look at the job descriptions of the subject matter experts and managers you most rely on for content and proposal leadership. Is contribution to proposals mentioned anywhere? No? Fix that - now.