Proposal development is a complex undertaking with many moving parts. You need to consider the approach and the process, the content and templates, and the role of technology, e.g., proposal management software. Project management of the individuals and teams involved in the response process—your Business Development team, Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), Legal and Compliance, IT Security, Marketing, Professional Services, and more—adds another layer of complexity:
You have the option of:
- managing the entire process in-house;
- outsourcing everything to a third-party agency;
- outsourcing the functions or tasks that you don't have the expertise or capacity to handle in-house.
Let’s explore some of the pros and cons of outsourcing to help you decide which option best fits your requirements.
Pro: Proposal management expertise
Proposal development professionals are experts in their field. They are well-versed in proposal best practices and have tried-and-tested tools and methodologies for developing everything from graphics and competitive differentiators to how to write a brilliant Executive Summary.
Proposal management professionals also know how to storyboard, plan, manage, and track a quality, on-time response. They can help you dramatically improve the quality of your responses to help increase wins, provided you treat them as an extension of your team. Their superpower is the ability to translate your knowledge about your product or service into benefits and value for your prospective client—and do so in a way that's attractive and compelling.
Pro: Access to larger talent pool
Outsourcing gives you access to talent from around the globe, especially given the rapid digital transformation occurring in most industries and the uptick in remote and hybrid working models in the post-pandemic economy. Conversely, hiring bid and proposal employees may limit you to a smaller, local talent pool, which can lead to compromise. If you need specialized proposal development help, expanding your search often makes sense.
Pro: Honest feedback
On occasion, harsh truths about the proposal process or deliverables may need to come to light—truths that in-house team members may be hesitant to bring forward—whether regarding someone’s performance, the quality of deliverables, or adjustments that need to happen to improve the effectiveness of the response. As neutral parties, contractors are able to speak freely and impel the necessary changes.
Con: Proposal expertise vs. company/solution expertise
While proposal development professionals are experts in the process of creating and managing proposals and RFP responses, a third-party agency typically lacks the expertise regarding your specific product or service. While you can educate them about your solution, they will never have the depth or breadth of product/service knowledge of an in-house bid and proposal team.
Con: Limited continuity
While a third-party agency may do an excellent job crafting a sales proposal for a prospect in one instance, you can’t be certain that they’ll be available down the road when you need their assistance to respond to another opportunity within your timeline. One option to overcome this challenge is to put the contractor on retainer, guaranteeing availability. However, this approach can be costly if you don’t end up using their services regularly or for the agreed-upon number of annual responses.
Con: Substantial upfront time investment
If you're outsourcing the entire proposal process, the effort on your end will be akin to onboarding a new employee. This process can be time-consuming and perhaps more than you're prepared for if you're looking for a quick fix.
If you’re not prepared for a time commitment of this proportion, consider outsourcing solely the parts you're struggling with. “You could even request a consultation to help you first uncover where your greatest challenges and opportunities for improvement lie, and then outsource just those parts,” suggests Olivia Hardy, founder and owner of Catalytique Consulting, specialists in proposal writing and customer success for B2B software companies.
If you're outsourcing content and template development, you should plan for a thorough briefing and handover of existing materials to ensure the contractors have something to build upon. You will also need quite a few work sessions to validate strategy, check that everyone's on message, and that the deliverables meet your expectations.
Remember that your content and templates can have a lasting positive impact on your deals going forward, as the work is done once and then re-used many times (until it's time to review and update it). Since your content and templates will need to evolve at the same pace your business evolves, you'll need to factor the revision process into your planning.
If you're outsourcing the final editing and shaping, you should also plan for a thorough briefing. This time though, with the right professional, you probably won't need to plan for more than one or two follow-up work sessions to finalize the polish.
“The caveat here, however, is that if your proposal is weak, then it will still be weak even after it's been polished,” notes Hardy. “You'll have a better chance of winning the deal if you involve a professional early on.”
If, after weighing the pros and cons, you're considering outsourcing a portion (or all) of your proposal development, look for a contractor or agency who is willing to partner with you to really get to know and understand your business and your clients—and who can help you build capacity and expertise in-house along the way. Use the opportunity to upskill your staff and help you build processes that allow you to replicate success.
Bid Solutions, a partner of QorusDocs, is an example of a proposal management outsourcing firm dedicated to helping you win more bids with its award-winning recruitment, consulting, and training services.
If you’ve decided outsourcing doesn’t suit your needs at this time and are looking to boost your proposal proficiency, check out The Ultimate Guide to Mastering RFPs and Sales Proposals for everything you need to know about proposal management and creating proposals that consistently win business.