Proposal Plus: Making Your Mark Beyond the Proposal

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The job title says “proposal writer,” but does your job end when the proposal goes out the door?

The proposal is just a blip — perhaps an inflection point — on a wide continuum. Whether you win or lose that one opportunity, the customer relationship continues.

Apply a broad perspective. Think about the true scope of sales support. Your duty is to the customer. Do you merely owe them a proposal, or do you have a role and a voice in the larger relationship? Ask yourself: “How can I boost my team ‘outside the document’?” What about:

  • Helping them draft questions for the customer?
  • Sharing insights and findings from ongoing research?
  • Learning what approach the team prefers for future proposals?

You’re only limited by your imagination and the number of hours in the day. Beyond the proposal, there are myriad ways you can make a positive impression on your internal and external client. Put your gifts to good effect. Apply a “proposal plus” philosophy.

Ask the customer good questions. Don’t overlook or shortchange the Q&A portion of the process. It’s like not asking questions in an interview or on a date — it’s all part of the courtship, evidence of interest. It shows you’re attentive, engaged, adept. Good questions manifest your company’s credibility and intelligence (a showcase for smarts) and can prove critical in scoring the info you need to frame a proper response. The questions you ask may be as important as the answers you receive.

Keep the sales team informed. After the proposal, don’t stop doing your homework. The salesperson may balk at contacting the customer: “I have nothing new to say. It’ll seem like I’m needlessly hounding them.” When the salesperson has the latest news story on their customer (or their customer’s competitor or industry), it gives them a reason to reach out. And, in any context, your sales team shines when they’re well-read and news-fluent.

Get feedback from the team. When the proposal is submitted and the proverbial dust has settled, survey your team on what worked well — and not so well — in preparing the proposal. What could you have done differently? And how could the team more effectively work with you? If nothing else, a debrief builds rapport and sends the message you’re willing to listen and intent on improving, which paves the way for a better proposal experience.

So what defines your role? Doing your job means adding value but, to a great extent, you determine how you add value. The proposal is only a fragment, a piece of a bigger puzzle. How can you shape your company’s overall response to the customer? Not to steal any thunder from JFK, but instead of asking, “What should I do?” ask, “What needs to be done?”

Here are a few things you can do:

  • Be rigorous. Apply high standards at every step (the quality imprint). Like a personal trainer, push the team to give their individual and collective best. To that end, ask them good questions; expect them to ask good questions of the customer.
  • Like an account manager, you are managing that customer relationship. All the customers you’ve worked with represent your portfolio. Post-proposal, your connection with and commitment to them shouldn’t wane. There is no expiration date.
  • The customer is your patient. They don’t become a non-patient once they leave your office. Why wouldn’t you monitor their progress and, when called for, intervene and advise? To fuel your teams, keep them in the know. Spend 10 minutes each week Googling and gathering updates.

Keep in mind that “doing more” doesn’t have to mean “doing double.” It’s about changing habits and shifting perspective — recognizing the many benefits of going beyond. With every extra value-add, you’re helping the team and you’re also helping yourself. Crafting questions, doing research, following up and refining can make your job more refreshing, enriching and fulfilling. And there’s always the argument for altruism: You feel better by simply educating and elevating others.

Your influence and expertise aren’t confined to the proposal. Extend your efforts. At the risk of sounding like an inspirational poster (“Strive!”), be daring and creative. Remember: With the account team and the customer, this is an ongoing partnership, not a one-time project. Embrace an expansive “proposal plus” mindset.


John Brien, CF APMP, has held writing positions at Accenture, Watson Wyatt (now Willis Towers Watson) and McGraw-Hill. He is currently a senior proposal writer at CDW, a Fortune 500 Future 50 company.

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