The ultimate guide to a proposal manager career: Role, skills and resources
The ultimate guide to a proposal manager career: Role, skills and resources
Being a proposal manager is unlike any other role. Indeed, if you think about it, the position is an exercise in opposites. For instance, proposal managers work with almost every department, giving them a big-picture perspective. However, when they respond to RFPs, they must pay attention to every little detail. In addition, the role is often exciting and fast-paced when creating a win strategy and composing a proposal. On the other hand, proposal managers frequently answer the same routine questions over and over again.
Consequently, the proposal manager role requires a unique set of skills. However, for those who can balance the responsibilities of the role, becoming a proposal manager is a rewarding job. It is a great career starting point for some, while others make it a satisfying life-long career. Regardless, proposal managers play a key role in their organization’s success.
In this blog, we’ll define what a proposal manager is including their job description, responsibilities and key skills. Then, we’ll discuss proposal professional titles and their earning potential. Finally, we’ll offer advice for anyone looking to become a proposal manager as well as useful tools and resources for ongoing career development.
A proposal manager is the person in a business responsible for responding to requests for proposals (RFPs). They manage the proposal process including task delegation, response editing and submission.
In some businesses, the proposal manager may go by other titles including proposal coordinator, RFP analyst, bid manager and RFP manager. Depending on the size of the business, there may be only one proposal manager or many.
What does a proposal manager do?
The proposal manager is the main point of contact for incoming RFPs. They work with a proposal team composed of contributors from multiple departments. Most proposals will include team members in sales, marketing, business development, finance, legal, IT and subject matter experts (SMEs) from various areas of the business.
Admittedly, there are a lot of duties and responsibilities that go into their work. But, put simply, the proposal manager is responsible for creating proposals that win new business.
Who does the proposal manager report to?
Generally, a proposal manager in a small- or medium-sized business reports to the director of sales, marketing or business development. However, in large or enterprise organizations, the proposal team likely reports to an executive in finance or revenue management.
Proposal manager job description: Responsibilities, challenges and skills
The proposal manager job description varies from one business to another. The duties will change based on the size of the business, number of proposal team members and industry. However, they always contains a variety of responsibilities that contribute to the overall goal of winning new RFP opportunities. As a proposal manager works to create compelling RFP responses, they may face some common challenges. Luckily, their unique skill set enables them to solve these challenges, improve efficiency and ensure success. Let’s explore each of these topics in more detail.
Tight deadlines and a lack of urgency from others involved in the process
Translating sales feedback and the capture management plan into actionable insights
Confusion during the proposal process
Disorganized or difficult to find proposal content
Slow responses from subject matter experts who juggle other responsibilities
Long hours as deadlines for important RFPs approach
Proposal manager skills
Anyone thinking about becoming a proposal manager should consider the necessary skill set. In addition to general business knowledge, proposal managers must master three key practices: knowledge management, proposal project management and data analytics. Furthermore, the ability to facilitate collaboration, encourage creative problem solving and navigate conflict are also valuable skills.
Hiring a proposal professional is certainly an investment for any business. However, the value that a dedicated proposal manager delivers is clear. Indeed, they bring order to the RFP response process, ensure better proposals and enable the business to answer even more RFPs.
When it comes to proposal management, salaries vary widely based on the industry, company size, location and level of experience and education. It’s also worth noting that many recruiters say that a culture fit, trainability and talent is just as important as experience. In addition, for those just starting out, there’s a clear path from entry-level positions to advanced titles and potentially executive roles.
Entry-level proposal positions
Many proposal managers didn’t start out in the field. Often, proposal managers are internal hires plucked from savvy candidates in sales, marketing or administration roles. These professionals may jump straight into their role as a proposal manager, or they may begin in an entry-level role.
As the title implies, the proposal coordinator is responsible for facilitating the proposal process. For instance, they work together with sales, product development, marketing and other departments to create a proposal that addresses the prospect’s concerns. Often, they are in charge of following up with internal contributors, finding previous answers and editing the proposal.
A proposal specialist is responsible for conducting research, articulating key differentiators and writing responses that address the customer’s needs. In addition, they request help from SMEs, customize answers to focus on the customer’s needs and ensure consistency and compliance throughout the proposal.
As you might suspect, the proposal writer is primarily responsible for a proposal’s content. They are experts at turning general ideas and concepts into well-constructed, polished answers. Indeed, they verify that each answer is complete and relates back to the stated needs and goals. The proposal writer is particularly good at helping the buyer picture themselves as a customer and highlighting differentiators throughout the proposal. Finally, they ensure that the proposal tells an engaging story from beginning to end.
