PlanGrid Construction Productivity Blog
A construction proposal manager guide

How Construction Proposal Managers Can Win RFPs and Manage Stress

How to Build Out Your Construction Proposal Template and Come Out on Top of the Competition

The day to day job of a construction proposal manager’s can feel like a frantic scramble to help make a substantial long-term impact on the bottom line for your company. Proposals and contract values can range from a few thousand dollars to a few hundred million (or more). It goes without saying that something that so heavily impacts your company’s profits can come with a significant amount of stress. Add in the fact that proposal teams are often given a short two-week window to respond to an RFP, creating additional barriers to success in the process.

With the franticness of proposal life in mind, we recently created a guide to help construction proposal managers navigate both the complexity and stress of RFPs. In our ebook, “The Ultimate Guide to Proposal Management and Interviews,” I draw from my firsthand experience as a construction proposal manager providing a detailed step-by-step guide to success.  

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To further understand the challenges of a typical construction proposal process, I also sat down to speak with Carolyne Shearer about her experience in the industry. As a Proposal Strategist with 30 years of experience in the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry, she identifies and implements proposal win strategies for must-win pursuits, working with in-house teams or independently. I wanted to hear what advice she had for those just starting out as a construction proposal manager and how seasoned professionals can refine their process.

How would you summarize the type of service you provide for an organization as a consultant?

I’m a proposal manager that’s focused on strategy design and implementation. Some companies hire me to write the management and approach sections of their proposals; others bring me in specifically to figure out the best way to win. I like working alongside a good proposal manager.

Do you have any advice for someone just starting out as a construction proposal manager or writer?

Most teams have high caliber people with excellent skill-sets, and their proposals turn out to be good. That being said, when you’re first starting out, you will need support wherever you can get it.

I’d get hooked up with an organization that provides training, such as the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS), Association of Proposal Management Professionals (APMP) or Capture Planning. There are all kinds of training available now: proposal management, capture management, graphics design. It’s fun stuff!

As a proposal professional, you need to validate:

  1. what you’re doing (the work processes you’re designing for yourself)
  2. the conclusions you’re reaching, and
  3. the resulting strategy/content you’re putting in your proposals.

If you’re missing support–start looking for your training team. If you’re brand new, make it priority number one.

As an example from my 30 years in AEC—In 1994 I was leading Brown and Caldwell’s western region proposal group. They sent five of us to Dag Knudsen’s proposal and presentation class. We were told his process would increase our chances of winning. I was excited because I really wanted to be able to use this process correctly. I then retook the class when it was offered in California. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to validate how well I was implementing the process I had learned–so I asked Dag himself to validate it for me and he was thrilled. I sent proposals through Dag until he told me I was a practitioner. After I became a consultant, I worked for Brown and Caldwell’s Seattle office on a series of must-win proposals that were so important they had brought in another outside consultant, which turned out to be Dag Knudsen himself!

What do most proposal teams struggle with?

Proposals always get pushed to the last minute, still, causing a flurry of panic.

No matter what proposal process or management system the team tries to enforce, they still receive technical material late, sometimes the input is incomplete, sometimes it’s cut and pasted from something “somewhat” similar, or a technical person has billable work that’s competing with your proposal section–and you’re late. Again.

Also, color team reviews* don’t add value. I often leave a color review unhappy. Comments are typically personal opinions that are not based on knowledge of the client’s requirements. Reviewers get focused on unimportant issues and don’t consider the items the team wanted to be validated in the first place.

*Author’s Note: Color team reviews are a long existing industry practice for reviewing and (hopefully) winning federal proposal efforts. A color (blue, pink, red, green and gold are typical) is assigned to each review. A large federal proposal may include as many as 6 or more formal color team reviews.

Do you have any advice for organizations on streamlining or bettering their proposal process?

Ditch the color teams. Move to an agile review process aimed at a specific goal.

We both know that managing proposals can be insane, with hard to meet deadlines. How do you manage the volatility of proposal work? When things get crazy, how can new (and seasoned) proposal professionals cope?

You just have to relax. Just let it be crazy, it’s [the volatility] only a matter of time. When you’re done, schedule a trip to Pismo Beach!

What other advice would you give to a proposal team or proposal manager?

Self-care and team care are so important. With crazy deadlines and long hours, it’s critical to take care of yourself and take care of each other. Proposal teams that don’t focus on this can suffer from burnout.

If you want to contact Carolyne to learn more, reach out to her via her website or LinkedIn.

Let’s Get Started

If you’re ready to get started out as a Proposal Manager, download our ebook titled, “The Ultimate Guide to Proposal Management and Interviews”.

Download Ebook

You can also download our checklist, “RFP Response Kickoff Meeting Checklist,” below:

Download Checklist

Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas is a Content Marketing Manager at PlanGrid. He develops PlanGrid’s content strategy and creates assets to educate their customers based on his experience working at Gilbane Building Co. and Truebeck Construction. He has more than six years of marketing experience and a Bachelor's Degree in Scientific and Technical Communication from Michigan Technological University.

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