Town Hall Recap: How Proposal Teams Can Respond to COVID-19 Challenges

Katie Flood
Katie Flood

How are proposal managers navigating work in the wake of COVID-19? 

We asked that question in a recent community-led Proposal Industry Town Hall discussion in early April. Nearly 300 proposal managers joined the event to discuss how the community is handling RFPs during this pandemic.

The conversation was led by three RFP experts, with decades of collective experience under their belts:

  • Julie McCoyDocuSign. As a Sr. Manager, Proposal Department, Julie has more than 10 years of proposal experience, including establishing DocuSign’s Enterprise full-service proposal team.
  • Karen McElroyBoardroom Metrics. Karen is the CEO of Boardroom Metrics, a team of professional business writers, and graphic designers. They are experts in RFP business writing, interpreting, and responding.
  • Lisa LongleyWeber Associates. With more than 14 years of experience with Weber Associates, Lisa is the company’s Vice President. She’s helped clients win over $35B in contracts and has extensive experience developing RFP strategy, messaging, and production efforts.

No one has all the answers, but lots of ideas and insights were shared on the topics of:

  • Climate: What Changes Are Proposal Teams Seeing?
  • Volume: What Should Teams Do If They’re Getting Fewer RFPs? 
  • Collaboration: How Can Teams Keep Up Engagement and Morale? 
  • Writing: What’s The Best Way to Address COVID-19 In Your Responses?

Check out the highlights from the talk below—or get all of the insights by watching the full on-demand webinar now.

What Changes Are Proposal Teams Seeing? 

We surveyed 300+ members of the proposal community around workload, challenges, and fears in the wake of COVID-19. So far, the community is split on the changes they’re seeing. One-third report seeing a decrease in RFPs, while another third haven’t seen much change yet.

While some teams predict that they’ll continue to experience a downturn in volume, the majority (59%) are united in feeling uncertain about what the future impact will be to bid volume.

This brings us to the first question our panelists addressed.

Q: What should proposal teams do if they’re getting fewer RFPs? 

Karen McElroy: “Use the downtime to work on business development. Be proactive by accessing bid portals. Look up past contracts in your sector, and check end dates because bids from two years ago will be re-released soon. Even if you’re just perusing, you may find an important prospect that you hadn’t identified yet.”

Lisa Longley: “Sit down with your sales teams for a win-loss debrief. Examine the last six months to understand where you’ve won, lost, and why. That can influence important insights into your content (answers), and help you determine where you need a refresh.”

Newly Remote Teams: How To Maintain Momentum & Engagement

RFP teams are experiencing major disruption to how they typically get sh*t done: 60% are working from home for the first time.

As a result, many RFP managers (20%) are finding it difficult to keep internal experts and other teams engaged in keeping RFP projects on track.

Q: How can proposal managers keep internal experts engaged?

Julie McCoy: “I strongly believe in a kick-off call. Rally the troops early. It’s important to have them on that call to get buy-in and commit to timelines. And since you can’t walk down to the office and ask for information in-person, it’s essential to use collaborative tools like Loopio and Slack.”

Lisa Longley: “Make sure that your subject matter expert (SME) list is accurate. In these uncertain times, there may be different responsibilities that SMEs are taking on. When you’re reaching out to those SMEs, use this as an opportunity to establish a two-way dialogue and create relationships. Discover what’s on their plate, their busy times, and the best way to engage with them.”

Tip: Organize a virtual RFP roadshow. “Hold a short, informative session with internal experts and leaders to teach them about RFPs, what your team does, and—most importantly—the results you’ve achieved. Start a conversation to share ideas about how everyone can help to build a more collaborative approach to RFP management,” says Lisa Longley.

Q: How can proposal managers improve team morale?

Karen McElroy: “Have regular check-in meetings and aim to inspire your team. Every Monday morning, I send a question to everyone to think about what we’re going to discuss. My goal is to remind people what they love about their job and their industry. Recently I asked, ‘What industry or sector did you help an underdog client win a contract over a much bigger rival?’” 

Julie McCoy: “Be there and support each other. As proposal managers, we’re used to planning. Right now, everyone’s dealing with so much uncertainty, and it makes us uncomfortable. Create a team culture that’s open and frank. Ask your team about their wellbeing—and truly mean it.” 

Lisa Longley: “Be flexible. There are a lot of households where both parents are home right now. They’ve got children, they’ve got pets. This is a new environment, and perhaps 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. is no longer possible. Have some flexibility and show your team that we’re going to support each other during these times.”

Q: Outside of work, how can managers support their teams? 

Karen McElroy: “Find ways to send something hopeful. You never get tired of receiving those emails.” 

Julie McCoy: “We have several team Slack channels to keep up conversations. We have a formal one that has content repository questions, and we also have a fun one.” 

Lisa Longley: “Have a buddy that you do wellness checks with. If you don’t feel comfortable sharing feelings with the larger team, you can have a quick coffee session in this 1:1. Share what you’re worried about, or what you’re grateful for.”

Pulse Check Insight: 26% of respondents cite team morale as their biggest challenge. Read our research on how proposal teams are feeling during COVID-19 for more

What’s the Best Way To Address COVID-19 In Your Responses? 

Some RFP teams are concerned about the changes to bids being submitted due to COVID-19.

Questions around remote work security and business continuity will likely come your way—and our experts recommend being prepared for when they do.

Q: Even if prospects aren’t asking yet, what’s the best way to address COVID-19 in your responses? 

Julie McCoy: “It always comes back to leading with value. I don’t think that you need to talk about COVID-19 explicitly, but you can talk specifically around some of the challenges that they may be facing, as well as the value in your potential solution.”

Lisa Longley: “Anticipate that there will be changes to common questions. For example: how does this change the resources that I work with? How does this change the way that I communicate with you? Those are the areas that I would proactively start thinking about how to stay ahead of that curve and answer differently.”

That’s it for this webinar recap. These tips have been edited for clarity and length—so watch the on-demand webinar for the full conversation.

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