Creating an Optimal Path for a Losing Proposal

Dear Proposal Doctor:

I am currently the proposal manager on what I believe to be a losing proposal. We have never met the customer and have no first hand insight to the customer’s requirements or hot buttons. Our technical architect has developed a solution that meets 75% of the customer’s requirements. My management is very enthusiastic about our chances of winning. What should I do?



Dear Troubled,

As proposal managers, we have to develop a range of skills and behaviors. Right now, your job is to learn to compartmentalize (not easy) so that you can take three steps:

  • State your position.
  • Get on with the show, because the show must go on.
  • Address the long term.

Here is what I mean.

First, if you have not already informed senior management that this should be a no-bid, you should state all the reasons why the company is probably wasting its money on this bid. Be clear, concise, and factual. Leave out the emotional dimension. Then put it behind you.

The second step is playing the hand you were dealt. Put your concerns aside and do the best you can, given the constraints of your situation. Actually, we all do this all the time, because every proposal has some kind of ridiculous constraint—it could be a page count, an inconsistent RFP, whatever. Our job is to live (and sometimes excel) within those constraints. So you really do have to forget about the first step once it is done.

Third, when this mess is over, you need to address the long term. Do you want to continue to work in an environment where you only do pop-up proposals? There are employers and clients who qualify deals and who know the customer. Be warned, however, that those tend to be the larger companies. Large companies come with their own baggage (internal reviews, burdensome processes). Life is about tradeoffs.

I hope this helps. Meanwhile, as the French say, courage!

Wendy Frieman, The Proposal Doctor