Winning the Business

The Dreaded Question: What Do You Do?

Defining a proposal manager to a non-proposal manager

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When I meet someone new, I dread the inevitable question: “What do you do?” It has been hard to answer this question in a way that doesn’t result in blank stares or a confused “Oh, um, that sounds nice.”

In the past, I have tried to come up with more exciting titles and then fake my way through the subsequent 10 minutes. “What do I do? Well, I am a [puppeteer, bike courier, nail polish namer, or a handful of other jobs that will result in more interesting conversation with the individual for the next several minutes].”

Because the proposal team is responsible for creating and producing the proposals, a proposal writer … is in a unique situation to gain face time with management.

Instead of dreading this question and the blank stares that tend to follow, I’ve realized that I should use this opportunity to proudly say, “I am a proposal writer, and you should want to be one, too. Here are the reasons why:”

  • Become an instant expert. When a new RFP comes into my company, it provides me with the opportunity to research the potential client and learn about its culture, products, history, and needs. Over a period of days, I need to become an “expert” on its pain points and what makes it unique. As someone who enjoys research and learning new things, I like that this keeps my job interesting and constantly changing.
  • Work closely with company leadership. The decision to pursue a potential client is made by a company’s leadership. Because the proposal team is responsible for creating and producing the proposals, a proposal writer—even one who is relatively new to a company—is in a unique position to present to and advise management. In most other roles within a company, an individual probably would not have this type of opportunity with leadership until he or she is several years into the position.
  • Gain a valuable skill set. A good proposal writer must be adept in numerous areas—serving as a good communicator and team player, implementing extensive planning and coordinating, and being attentive to details. Being a proposal writer provides you with a valuable and marketable skill set that lends itself well to future endeavors.
  • Be a matchmaker. At the heart of it, I am a matchmaker connecting my service-providing company with clients who need those services. A question I always ask myself is, “What kind of relationship is this company looking for—an adviser or a service provider?” Based on this and other questions I ask the RFP author, I then draft a message to connect the two companies. By controlling the message, proposal writers also are the gatekeepers of the image their companies present to potential clients. If successful, two companies will have been brought together, and everyone enjoys being a matchmaker.

A good proposal writer must be adept in numerous areas—serving as a good communicator and team player, implementing extensive planning and coordinating, and being attentive to details.

Being a proposal writer means I learn new things every day. I develop relationships with the leadership of the firm. I show clients how we can meet their needs. I help the company grow. And I do it with skills that are valuable in many roles beyond that of a proposal writer. The next time I am asked, “What do you do?” these statements will be part of my answer. And they should be part of yours, too.


Nicole A. Shaffer, CF APMP, is the marketing manager at Baker Newman Noyes, a top 100 accounting firm with offices throughout New England. She can be reached at nshaffer@bnncpa.com.

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