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Proposals & Technical Subject Matter Experts – A Love/Hate Relationship

Proposals & Technical Subject Matter Experts – A Love/Hate Relationship

Winning proposals demonstrate sound management approaches, competitive pricing, and accurate, valid, compelling technical approaches. Especially that last portion absolutely demands input from the right technical subject matter experts (SMEs). Unfortunately, SMEs hate writing proposals and, worse for you, they’re not very good at it. Understanding this is a critical first step to using your SMEs wisely.

SMEs – Not the Right Choice as Proposal Authors

If your team has the right go-to SMEs for the work you’re trying to win, they’re most likely already busy doing exactly that kind of work. Pulling them away to write proposals is unlikely to be popular with the SME, or with their project team. Next, while SMEs are experts who can solve complex problems, most aren’t top-notch in written communication, let alone in writing proposals, which are essentially sales documents. Finally, if you’re the incumbent in a re-competition, and any new winner will likely pick up your SMEs, they have little incentive to spend uncompensated time and effort helping you perfect your proposal.

Best Way to Utilize your SMEs in Proposal Development

Used properly, SMEs are a powerful tool; however, just as a hammer shouldn't be used for driving screws, a SME shouldn't be used to author proposal text

Used properly, SMEs are a powerful tool; however, just as you wouldn’t use a hammer to drive screws, don’t use a SME to author proposal text

If asking your SMEs to write sections of your proposal is not a good idea, then what’s the best way to take advantage of their expertise? First, pick the right ones, the people your intended customer would acknowledge as experts in their field. If you don’t have these in-house, hire them as consultants to support your proposal team. Then, make sure your technical proposal section authors have sufficient technical background to understand what the RFP requires, discuss these requirements with the SMEs, elicit their input, understand these inputs and request needed clarifications. Have your authors do this in one-on-one “interview” format in person or over the phone, followed by a request for the SMEs to review the resulting draft sections for accuracy, validity, completeness, and clarity. Finally, include the SMEs in your review panels, asking them to identify any remaining errors, inaccuracies, missing information, etc. and suggest corrections.

Used properly, SMEs are a powerful tool. But just as you wouldn’t use a hammer to drive screws, you shouldn’t try to use SMEs for writing proposal text. The best way to utilize your SMEs starts with picking the right SMEs and as important, the right authors. Allow the SMEs to provide their technical input in any format they like (oral discussion, bulleted list, free-flowing text, etc.) minimizing the time and effort they have to put into it. Finally, provide an easy way for the SMEs to verify their input is correctly implemented into your final proposal version. If you follow these simple guidelines you’ll maximize the “love” in the form of expertly devised, technically valid inputs, and minimize the “hate” in the form of wasted valuable SME time and in requiring your SMEs to do things they neither enjoy nor do well.

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