Have you ever hired a proposal development consultant only to feel deceived or disappointed with the result?
Sure there are many wonderful professionals out there with extensive proposal experience, but every once in a while, you run into a few bad apples. These consultants 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.
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 on 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 at a small business or a large contractor, here are six 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). Personal references are not a credible source. Look for professional references. Most good consultants provide this upfront, without even being asked.
At Key Solutions, we share our proposal teams' resumes, proposals worked documents, and references. You can also check out a consultant's LinkedIn profile for a glance at their background and skillset.
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, and submittal dates, you name it.
So proposal teams must be flexible enough to accommodate mid-stream changes. Their proposal processes and tools 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 who have undergone bid and proposal training.
When possible, try to hire proposal staff that has undergone training in bid and proposal best practices. Many organizations offer training in the form of classes, webinars, and certifications. APMP certifications can provide independent validation of proposal knowledge and a hiring baseline.
You can check for certifications or training courses on a consultant's resume or their LinkedIn profile.
6. 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 lead 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 this line of work, clients run the gamut from those with extensive proposal experience and those with almost no experience. A good consultant appreciates your interest. A predatory consultant? Not so much.
In some proposal situations, the systems and processes are already set up, and clients 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.
This article was originally published in May 2015 and was updated on August 11, 2020.