By Sheri Lytle, CF APMP (she/her)
2016 was a transformative year for me. I was in the best shape of my life, I ran my first (and last) half marathon, reached my weight loss goal — and was diagnosed with breast cancer. I’ll spare you the gory details. A year of surgery, chemo, and radiation later, I was ready to tackle 2017 and make some major life changes. Life was too short and I wasn’t wasting one more second!
I started out by changing churches from a megachurch to a more inclusive, tiny faith-community with more authentic relationships. Then my husband and I bought a new house that was slightly larger with room for a dedicated home office, space to entertain, and a bigger yard for the dog. Finally, I started looking for a job change. My job as an operations manager meant a lot of travel. I spent 3-4 nights a week in a hotel and had little time for my new friends and neighbors, and my new house.
After 11 years with the same company, I didn’t want to leave (who wants to give up 4 weeks of vacation?) so I searched the internal postings and saw an opening for a Proposal Consultant. I thought back to a few years prior when I had been the account manager for a $40M+ client that went out to RFP. I worked very closely with the proposal manager and was amazed at what she put together for us. Could I do that? I mean, I was a decent writer in grad school, I was a relatively strong written communicator, and I knew more than most about the operations of my multi-billion-dollar corporation. So, I applied and (thankfully) got the job. But the transition was, well, a little bumpy. Here’s what I now know about the switch from operations to proposal management (because really, who among us starts out our career in proposal management?!?)
1. Don’t confuse sales and delivery. The first time I read our existing content, my immediate thought was, wow, I didn’t realize we did all that! I probably should have, but I was always short staffed, managing to tight timelines, and responding quickly to demanding customers. For the first few months, I felt like a liar and even found myself slightly changing wording to make it a little more “honest.” But here’s the thing… these are all the things we CAN do. It’s the proposal manager’s job to explain the benefits of our solution and show the customer why to choose us. It’s not up to me (anymore) to fix every operational challenge.
2. The customer doesn’t need every detail on how we do something. I spent years creating task instructions, training manuals, and process documents. It was a big switch to talking about WHY to choose us rather than just ramble on about WHAT we do in excruciating detail. Nobody has time for that.
And finally, for the other side, here’s something I want my proposal colleagues to hear about our friends in operations….
3. Have some grace. You need content from a SME. You need edits back to ensure you meet a deadline. You need the details about the client that only the sales team can provide. Yep, I get it. But understand that their customer-facing activities are pretty darn important too. As a staffing manager, if I have to address an employee incident or injury, your content is going to have to wait. As a sales manager, if a client wanted to see me today for a meeting to place a huge order, you’ll get your details tomorrow. As an account manager, if I had a supervisor call off and had to go to a site to establish a presence, your edits are on the backburner for the day. As proposal professionals, we have the luxury of not having to look our client in the eye. Our partners in the field, not so much.
While at times I miss the road trips, the customer meetings, and supporting a team across the great state of Ohio, I’ve never looked back. Proposal management is now wired into my DNA and now that I’ve adjusted, I couldn’t be happier.