Tutorials and resources for proposal writing and business development

Doing Things Manually vs. Using Proposal Software

I’m used to “parachuting” into various proposal situations where you have no idea what tools and resources a company will have to work with. In most cases, you can count on them not having any specialized proposal software. I’ve always thought that being a somewhat talented geek I could kludge together a manual method for doing just about anything that proposal software does for you. But I think that is missing the point…

What many people want from proposal software is to push a button and have it spit out a proposal. If we think about it we realize that’s probably not possible, but programmers have done surprising things with software before, so we keep hoping someone has figured out a way. Not only has this not happened, but it will never happen. That’s because a good proposal isn’t driven by a template, it’s driven by what you know about the customer. You can’t fill in the blanks because the computer can’t anticipate all the differences in what different customers want to see in a proposal. It would be nice, but it’s not happening.

One of the things I’ve learned about proposal software is that the real value is not in what it can do for you as an individual, but what it can do for you when working with other people. The real value is in making collaboration pay off better by making collaboration easier. The most difficult aspect of managing a proposal is not doing your part, it’s getting good results out of other people.

When I tell a proposal author, “here is your assignment” and when I need it completed by, I’m usually already planning for it to be late and have to problems. A lot of times instead of the completed section, you’ll get a report about a problem they ran into or a question they need answered. Then you have to email the files to the author and wait for them to be emailed back.

When I do the same thing in a proposal software package like Privia by SpringCM, they receive their assignment with the files. When the assignment is complete they click a button and it is forwarded to the next person who needs the file — instantly. If they have a problem or a question along the way, there is an instant message tool they can use so that it doesn’t hold things up. If they need more information or want to look up something that should be in the proposal file library, they can do it themselves in minutes. They don’t have to wait for someone in the proposal department to do it for them. Every time they log in, they get reminded of their deadlines. The odds of getting an assignment completed on time go way up.

This is especially helpful when dealing with subject matter experts and reviewers. When you need a small contribution from someone with a particular expertise, or someone to review, comment on, or approve a write-up, it doesn’t have to take 24 hours to turn it around. They have access to it as soon as you send it, regardless of where they are physically located. They don’t have to go somewhere or do anything special to play their part. They just open the file, do what is needed, and click the button. As soon as they do it gets forwarded to the next person.

Along the way, Privia is doing all the coordination for you in real time. You know exactly where each assignment is and what will happen next. If you have a question or suggestion for an author, you can also use the instant messaging feature to send it to them.

You can do all that coordination manually. You can send guidance with the assignments. You can send files from your proposal library. With enough effort, you can maintain configuration management even though copies of files spread through an email system like a virus.

The payoff for using software like Privia is that people spend more time working on the proposal, and less on coordination and logistics. The result is a better quality proposal, created in less time, at a lower cost.


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