Industry experts’ proposal war stories and lessons learned – Part 3 of 4

What do two or more capture and proposal folks inevitably talk about when we get together – our latest war stories, of course!

Just like ants and bees go back to their nests and hives and share information with their peers, I think the sharing of war stories at every capture/proposal gathering is some sort of subliminal survival mechanism in this profession.

I recently asked a number of my colleagues to share their favorite war stories – and tell us what they learned from the experience. Here is part 3 of my 4-part series on capture and proposal war stories.

  • Over the years we’ve seen people suffer serious health issues, buildings be struck by lightning, FedEx packages go missing, and weather-related apocalypses. The best advice I can take from all of these is to leave extra time; never ever push final production or delivery until the last minute! –Colleen Jolly, Principal, 24 Hour Company
  • We had a bid that required a significant number of past performance references. The project managers all verified their government Contracting Officer’s Representative’s (COR) would provide an outstanding reference. We submitted the proposal and got outstanding technical, management, personnel, and cost scores from the client. However, one of the references turned out to be less than stellar and we lost the contract. The moral of this story is to verify any past performance reference you submit is outstanding and can earn top scores. –Brenda Crist, APMP Fellow and Principal Consultant at Lohfeld Consulting Group
  • A long, long time ago, I had to ship a proposal to Italy. The FedEx truck in Italy carrying the proposal was hijacked and robbed! We had to get a statement from FedEx to prove the proposal was on the truck and let the customer know! Fortunately, the customer allowed us to resubmit! Always track the packages and plan for contingencies. –Deborah Brooks, Sr. Regional Bid Manager, TATA Communications
  • You need to have hobbies and outside interests to balance proposal work: one of mine is quilting. Knowing about the tools and techniques for cutting fabric saved the day on a proposal we did in a small town. It was Friday evening, and the DTP lead did not have his normal tools for cutting binder cover and spine inserts for the proposal that was due on Monday. All the local office supply stores had closed for the weekend. I went to the local Walmart and purchased a rotary cutter set intended for cutting fabric for patchwork quilts; showed him how to use the rotary cutter, ruler, and mat; and he successfully cut the cover inserts so that all was ready on Monday morning when we delivered. –Pat Cosimano, Owner of Pat Cosimano Wins LLC
  • Know when to stop. Proposals will fill up all the time available – but you have to know when to stop and allow time to produce and deliver. My favorite delivery was one where the contracting officer waited outside the building for me to sign the receipt – because the time stamp would have marked me as late. We let the writers push the ability to edit and produce – and I never let that happen again! Now I stop the writers and do an orderly production. –Brooke Crouter, Principal Consultant, Lohfeld Consulting Group

What lessons learned stand out in your mind? What would you share with someone new (or experienced) in the capture and proposal field? Send an email to me at with your lessons learned, and I’ll share your advice in upcoming posts!