Lessons Learned – 4 Key Steps to Setting Up a New Proposal Shop

I have been a proposal professional now for more than 10 years. Though I have stayed in the proposal field, I have changed industries multiple times, having worked in four different industries. As a result, I have learned something new with each position, but even more so, I started to see trends and tricks to what works in proposals across all industries.

In the past three years (and more), I have been able to apply these tricks and trends to building two global proposal programs and a grants program. I have learned some key tricks and skills to help develop a successful proposal process and program.

People First

In proposals, we are told that our ability to create that emotional connection with the potential customer is key to them wanting to purchase our product. We must remember to build those relationships internally as well.

Daily, the role of a proposal professional depends on other teams and individuals being able to step up and help supply content, bringing us opportunities, or establishing that relationship with the customer that provides us insights that our competitors may not have. With each of the teams that we interact with daily, it is essential to remember that they are people first. Their job and role are something that they do.

It is very easy to become so focused on the process or getting the information that we neglect the human factor. However, just taking that extra minute or less to start an email with ‘Hope you had a good weekend’ or ‘How are you?’ can make all the difference. Those simple phrases continue to build on the relationship you are trying to develop, creating an emotional/approachable connection.


This can’t be stressed enough. Even when you are feeling harried or starting a new role with information overload from all the training, listening to those you work with is essential. Listening is how you are going to:

  • Establish and create lasting relationships
  • Identify current and future pain points
  • Create internal buy-in
  • Expand your program’s reach
  • Develop an environment that fosters inclusivity and winning practices

The first thing I do when I enter a new environment (after the mandatory training) where there hasn’t been a proposal professional or team before is to set up meetings with the SME, Legal, Finance, and Sales leaders.

These meetings are essential to setting the tone for what you do and how you are there to help support and make the lives of their teams easier. Once you have that initial relationship and had a chance to gather their feedback on the current state and what they would like to see in the future, you can ask to join a team meeting. These team members will be those down in the trenches with you on a proposal. They will have critical insights, feedback, and continual development of your processes and programs.

Make yourself available to key stakeholders (but not too available)

In my current position, the team held back on letting the broader company know that I had started but still introduced me to key individuals I would be working with regularly to establish a rapport– from their perspective and mine. This was amazing!

It allowed me to spend the first three months in my new position learning the current state and the major pain points without fielding multiple requests for proposal assistance. It allowed me to build those key relationships and establish a direction for the program based on need. Once I had the key direction and specific milestones I planned to hit over the following six months, I was introduced to the rest of my colleagues across the company.

By making introductions on a gradual basis and prioritizing those introductions by need, I was able to achieve further buy-in to the program by providing fundamental guidelines and accountability for the program.

Track Everything

Proving effectiveness or demonstrating milestones for new proposal programs can be difficult. For the continued success and buy-in of the program, you need to prove that you are taking steps forward, no matter how slow it may seem. To help with this, I suggest you try tracking:

  • Meetings with department heads, department contributors, and team members
  • Your notes – Highlighting the key takeaways from what you have learned or gathered for the day can provide a great way to track any progress or information gathering
  • Current state – as you learn the ropes, start tracking where things are currently. Having a rough map of where things are when you start to where they are in six months is great for promoting buy-in.
  • Record the recurring questions you get asked – These can help guide future training and approaches.
  • Suggestions for quick improvements – tracking recurring trends to help build out a process plan
  • Pain points – These will evolve as the program does, and it is good to see how far things have come

These four recommendations have helped me find my way through the surplus of information that is thrown at you when you first step into a new role, and I hope they help you too!

Join the Conversation