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A Day in the Life: how my proposal client drove me to distraction

I was supporting a new client, a small IT services firm. They were going after a big contract vehicle. The Capture Manager was also the COO of the company. To complicate things, he was a new hire, and eager to impress his own leadership. A contract win would prove his credentials.

We sat down to discuss the process: milestones, how we would conduct reviews, who the reviewers were – you know, the usual stuff we do as proposal managers. The client agreed to everything. I was feeling pretty confident!

I was ready two hours before Pink Team. I had assembled everything myself. The cleanly formatted proposal was at about 65% completion, with graphics embedded…it was a dream Pink document. An hour before the review, the COO/Capture Manager called me in to his office.

“I’ve read the document. We need to rewrite it,” he says.

A debate ensued.

I explained all the reasons why we needed to wait until after the review: version control. Respect for evaluators’ time. A post-review debrief that would be meaningless if the content had already changed. He agreed with me. We proceeded with the review as scheduled.

And here’s what actually happened in the time between our discussion and the review: the COO/Capture Manager went into the master file without my knowledge. He rewrote the tech prop. The Pink Team reviewers, perky and ready to devote part of their Saturday to this proposal, were evaluating an old document. Their feedback was irrelevant given the new version.

This was a client, so I couldn’t say, “I told you so.”


The lessons learned for me are:

  1. Be prepared to be derailed, and be derailed with grace and professionalism.

  2. Know that the most well-thought-out plans can be undone by an overeager client who doesn’t understand or believe in the proposal process.

  3. Make sure your clients understand the process up front.

  4. Point out the risks of not following an agreed-upon process.

  5. Accept that ultimately, the client owns the proposal.

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