Mentor/Mentee Mash Up

Marcus Hammond, CF APMP

My APMP GMC mentee, Amy Ryan, and I often chat about how we found ourselves in proposal management. I feel like it’s common for a proposal manager to have a diverse and complicated path. Taking time to reflect on our diverse experiences can uncover important techniques to navigate our chaotic professional environments. I asked Amy to describe how her background with journalism and marketing has helped her navigate proposal management. In the process, I found that while our journeys have been different, the lessons she’s learned are valuable no matter how you got here.

Amy, thanks for talking with me about your journey to proposal management. Tell me how you ended up here!

Like nearly everyone else in proposal management, I found my way here after spending most of my career elsewhere. In my case, it was in print journalism and digital marketing. After frantically Googling, “What else can I do with an English degree and an emphasis in scientific and technical writing?” I found my first job in proposal management.

Fortunately, it’s been an excellent fit for the myriad niche skills I’ve picked up after more than a decade in the newsroom and marketing departments. All the tricks I’ve learned reporting, editing, and managing publications have come in surprisingly handy.

How does your previous experience help you manage the fast-paced nature of proposal management?

I’ve learned how to stay calm on a deadline. When you have an editor breathing down your neck and you’re still one source short on the municipal finance scandal story, you have to keep your cool and you have to get your story done. Much like when you’re minutes away from the print deadline on a public bid and you’re still waiting for sales to get you that last termed client reference.

So how do you do it? I find that contingency plans are a good way to keep yourself busy while still being productive. Your best bet in this situation is to come up with a viable Plan B that you can pull together with minimal fuss or outside intervention. Try to find either a workaround or an easy substitution or throw a hail Mary to your colleagues. Whatever you do, don’t fire off questions to everyone you can think of. Keep your circle tight or you will end up trying to manage 20 people trying to get back to you while you’re already frantic with your own work.

The best tip I learned, though, is to take a moment after the crisis has passed to decompress. You might have six other things on your desk, but a minute to breathe and release all the adrenaline you’ve built up in your system isn’t going to hurt anything. Go for a quick run, do some jumping jacks, or anything active that can close that stress response before you jump into anything else.

Is there anything from your previous professional experiences that you did not expect would help you manage proposals?

Being creative when it’s the last thing you want to be. Weaving in sales strategy can be difficult, especially in a technical field, and having some creative writing skills helps. Unfortunately, creativity is a fickle fairy. She’s awake with you at 2 a.m., filling your brain with the introductory paragraph you’ve been sweating over or a way to present the subpar service statistics so that it doesn’t look like the dumpster fire you know it is. But at 3 p.m. when you’ve got a draft due by the end of day? She’s nowhere to be seen.

So, what do you do? My first step is always to Google the client and read through news articles about them. Reading their website is a good way to learn how they think about themselves but reading through what other people are saying can give you another lens to see their challenges and their victories. You might even find something that you can steal from and riff off. Just don’t plagiarize. Please.

My next step is to open a blank document and write the negative story I think should be written. Describe just how crappy your solution really is and get really detailed with all the flaws. Malign the service manager and curse out the SMEs that are ghosting you. Just purge all of that out of your system and cast those demons out. When you’re finally empty, read through and see what you can spin into something positive, or see what resonates with you. Maybe there’s nothing there, but you at least got words on paper.

I also like to phone a friend and talk through my issues. Sometimes just getting another perspective is enough to kick your brain into gear and let the words flow through.

Asking dumb questions. Yes, I know that everyone always says, “But there are no dumb questions!” There are. We’ve been asked them, we’ve asked them ourselves and we all know it. But there is a freedom in not knowing something and knowing when you need to push harder for basic information is a gift. We all have that SME that makes every answer overly complicated and virtually nonsensical, and we all know we can’t send that to the client. So, ask the dumb question. Take them back to the basics and have them explain it to you like you’re 6 years old. I spent my entire career in journalism knowing nothing about sports – I still have a mental block when it comes to understanding even the basics of any ball-based team sport – but I would admit that to every single coach and I would make them explain in monosyllabic words why the fumble on the fourth down at the 20-yard line was the turning point of this clearly important game. That allowed me to write a better story, because I had the basic words to explain a complicated thing. Ask the dumb question. You’ll learn something and you’ll present better information to your clients.

Our mentorship journey has been one of mutual benefit. It was clear from the start of our mentor/mentee relationship that I was going to gain as many unique perspectives about our industry as I provided. If you have not become involved in the APMP GMC mentorship program, I highly recommend checking it out. You never know what you might learn.

Our mentorship journey has been one of mutual benefit. It was clear from the start of our mentor/mentee relationship that I was going to gain as many unique perspectives about our industry as I provided. If you have not become involved in the APMP GMC mentorship program, I highly recommend checking it out. You never know what you might learn. See the GMC mentorship page here: Mentorship Program

Mentor: Amy Ryan, Proposal Manager | Guardian Life | [email protected]

About the Author (and Mentee):  

Marcus has been a proposal manager for six years. Prior to jumping head-long into a life of go/no-go conversations, Marcus taught English at several Kansas City area community colleges and wrote content for a pop-culture website. Marcus has a master’s degree in liberal arts from Baker University with an emphasis in literature and a bachelor’s degree in English and communication studies from the University of Kansas. His free time is spent sharing a love of Legos, Pokémon, and comic books with his son and traveling, reading, and creating art with his wife. You can reach him at [email protected].