A great proposal development process can get you to compliance, but a team with unified purpose and a common goal can move beyond compliance to consistently winning. This is what we call a team in “swing.” The principles of swing have helped SMA, Inc., become the global leader in capture and proposal consulting for nearly forty years.
By Jacque Keats, CF APMP, and Peter Sherman, CF APMP
If you follow the sport of competitive rowing, then you know exactly what we mean! If you are not familiar with how the US Rowing Team won the 1936 Olympics (read The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown), swing is the magical, hidden element of winning. It takes time and hard work to develop. But mostly it takes desire.
There is a thing that sometimes happens in the development of a proposal that is hard to achieve and even more difficult to define. Swing happens when all people involved in the proposal have complete trust with each other and can articulate the win themes, the messaging, the value the solution provides the customer and each knows his/her assignment and is absolutely committed to its delivery with quality in a timely, accurate and compelling fashion.
Swing is about the team. Great proposal teams have men and women of exceptional talent. They have skilled writers, brilliant engineers, master planners/schedulers, and creative artists; but they have no stars. The perfect synchronization of flow, thought, sacrifice, and effort enables each member of your team to be extraordinary and agile. You have to be deliberate about how you create absolute trust between everyone in your boat.
Swing is about cadence and pace. Every proposal effort may seem like a rush to the end. But winning proposals have a distinct pattern of cadence and pace. When to increase the stroke rate, to what level and for how long is an innate skill of the coxswain. Similarly, winning proposal managers instinctively know how to set the intensity of the effort in different phases, understand the explicit role and implicit influence of each person, recognize what each member of the team is truly capably of, and understand when to turn it on! She or he must exert control over both emotional and psychological aspects, not just the execution of a process. They inspire exhausted volume leads and writers to dig deeper and try harder. Good proposal managers are trained, and some might even be natural talents, but exceptional proposal managers are developed, coached, and created through deliberately managed experiences.
Swing is also about the zone! Being in the zone is that phenomenon that occurs in proposal teams when everyone on the team becomes hyper-focused; some call it that spiritual state of mind where anything is possible. It is where we become our most productive, creative, and powerful selves. In the zone time collapses, sounds fall away, tasks that would normally take days take hours, the team functions as one. The team intuitively know exactly what to do next, smoothly taking good to great. As with swing, good proposal managers themselves may have experienced being in the zone and understand the impact that has on the effort. But exceptional proposal managers are trained to nurture this during execution, to create the environment in which zone can occur and to recognize when their team is in the zone.
This is the secret of a successful proposal team—their swing. The “run” to a win is uncanny and the work of developing the proposal is a delight.
We can help you create swing in your team and win more consistently. For help with your swing, shoot us a note with “I need swing!”
Jacque Keats, CF APMP, is SMA’s Chief Operations Officer, and Peter Sherman, CF APMP, is Vice President of Business Development at SMA.