How To Hire A Great Proposal Consultant

In Government proposals, there are many wonderful professionals with extensive experience. However, there are a few bad apples out there that can damage your firm's bid, wasting your time and money. In this post, we'll go over how to avoid a predatory consultant and hire a great one.

First: Learn how to spot predatory consultants

Predatory consultants are easy to mark. They’re like mercenaries. They parachute into a proposal situation and instantly start lobbing verbal grenades at the capture effort. They second-guess the proposal outline, the proposal manager, and other team members, often grazing company executives with the shrapnel. When the going gets tough, they say things like, “I’d like to help with that, but it’s outside my scope” or “Glad that’s not my problem.”

When possible, mercenaries ruthlessly stack a client’s proposal effort with billable consultants, more than is necessary. They support multiple competitors on a single RFP, which many consider a conflict of interest.  Predatory consultants often ignore the client's best interest. For example, they fail to advise a client against bidding a proposal for which it has almost no chance of winning. They set up proposal processes and tools that the client didn’t ask for, doesn’t need, and far outpace the client’s ability to maintain.

Look no further than this cautionary tale

This whole issue came into sharp focus not long ago, after an owner of a new small business complained that she had hired a consultant who oversold his expertise and customer knowledge, insisted on using a complicated document configuration program that no one but him understood, and burned through $40,000 on a proposal for a less-than-$1 million IT contract. As it turned out, they didn’t win the contract, thanks largely to a non-compliant submittal.

“There are people who prey on small businesses. You have to watch out for them,” she said, adding that these consultant predators take advantage of their client’s lack of proposal knowledge.

Predatory consultants and companies increase the apprehension some companies feel when hiring outside consultants for proposals. Rightly so.

Whether you're a small business owner or a business development lead at a large contractor, here are five ways to make sure you hire a great proposal consultant.

1. Don’t take a consultant’s word for it.

Ask to see his or her resume and comprehensive list of proposals worked, which should include the names of previous clients (who can offer a recommendation). Most good consultants provide these up front, without even being asked.

2. Clearly define the consultant’s work scope and budget.

Ask him or her to account for hours billed with daily summaries of activity. Again, good consultants usually do this as a matter of course, and regularly submit these activity summaries at the end of each week to keep the client apprised of proposal progress.

3. Stay involved in the proposal process.

With a what-do-they-know attitude, predatory consultants tend to shrug off input from clients. Good proposal consultants welcome it. Client interest and even participation in the proposal development process is not meddlesome or annoying, and a client should never be made to feel that way.

4. Look for flexibility in your proposal consultants.

Requests for Proposals (RFPs) often are fluid documents with changes in requirements, contract terms, page counts, submittal dates, you name it. So proposal teams must be flexible enough to accommodate mid-stream changes. (Their processes should be similarly flexible to fit within your company’s infrastructure.) Look for consultants with broad experience who can, if called to, step outside their immediate area of responsibility and assist others in carrying other their proposal responsibilities. Of course, there are specialists for pricing volumes. But good proposal consultants have demonstrated success in many areas of proposal development such as the technical and management volumes, past performance, resumes, small business participation, and others.

5. Look for consultants with demonstrated leadership ability who also fit well within your company or team.

Not all consultants are hired to be proposal managers, who typically led a proposal effort. Many hired hands are technical writers, editors, or graphic artists. But the qualities required for leadership are very similar to the qualities required for being a good follower: self-motivated and unflustered by conflicts and deadline pressure, ability to maintain a brisk tempo, ability to coordinate with and support others, ability to identify and fix potential problems before they can cause damage.

In Conclusion

In this line of work, clients run the gamut from those with extensive proposal experience and those with almost no experience. In some proposal situations, the systems and processes are already set up and clients just need extra pairs of hands. For other situations, the client needs the proposal expertise and the extra pairs of hands. In those cases, look for consultants who are willing to teach you the ropes of proposal work, explaining the benefits of each process. A good consultant appreciates your interest. A predatory consultant? Not so much.

Written by Raymond Thibodeaux

Ray Thibodeaux is a Senior Proposal Specialist at AOC Key Solutions with more than 15 years of government proposal experience. He excels at synthesizing ideas and strategies from client managers, engineers and SMEs to write executive summaries, management and technical volumes, and past performance.
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