The proposal relay race

Jun 18, 2018

Even with the long lead times, the proposal process can be stressful. Marketers have to own the process and enforce the schedule.

Some people describe the proposal process as a marathon while others consider it more of a sprint. The consensus probably lies somewhere in the middle, although too many times it feels like the 400-meter relay – with hurdles.

Even if your proposal timeline extends to a longer period or a quick turnaround, a comprehensive schedule is a must to ensure a successful submittal. After all, serious runners prepare detailed training itineraries for each race with specific goals at various milestones to deliver the strongest performance possible. Sound familiar?

Even with the longest lead time in history, the proposal process will feel contrived and stressful. As noted speaker Michael Altshuler said, “The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.” It is up to the marketing professional to own the process and develop and enforce a schedule. Here are some items to consider:

  • Starting blocks. Develop the schedule early on. Right out of the gate, the schedule should take precedence. The team needs to understand all the roles, responsibilities, and due dates. During the kickoff meeting, explain how important it is to be compliant and the impact it has on every step of the process.
  • Track shoes. Use multiple formats. There are specific track shoes for every runner out there and the same can be said about scheduling formats. Be as varied as possible and create bullet lists (or checklists), tables, calendar views, and Gantt charts, among others. The goal is to ensure that every team member truly understands the proposed schedule. The content is the same, so it should not take a lot of time to cater to several preferences and achieve buy-in.
  • Baton. Explain the hand offs. Several tasks in the proposal process will happen concurrently, but there are specific phases that function as the laps on a relay race. Be as dramatic as possible when explaining that every phase is equally important: strategizing/planning, development, reviews, production, and submittal. Use horror stories to describe how rushing the production and submittal phases can create dreadful situations. For example, primary and backup printers breaking down when you waited to print on the last day; mailing a proposal for the U.S. Postal Service through FedEx; or having car trouble when hand delivering a proposal right down to the wire.
  • Hurdles. Promote flexibility. Schedules are not static, so be prepared to edit as you progress, and use as many bells and whistles as needed to make team members aware of shifts in due dates and/or responsibilities. David Stearman, a respected proposal professional, says that we should “resist the urge to immediately compress (or eliminate) key tasks at the beginning or end of the process; and that instead, we should compress the time for writing and reviewing.” Proper planning is essential to craft a winning submittal. Most of the errors occur during the production/submittal phases, so it makes sense not to cut into their allotted terms. The time to sit down to write and review a proposal presents more flexibility.

Proposal schedules go beyond listing the due dates specified in the solicitation and agreed upon dates with the proposal team. These living documents should function as clear snapshots of milestones, but also as agile tools to track detailed tasks, allowing the coordinator to adjust steps along the way. As the late author Stephen Covey said, “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.”

As the dedicated runner plans his training to focus on his primary areas of concern, the proposal manager uses schedules to maintain the proper pace that allows every step in the proposal process to be addressed properly. Put on your track shoes and start running your proposal.

Javier Suarez is the central marketing and sales support manager with Geosyntec Consultants. Contact him at

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