With a few years of experience and growth, entry-level positions may advance to a role with more responsibility.
In addition to managing the RFP response process, the proposal manager also executes the organization’s RFP strategy. They also collaborate with various contributing departments, explore process optimization and proactively manage the organization’s knowledge library. Often, the proposal manager captures feedback on both won and lost opportunities and provides recommendations to the business.
In organizations with multiple proposal managers, a senior proposal manager is responsible for leading special projects, taking on high-stakes RFPs and administering RFP technology. Additionally, they focus on high-level management of proposal projects. In this role they typically direct a team including a proposal coordinator, proposal writer and graphic designer.
Proposal director and vice president of proposal operations
While they are somewhat rare, there are executive proposal positions in large organizations. For example, you’ll find titles like proposal director and vice president of proposal operations. These roles lead multiple proposal teams divided by products or regions and provide insight that may influence business strategy. Typically, executive proposal professionals report directly to a chief revenue officer or chief financial officer.
Advice, tools and resources for career development
Whether you’ve just started your proposal career, or you’ve been in the industry for years, there are always new things to learn. Fortunately, the proposal industry is full of helpful peers willing to share their advice and experience. In addition, there are countless resources for ongoing career development. So, remember to make time to hone your skills and connect with others.
3 tips for new proposal managers
1. Build a rapport with subject matter experts
SMEs play a major role in answering RFPs. Consequently, they are one of your most valuable resources. Accordingly, it’s important to build a connection with them and maintain a good working relationship.
To work effectively with SMEs, you must determine the best approach. Because SMEs juggle their own full-time role as well as helping with RFP responses, communicating solely through email is often inefficient.
Ways to collaborate with subject matter experts:
Conduct SME interviews and transcribe their answers into the proposal
Have the SMEs write answers and submit them to you for editing
Write answers yourself and send them all to the SME for review
As the proposal manager, part of your job is to be the customer’s advocate throughout the RFP response. As you review answers and build the proposal, ask yourself, ‘Does this information help the client? Is it relevant, necessary and timely?’
Ensure responses center around and address customer benefits and goals
Provide references, case studies and data that illustrates the results the prospective customer can expect
3. Invest time in your proposal content library
Finally, perhaps the most important thing a proposal manager can do to ensure success is to build and maintain a proposal content library. Far too many businesses waste time reinventing the wheel when they respond to an RFP. As a result, the process is slow and frustrating for everyone involved.
Proposal content library best practices:
Use the library to answer as many questions as possible before sending the proposal to SMEs
Store your knowledge library in a searchable system and organize your content using tags and hierarchies
Conduct regular reviews to update answers, remove duplicates and ensure content accuracy
Tools and resources for career development
There’s no doubt that proposal managers have a lot of responsibilities to juggle as they manage complex projects. Luckily, there are a lot of excellent RFP response tools and resources that can make the job far easier. Here are three resource suggestions for proposal professionals at any stage in their career.
As technology advances throughout many businesses, proposal software experience is in high demand. Indeed, it is now common to see job descriptions that express a preference for candidates with the skills to manage these RFP software platforms.
It should come as no surprise that our pick for the best proposal software is RFP360. As the only full-circle RFP management solution, the platform applies a holistic approach to solving common RFP challenges. With a focus on ease of use, scalability and efficiency, RFP360 delivers value to your proposal process quickly.
Staying up to date on industry events and advancements is an important part of any successful proposal career. Consequently, membership in a professional association delivers benefits that are worth exploring.
The Association of Proposal Management Professionals is the leading professional association in the bid and proposal industry. The organization has a global reach as well as individual, regional chapters. Accordingly, they host frequent in-person and remote webinars, events and meetings. In addition, APMP offers countless resources for expanding your knowledge and exploring best practices.
When you have a question, are facing a process roadblock or looking for a new opportunity, peers in the industry can offer help. Generally speaking, the bid and proposal industry is friendly and welcoming to all — there’s always someone who is willing to help out.
With more than 9,000 members, the RFP Professionals group is a great place to crowdsource information, connect with other passionate professionals and keep an eye on trends and opportunities.
Problem solve challenges by brainstorming with peers
Explore new proposal technology, processes and data analysis
Learn about new job opportunities
As a proposal manager, you’ll gain experience in both sales and marketing while learning from professionals throughout the business. In addition, thanks to the direct impact proposal managers have on revenue, your work will be highly visible to the executive team, enabling you to make a name for yourself. Truly, the opportunities available to a proposal manager are endless — but what you do with them is up to you.
Originally published October 30, 2018 — Updated May 20, 2021