Proposals: Controlling (Or Thriving On) Chaos?

(First in a series)

“Proposal Hell” is usually what keeps people from attending the BSA’s Marketing/PR Wizards meetings. This month, for a change, it was the draw.

The conference room of HMFH Architects, with its modern aesthetic of precast concrete, accent walls, and expansive glass windows provided a half-step between our rustic past at 52 Broad Street and our soon-to-be home at BSA |space|.

The topic of “Proposals: Controlling The Chaos” brought forth many stories and a rich body of tips. The depth of proposal assembling expertise in the room was substantial. The open forum got underway with the people around the table raising a number of their current concerns, which included “time management”, “subcontractor management”, “data management”, and getting input from the principals and project managers who will be doing the work being proposed.

Whether the issue was managing time, data, people, or interruptions, one thing was clear; even the most experienced proposal jockeys live most of the time just this side of panic.

And, apparently, they like it.

Credit Co-chair Susan Elmore for remarking early on that “no matter how smart you are, no matter how thoughtful you are, no matter how systematized you are, it’s still a crap shoot whether your proposal will land you the job.” I’m not suggesting that she is advocating running around like a chicken with its head cut off. But, having said that, there is a healthy bit of suspicion of anything that takes time away from the chronically time-crunched.

When marketing job postings include phrases like “fast-paced environment”, “multiple interruptions”, “deadline-driven”, and “constantly shifting priorities”, the message is clear; slow and steady does not appear to win the race. When I hear these phrases, I don’t respond with enthusiasm: “Yes! Pick me! Stand me up on your treadmill!” Rather, I tend to respond with,”People, it doesn’t have to be this way!” At this meeting, I got the creeping sense that this belief may be wrong or naïve. Yes, I’ve cranked proposals out on deadlines. I’ve also shuddered when the finished proposal falls short of the greatness I had imagined for it.

Can proposal chaos be tamed? Or is it so inherent to the task of winning business as to be ineradicable?

While there are many external forces of chaos that can only be anticipated and managed around, there are several forces of chaos inside your firm that are within your control. When you contain these, you will then have sufficient time to turn out a solid proposal every time, and you will not misspend the time you gain reacting from stress and panic.

In my next few posts, I’ll be talking about these manageable factors, and sharing more takeaways from the December Marketing/PR Wizards meeting. Stay tuned!

Add Your Comments: What is the biggest part of your proposal chaos? What keeps you working late, skipping lunch, or continually working all the way up to the last allowable minute?

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