Proposal managers play a key role in their organization’s success. They help win new business, work closely with leadership and subject matter experts (SMEs), and develop a deep understanding of their clients and prospects.
But what exactly does their career path look like? In this blog, we’ll explore where proposal managers get their start, their responsibilities, what senior-level positions they can rise to, their average salary, and advice for those who wish to pursue this career path.
Proposal Managers’ Responsibilities
According to JobHero, “a proposal manager’s core duty is to ensure that all of the company’s proposals are fully executed from start to finish. This involves coordinating the proposal process, preparing the actual proposals and presenting them to clients. Proposal managers often work on tight deadlines, and have to delegate tasks required to complete a proposal, such as writing, editing, and other efforts associated with the process.”
Put simply, a proposal manager’s primary responsibility is crafting a strategy for responding to requests for proposals (RFPs).
They ensure each proposal addresses all of the prospect’s biggest concerns by collaborating with SMEs, as well as the product, marketing, and sales teams to develop an overarching proposal messaging strategy.
Additional responsibilities may include:
- Managing a proposal team.
- Conducting market research.
- Assisting with marketing collateral.
- Maintaining a proposal database.
- Prioritizing RFPs.
- Acting as point of contact for prospects.
Because RFP responses play such a strong part in winning new deals, proposal managers often enjoy a well-respected, rewarding position at their company.
The average proposal manager makes just under $95,000 — with low-end salaries coming in at $66,000 and high-end salaries coming in at $127,000.
Those who reach the level of senior proposal manager can expect to earn around $112,000 — $79,000 at the low end and $149,000 at the high end.
Entry-level positions – Proposal managers often start out as a proposal specialist, proposal coordinator, or proposal writer.
Where proposal managers are strategic — researching and defining messaging directions — proposal specialists are tactical. They are responsible for writing and editing responses, requesting help from SMEs, and working with marketing to make the proposal presentable.
Proposal specialists earn between $40,000 and $76,000, with an average salary of about $57,000.
According to Learn.org, “a proposal coordinator is responsible for establishing a company’s guidelines, vision, and financial outline for completed proposals.”
As the title implies, they are primarily responsible for coordinating the proposal process — working with sales, product, marketing, and other departments to create a proposal that addresses their prospect’s concerns.
Proposal coordinators earn between $45,000 and $80,000, with an average salary of about $60,500.
According to Monster, a proposal writer “prepares proposals by determining concept; gathering and formatting information; writing drafts; obtaining approvals.”
They are primarily responsible for a proposal’s content, ensuring it properly answers their prospect’s questions and gives them the best chance of winning a new deal.
Proposal writers earn between $40,000 and $90,000, with an average salary of about $60,000.
The most fortunate proposal managers can look forward to a position as a proposal director … but this isn’t exactly a commonly available position.
Proposal directors normally work in large organizations that have multiple proposal teams overseeing specific products or regions. Proposal directors earn an average of $132,000 — with a low-end salary of $93,000 and a high-end salary of $153,000.
So now that you understand what proposal managers do, where they get their start, where they can expect to grow, and how much they can expect to earn, how do you set yourself up for success in this role?
One of the most important things a proposal manager can do is learn how to work effectively with SMEs. This means understanding their role to ensure you know exactly what you can and cannot expect from them.
SMEs will play a major role in helping you answer RFP questions, but you have to decide how you will gather their responses. Options include:
- Conducting SME interviews
- Having SMEs write answers and editing them
- Writing answers yourself and asking SMEs to review
Another key part of being a successful proposal manager is learning how to alleviate prospects’ fears. This usually comes down to:
- Demonstrating a clear understanding of their needs and concerns.
- Answering all RFP questions clearly and honestly.
- Providing relevant documentation of internal processes and procedures.
- Focusing proposal content on results.
- Providing proof of your claims.
Successful proposal managers will also avoid common mistakes. For example, many proposal managers fall into the trap of thinking every RFP is worth pursuing.
That’s not true.
You need to develop a process to understand how likely you are to win and how profitable a deal would be to determine whether the pursuit makes good business sense.
Finally, perhaps the most important thing a proposal manager can do to ensure success is organizing proposal content. Too many organizations reinvent the wheel every time they respond to an RFP — which causes frustration for everyone involved.
Beverly Blakely Jones, National Geographic Learning | Cengage supervisor experienced this first-hand.
“It all came to a head as managers kept getting kickback,” she said. “The product SMEs and marketing team were tired of answering the same questions over and over. They knew there had to be an easier way to manage our RFP responses. Fortunately, after implementing RFP360 — the only end-to-end RFP management solution on the market today — her team was able to eliminate that issue. “I’m amazed by how much easier this is,” Beverly said. “Not only for the person putting the RFP together, but for all the people answering the questions.”