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Proposalstone: Life on the Homestead

"Nothing we do is for today.

Our only goal is to survive another season"



Kevin Costner says that line in Paramount's hit drama series "Yellowstone". The high-stakes drama really reminds me of proposals in several ways!


If you haven't seen the show, Wikipedia sums up the premise nicely: The series follows the Dutton family, owners of the largest ranch in Montana, the Yellowstone Dutton Ranch, commonly called "The Yellowstone". The plot revolves around family drama at the ranch and the bordering Broken Rock Indian Reservation, national park, and developers.


Truthfully, it was a the gorgeous scenery that sucked me in... Until I heard this. In the third episode, the main character is talking with one of his ranch hands and says:

"When are you ever going to learn that you can't run the ranch AND work the ranch?"


As Proposal Managers, it's common to encounter this implied way of thinking he's talking about - where you're expected to both run the proposal ranch (all of the operational duties to run a proposal shop) and work the proposal ranch (write and respond to all of the RFPs). That it's all somehow just part of the job.


I will posit this - it can all be part of the same job if you're not running a proposal ranch, and instead have an "artisanal urban proposal garden" in your side-yard.


It All Comes Down to Being Self-Sufficient


home·stead·ing /ˈhōmˌstediNG/ (noun): life as a settler on a homestead.


In Yellowstone, the main character is a sixth generation homesteader. I liked Wikipedia's description of homesteading and thought it was appropriate.


Homesteading is a vernacular term for a lifestyle of self-sufficiency. It is characterized by subsistence agriculture, home preservation of food, and may also involve the small scale production of textiles, clothing, and craft work for household use or sale.


See how it's not just producing the food? It's having the knowledge and labor to grow it, the plan and resources to preserve it, the ability to get it to the market and sell it, and additional skills and time to do a little bit of everything else as a bonus.


As a woman, I truly feel this common expectation when it comes to running a household. Women are typically not just doing the work inside a home, but managing the home and all it's inhabitants as well.


It's the same with proposal management. We're settlers in a new land, and we're commonly expected to do it all.


Working the Proposal Ranch


I first want to talk about how organizations get to the point where they realize they need proposal professionals. It's not because they decide one day that they want to build and run the largest "proposal ranch" in the United States - it's because they start doing so much work, that it's more than Sales and Marketing can handle in addition to their other duties.


 

For my next points, I will be referencing an article written by Kathryn Bennett for Loopio, Inc. - a proposal automation software solution. The key functionality of Loopio is:

  • Robust RFP content library capabilities

  • UX for importing proposal questionnaires to answer within the tool using the library

  • Virtual collaboration space to complete a response with multiple contributors

  • The ability to save new content developed during the response cycle

I point out that functionality to give context to the data they've collected. Those surveyed by Loopio are already using the above efficiency tools.

 

According to data in an article published by Loopio in 2021 Bid Team Structure: Research Reveals Top Roles and When to Hire, the average organization will bring on a dedicated proposal resource (a proposal manager or proposal writer) after one of two things happen:

  • The organization reaches 150 - 200 employees, or

  • The organization is handling about 75 RFP-related projects per year


Now, this is just what the data shows as happening in retrospect for the Loopio customers surveyed. In my experience, bullet #2 seems to be the common tipping point - and it's too late. That means your sales team is already doing 6 projects per month off the side of their desks - for the whole year.


The article also points out, that the average RFP response takes Loopio customers about 23 hours to complete. That's WITH their automation software and a populated content library, and in reality takes much longer to answer all of those questions (an average of 61 questions, according to the report) from scratch...


I'd wager that it takes four to five times longer without an automation tool and centralized, populated RFP content library. That's approximately 100 hours for each RFP, so at 75 RFP projects per year, that's 7,500 hours per year spent creating proposal responses.


So what does all this mean? It means that organizations wait until they're already doing the work of three to four proposal people before bringing on just one.


Running the Proposal Ranch


In an ideal world, an organization should bring on a dedicated proposal professional if you're doing about 2 RFP projects per month, or about 24 in a year. Again, if your sales team is spending 2400 hours a year on RFPs without any centralized processes or repository, it's time.


A single, proficient professional can not only respond to all of those RFPs, but can do the operational things to ensure the setup runs efficiently. They can begin to assemble a content repository, they can develop and manage a process from end-to-end, they can manage work flow and report on key metrics to inform the future.


This is what the "artisanal urban proposal garden" looks like. It's self-sufficient, organized, and balanced; delivering consistent, high-quality results.


It also allows the "Proposal Master Gardener" in question to have a high level of control over what goes out the door (and usually a lot of pride of ownership in their work), which is great when you have a really good one.



Beyond 35 RFP projects in a year, you're moving into a transitional area between a garden and a ranch. Your proficient "Master Proposal Gardener" is going to need help from at least one other person. They won't be able to manage every single thing alone. Something will have to give - either the quality will begin to go down, or operational duties will become periodic. Without additional help, they will move from being able to plan for the future, to just trying to keep up.


At 70+ RFP projects per year, you're going to need a small crew of 3 - 4 people for your growing RFP ranch. Your ranch hands will still have to be relatively self-sufficient, sharing the responsibility in working the ranch and running the ranch, at minimum.


At 100+ RFP projects per year, you have a bona fide proposal ranch. You need a dedicated leader to run the ranch from an operational standpoint, ensuring that the ranch hands have everything they need to keep working their respective areas of the proposal ranch (whether it's by role: writing, editing, managing, strategizing; or siloed by product line), and the ability to advocate and negotiate for their team with leadership.


Tips For Planning


Now that you know the difference between a "Proposal Garden" and a "Proposal Ranch", there's actually an easier way to know how much help you need to be competitive in proposals, rather than looking at volumes in retrospect. The Loopio article referenced above also collected data on team size, and I agree that it's a good rule of thumb. If your organization has:

  • 250 or more employees, you need a team of 4 proposal professionals

  • 500 to 5,000 employees, you need a team of 8 proposal professionals

  • 5,000+ employees, you need 12 or more proposal professionals


The Loopio article does a great job of outlining the different roles and responsibilities of the people on your proposal ranch, so I won't restate it here.



Life on Proposalstone is certainly full of drama and excitement; from just trying to survive, to strategizing around your competitors, to being part of something big and beautiful. It takes incredibly talented individuals, pulling together as a team to make it all work.

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