Where do proposal consultants come from, and what are the upsides, downsides, and risks typical to different proposal consultant sources?
Consultants can be subcontracted through job shop companies, brought on as part of a proposal house team, or hired directly as individuals or companies.
Proposal consultants from job shops
Job shops are companies that maintain large lists of consultants and send people to fill certain slots. They work very much like temp agencies. They charge a fee on top of the hourly fee that their consultant charges.
The upside of job shops is that you can fill a need on your proposal team at almost any time during proposal development. If you are a company that reacts last minute to pop-up pursuits, and does not carefully plan for proposal staff needs well in advance of a pursuit, going to a job shop is a good solution.
The downside is that you may get a wild card – someone untested by you. Although there is some consultant screening involved, and there are long-term relationships in place with a majority of the consultants, job shops do not require that their consultants use a specific and consistent proposal methodology or set of techniques to win proposals. Their main concern is that their clients like their people and keep coming back with more requests. They often can replace a non-performer with another person—if you can afford to switch horses mid-race.
Proposal consultants from proposal houses
A proposal consulting house is a company that applies its branded proposal process consistently to all pursuits, and sends trained proposal teams to its clients. The most famous examples of proposal houses are Shipley and Steven Myers & Associates.
The upside of using consulting houses is that you know that they will tackle your proposal effort using a disciplined, repeatable, and continuously improved process. Some in this profession argue that applying a great process can constitute up to 70-80% of a proposal’s success. Many executives feel that it is a safe decision to hire a famous proposal house, especially if they have very deep pockets for a must win and their jobs are on the line. A proposal house can do your entire proposal turn-key if needed, and if you get their A-team, it may be superb.
The downside is high cost due to consulting houses’ high margins, which are sometimes double or triple what they pay their employees or consultants. It is also important to remember that hiring a big-name consulting house does not guarantee that you get their A team. It may so happen that they scrape the bottom of the barrel to staff your particular pursuit because of being busy with other pursuits going on simultaneously. They may also bring in people from all over the country who have never worked together as a team, which often does not turn out too well. Some smaller proposal houses, similar toOST Global Solutions, do not have such high overheads and therefore do not charge as much as the big ones. They use a combination of rigorous processes and people that are used to working together. They can augment those teams for really large proposals through their networks of vetted consultants.
Solo proposal consultants
The solo proposal consultants that you can hire directly usually work alone or bring in subcontractors whom they are responsible for overseeing. They may be highly process-oriented, using their own proposal approach they have perfected through the years, or quickly learning and applying your company’s process. Some may simply use their talent to get the job done without much formality.
The good part is that companies usually hire a solo consultant through a trusted person’s referral, or after watching that consultant do a superb job for a teammate on another proposal. So, you will usually know exactly what you are getting. Your company can work again and again with the same smaller proposal house employee or a solo consultant. He or she will learn more about your company over time, and will become as valuable as one of your best employees. He or she will require minimal supervision and will be able write about your company’s past performance and capabilities as well or better than you can.
The downside is that it takes time to build up a rolodex of superb solo consultants. It is also important that they are paid on time to keep working with you because they may not have the deeper pockets of a larger proposal company, so you need to make sure that your procurement and finance departments are cooperative. And, you will have to master the art of timing to make sure that this great consultant is available when you need them, rather than working on some other proposal full time and unable to help you. I will address how to do this later in the series.