What are the Common Challenges Government Contractors Face with Proposal Writing?

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This is a guest post by Reena Bhatia of ProposalHelper.

If you have any business with the Government, you are all too familiar with the proposal writing process. If you treat a proposal like a mini project, the rules are the same – plan, implement, monitor, control, and close-out. Why then do so many businesses (large and small) struggle through the proposal process? Why do so many companies suddenly forget what they do for a living and stress out their entire organization? The answer lies in the well-known trifecta – people, process, and tools.

The most common challenge businesses face – people. More precisely, a shortage of skilled people who (a) are not generating revenue for the company; (b) understand how to write to an RFx, and (c) are willing to work 18×7. Managing and writing a proposal takes a team, not one person. When I meet with potential clients, one of the common questions I get is, “why don’t we just hire one proposal manager instead of outsourcing?”

Companies can’t seem to figure out the right balance or the correct type of people to assign to a proposal. They either have one person doing everything or too many people who don’t know anything about proposal writing trying to battle their way through. Regardless of how small you think the proposal is, the skills required to work on it are diverse. Form and assign the right team and contrary to popular belief, we recommend you keep the proposal team small. Throwing bodies on a project doesn’t necessarily mean success.

The second challenge companies face is with their process. Building and submitting a proposal is not a mystery; it’s a process that can be learned, implemented, learned again, and continuously improved. Often we see companies who pick some industry-defined processes out of a textbook and force it as their own without really understanding resource limitations. Companies who are successful have a clear and flexible process that fits their organization.

Having a proposal process is great but remember if you assign the same writer to three different proposals at the same time, the process and therefore the proposal will fail. Your process should take into account resource availability and be flexible to utilize best what you need to succeed, not just what you have. Companies who succeed are not afraid to adjust their process to fit the magnitude of the RFx – adding or reducing resources and steps as necessary. Rigid processes add to the frustration levels and contribute to burn out. They most certainly don’t contribute to an increase in win ratios.   

Finally, we get to technology. There is no silver bullet here, but one thing we are sure about, email and Google docs are not the best tools to use when it comes to managing proposals. There are some excellent platforms in the marketplace today that cater to the Government contracting and proposal industry. Whether you invest in a platform, build your own (because you can!), or stubbornly decide to continue emailing files, we advise that you define how the tool will be used, communicate your expectations with your proposal team, and then stick to it and most importantly, keep it simple.

Often companies start with all good intentions to use SharePoint or some other complicated platform but quickly break the pattern and begin emailing files because of the difficulty in using the tool and lack of control. As we have observed at ProposalHelper, senior executives are the biggest violators of process and use of selected tools because they cannot remember another URL or password and are too busy to bother with it. This sets the tone and culture of the proposal team, and very quickly we see others doing the same. This creates a lot of unnecessary confusion and adds to an already stressful situation. When it comes to tools for proposals, ProposalHelper says to KISS (Keep it Simple Silly!).

Companies need to start treating proposals like their revenue generating projects – assign the right team, implement the proper process that is fit for that proposal, and ensure consistent use of tools at every level – from the senior executive on down to the proposal team.

Reena is the Founder & CEO of ProposalHelper. The company started in 2010 with one employee and today has over 42 employees. She brings over 24 years of experience in global sales and US federal proposal management. Her background also includes planning and designing technical and management solutions, drafting technical proposal responses, and pricing strategy. Reena graduated with a Masters in Public Policy from University of Maryland, College Park and is currently pursuing her PhD in Information Systems.



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