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How to Be Part of the Proposal Deadline Solution

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Cheryl Smith



3 min

The proposal tasks have been out for a month and a few contributing subject matter experts are overdue. The next Review is in two days. So, it’s probably a good time to pick up the phone. What do we say?

If we start by reminding our colleagues about the deadline, they’ll probably tune us out. If we start by explaining the process, they’ll probably roll their eyes. If we start by reminding them about how strategic the deal is, we’ll probably be preaching to the choir.

When proposal tasks are riding the line between due and overdue, how do we effectively talk with our proposal team about deadlines? We change our tactics and approach our communications just like we do when we write a proposal; from their perspective.

Have Colleague-Centric Conversations

Unfortunately, from our team’s perspective, our proposal contributors also have full-time jobs. Despite reminder notifications and meetings, it’s easy to fall prey to distractions and go off-track on deadlines.

Resist the urge to open the call with a deadline reminder. No one likes to feel ambushed. Instead, begin like we would when writing our proposal; first try to understand their reality from their perspective. Is the project they are working on facing a tight deadline? Are they experiencing pressure from management? Are they picking up the slack for a sick colleague?

When we have a colleague-centric conversation, we focus on their challenges and goals, as well as their emotional stakes. This establishes an emotional connection that lowers barriers, and paves the way for a more effective dialogue about the deadline.

Ask Thoughtful Questions

Consider how we write a client-centric proposal; each answer resonates with their stakes, advancing our story, and helping evaluators imagine what the world will look like with our solution. The same is true when communicating with our proposal team about deadlines.
Resist the urge to remind them about the process. No one likes to be lectured on process. Instead, begin by asking a thoughtful question. For example, “how is your project going?” This invites our colleague to share their feelings and opinions.

Asking the right questions in a particular situation provides us with feedback. Feedback gives us the insight we need to understand, and politely but firmly advance the deadline conversation. For example, “I’ve noticed you’ve been less engaged with this proposal than you usually are. How can I help?”

Listen, Listen, Listen

When we pick up the phone, we may be frustrated and stressed. After all, we feel we clearly laid out the process and the deadlines. And how many reminders have we sent?

Resist the urge to remind. If they are like most contributors, they are subject matter experts working on the front lines with client or software delivery. We are preaching to the choir. Instead, employ active listening.

  • Give them our full attention. Don’t just focus on what they are saying; focus on how they are saying it. This allows us to hear what they are really talking about.
  • Don’t assume. Listen for what they feel is the obstacle to their deadline. This keeps things positive and focused on the future.
  • Don’t interrupt. Relax and slow your roll. Allowing our colleague to finish speaking keeps the conversation respectful.
  • Wait for a pause. Clarify with curiosity and compassion. If we’re hearing “I don’t know what else to do” or “I’m so swamped,” focus on relating to their frustration and how we can help.

Be Part of the Solution

As proposal manager, we stand at the intersection of people and proposal. We may not manage the people who work on our proposal, but it’s our job to lead them. And sometimes that means changing our tactics.

  • Don’t just tell them their tasks and deadlines. Show them how each task depends on another task - and how delays impact milestones. People are more likely to step up, and hit their deadlines, when they understand where their piece of the puzzle fits.
  • Don’t just manage the process. Be part of the effort. Include reusable content, links or annotations with their assignments. People write better and faster when they have something to work from—and when we pitch in, the team will trust our leadership and respond better to deadlines.
  • Be creative and take initiative. Ask the team how deadlines and reminders could be better managed. We may find the discussion leads to a better way of doing the same old thing. For example, they might be willing to share their client project calendar with us so we can make better meeting date/time decisions.

Changing our mindset about deadline conversations helps us focus on the solution, not the person or the problem. Being part of the proposal deadline solution inspires our team to want to work with us again and hit those deadlines.

Related articles: How to Make Your Proposal Stand Out: An Easy Trick

crack the proposal time-saving nut ebook

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Cheryl Smith

Cheryl Smith is our Senior Content Writer. She has additionally been writing and managing proposals since 1998. Shipley trained, she has helped establish proposal centers and advised on capture strategy, coached orals teams and lead marketing, communications and knowledge management programs. Cheryl is a graduate of The George Washington University with degrees in Theatre, Communications and Literature. When she’s not sharing her passion for work, she loves drawing, writing, cooking and exploring the Virginia woodlands with her husband, their dog Chase and the fuzzy guests they host for Rover.

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