Finding Your Next Great Proposal Professional

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Diversity is key to building high-performing teams. Proposal teams are no different. If your entire team is comprised of marketers and sales personnel, it may be a bit homogeneous. Sure, they can craft a compelling message, but can they present that message in an aesthetically pleasing layout that improves the evaluator’s experience? Do they use dynamic cross-references and hyperlinked bookmarks to help evaluators quickly find applicable content? What about using the advanced features in the chosen tool to maximize efficiency and improve consistency? For instance, do they use variables to create dynamic content assets and paragraph styles for efficient, centralized control over formatting?

If you answered no to any of these questions, you may want to consider adding a good technical writer to your proposal team. An accomplished technical writer who knows the advanced features of your proposal team’s tool set can improve the overall quality of your proposals and your team’s efficiency. Better efficiency means more capacity to produce proposals, which usually translates into more wins and higher revenue.

When I say an “accomplished technical writer,” I’m talking about the kind of writer who designs templates, crafts single-source solutions and improves departmental efficiency through streamlined processes.

Here are eight reasons why technical writers can be excellent candidates for proposal writing and management.

1. Good technical writing involves making the user’s experience as easy as possible with user-friendly design principles, such as:

    • Well-organized, structured content that leads the reader through complex ideas in a hierarchical fashion
    • Relevant cross-references
    • Indexes that make it easy to find the right content

This skill set transfers well to proposals, as you want to ease the burden on evaluators who have to comb through hundreds or thousands of pages of content and have to compare your responses to those of your competitors.

2. The analysis skills that a good technical writer uses every day are the same skills a proposal manager employs in planning proposal activities. The first step in a solicited proposal requires analyzing the solicitation document (RFP, RFQ, etc.) to contribute to the bid/no-bid decision, develop the skeleton of your response and your compliance matrix, and define your win themes. These activities are similar to analyzing user interfaces and design documents to develop the skeleton of a user manual and determining what will be confusing to the end users. When working on custom solution proposals, writers also get to put on their business analysis hats, providing input and feedback to the solutioning team, which is fairly similar to the interactions a technical writer has with a development/engineering team.

3. Quick adaptation is another tech writing skill that transfers well. Technical writers quickly learn domain knowledge, technical writing technology, development technology and the product itself. With proposal solicitations, proposal managers digest hundreds of pages of documentation to gain a clear picture of the buyer’s needs, desires and pain points. They also research laws, regulations or industry norms as well as alternatives to the proposed solution and potential competitors. Even if some of this research is done before the solicitation is received, there is still a great deal of spin up in a short time period.

4. Many technical writers are accustomed to working under tight deadlines, especially in waterfall projects. When development and testing run long, the technical writing phase is compressed so the delivery date doesn’t slip. Tight deadlines are also a fact of life in proposals, as every solicitation comes with a buyer-specified due date that generally requires a tight turn.

5. The tool sets for technical writing and proposal writing are similar, if not the same. Proposal writers often work in Microsoft Word and use tools such as Visio, Photoshop, Illustrator and Acrobat. Even if your company uses other tools, most publishing software offers similar functionality, so migrating from the technical writing stack to the proposal stack is easy.

6. Illustration is another transferable skill. Good technical writers create visuals that convey complex information in graphical format. Proposals that contain illustrations such as infographics score better. While your marketers probably possess mad graphics skills, it doesn’t hurt to have another team member who can add value here.

7. The project management skills that senior technical writers use to develop the work breakdown structures and schedules for projects are also used in managing proposals. As a proposal manager, you must determine all the tasks needed to complete the proposal, what resources you need and how to keep the team moving.

8. Writing and editing, the fundamental skills of technical writing, are the same skills needed for proposal writing. Though voice and style differ, a good writer will have no problem acclimating.

We added an award-winning technical writer to our team and experienced a 400% increase in productivity in the first year. We’ve achieved a 67% average win rate (over the past six years) and an average technical score of 95 (out of 100). Our revenue grew from $8 million in 2013 to over $19 million in 2019. We’ve also received compliments from procurement personnel on the quality of our proposals. While these metrics are attributable to many factors, such as successful delivery, quality personnel and excellent IT solutions, we can say that adding the technical writing skill set to the team has improved the quality and quantity of our proposals.

While marketers and sales personnel bring capture, persuasion and conversion knowledge to the proposal team, a good technical writer can add value by applying technical writing best practices to improve the aesthetics and usability of your proposals. The right technical writer can apply single-source strategies to build dynamic, reusable content assets and comprehensive templates to improve your team’s efficiency and consistency.

So, the next time you’re hiring a new proposal team member, consider casting a wider net to include technical writers.

Jessica Davis, CF APMP, is the proposal manager at Kunz, Leigh & Associates, a Michigan-based custom software development and professional services company. Davis was an award-winning technical writer for over 20 years before she transitioned into proposal management seven years ago.  She is a lifelong learner who enjoys continuously improving her craft.

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