Performance Incentives for the Proposal Management Consultant
Donna L. Quesinberry, President DonnaInk
Takeaways Proposal Management Consulting has changed over the past decade. Incentive based consulting was part of the payment package of the Proposal Management Consultant. Proposal Consultants need to begin requesting performance based incentives once again.
In completing work products for clients in the Washington DC and Dulles Virginia Defense and Technology corridor, as well as nationally and internationally, Proposal Management and Oversight has remained a primary service support remedy of DonnaInk. Thus far in 2008, in developing multiple responses for multiple clients, in answer to multiple solicitations, DonnaInk's award ratio has remained steadfast at 100%. Yes, each submission completed this year by Donna Quesinberry, as Consultant, has resulted in client award. And, among these awards, many were not favored to win or the "shoe-in" team for the award - as it wasn't always theirs' to loose. So how has this been accomplished? How does a Proposal Management Consultant achieve a 100% award ratio in any given year? Alluding from these questions and responses is my actual question... Does a Proposal Management veteran deserve an incentive or bonus when they provide an award-winning response to clients? My contention is that, Yes, Consultants deserve incents and bonuses.
The answers to my first two questions regarding how one achieves 100% award ratios are as follows: a) through solid past performance and the establishment of a significant knowledge repository that results in subject matter expertise (SME) delivering award-winning solutions and contracts as a final result; and b) prolonged exposure to Federal requirements, a lifetime of solution method research, significant analyses and metrics, reviews of studies, in addition to inherent intuition derived from working both sides of the house (writing RFPs as well as answering RFPs) coupled with extensive Technical Communication (e.g., technical editing and writing; illustrations; diagramming; graphics; etc.) reach back provides varied market sector prowess. These skills aren't a result of poor planning or a lack of forethought coming up the ranks as a Technical Communication and Proposal Management underling. These 'golden nuggets' are the results of reaching beyond the scope of requirements associated with the proposal submission process and working to achieve SME comprehension, which was attained by many Proposal Management contemporaries, in addition to myself. In my case, through the more than 20 years of proposal submissions I've been involved with, I maintain a solid knowledge repository my clients benefit from. Therefore, their solicitation goals and objectives are reached - through awarded contracts.
In the course of developing this extensive knowledge base, I observed older, more seasoned, professionals who charted the course for us today. These experts were always contracted to receive incentives. In fact, our forerunners wouldn't consider a client that scoffed at incentive based contracting. Incentives were part and participle of Proposal Management and Oversight. I believe it should be the same today. So, my burning questions remain, Where are our percentage incentives? How did the incentives get written out of the Proposal Consultant's repertoire?
In these classic, bygone decades, our predecessors were rewarded with quotients of returns on awards through incremental percentages (e.g., .01 to .10) and easy client payment plans. Payments would be broken down over the contract term through accounts payable through sliding scale or set rate monthly payouts. These methodologies provided insignificant, mitigatable payment terms, that wouldn't be felt as a major pinch in corporate budgets. Conversely, for us as Consultants, awarded incentives over a solid client base, assured retirement planning and benefit capability, offset dry seasons (which was and remains both fair and equitable) and allowed team payouts that benefited Editors and support personnel. Incentive based contracting achieved and delivered well-deserved bonuses to experts who worked for years to become the best in the solicitation response field. All of us can think of many clients that n would not have won awards without our solution provider services support. And, some of the "nicest" clients fall in to this category.
So why have these deserved and complimentary as well as necessary incentives disappeared over the past decade? It seems many companies hedged investments in proposal solutions that are derived from corporate overhead. Instead of investing in Consulting solutions, these managers deploy a bandaid approach with short Consultant bursts that they intend to leverage short investment with lessons learned for in-house teams. Often, it appears their hopes are to garner language used in award-winning solutions, to secure boilerplates and templates, requesting additional stylus or theme variations, so that just the accouterments they require to achieve their fiscal goals might be achieved. Short bursting consultancy is hoped to provide the "newest innovations" to be honed in-house. When one or two significant awards are necessary for a client team in order to boost sales and retain accountability quotas, or caps set for the fiscal year, their pitch to consultants is short-lived with promise of the golden arches. Even in these smaller efforts, awards on client investment remain significant (i.e., typically over 500K up to 23M) and Consultant incentives are truly just a drop in that bucket. We won't even extend this discussion to payment preferences of Net 30, which easily become Net 60 and sometimes Net 90 contingent upon contract terms and corporate comptroller guidelines.
Over the years, I have observed incentives disappearing both in conversation and in use. I have noted contract terms are more and more difficult to negotiate; with retainers almost unheard of. Yet, companies' desire Net 30 payment terms that classically due at Net 60 without compensatory language that is of any benefit to the Consultant. When we are called to consult, some management teams want to secure every aspect of information (e.g., specialized data, boilerplates, templates, frameworks, methodologies, etc.) we've assimilated through coursework and our infusion in to our field of expertise and they envision this all for flat fees or per hour rates not recognizing that certain products require addendums and negotiated terms. If we arrive to perform a quick-turnaround response where some piecework is client boilerplate and then the client steps on review processes to gain additional services (e.g., Quality Control Plans (QCPs), Staffing Plans, Management Plans, etc.) that would be costed separately or for variations on overall price out, an understanding of incentive requirement would preclude this type of tomfoolery.
Other compounding issues such as attempts to corral high-end Consultants and treat them as adjunct employees, typically presented as a courtesy, though actually adverse to contract law decrying employee / hirer reporting authority (that is not complimentary to a true Consultant); or the idea to extend a life long career in order to thwart Consultants' from producing competitor responses (where no conflict of interest [OCI] exists); or offers of employment with suggestions that they require a permanent home as though they are the wayward children of the marketplace with salary presented thousands of dollars less per capita than these same consultants are used to receiving per annum are simply balderdash and border on insulting. Consultants smile and take these issues in stride. Yet, I wonder, if we insisted on incentives, would this level of bantering be engaged? Have we lessened our levels of respect as professionals in our own market?
When client companies are mature enough to negotiate contracts and terms - incentives are still met with a degree of apprehension. In the past this certainly wasn't the case. As contemporaries in our market, I believe all Proposal Management Consultants should begin requesting incentives once more. Even if we cannot afford to mitigate them initially, once we begin using the language again clients will hear our voices. With no idea who began dropping the incentive ball and the understanding that the marketplace has tweaked a bit, many new business leaders in the Federal, Defense and private sector contracts are foreign born citizens. More often than not, these leaders are the least likely to consider incentives or per product TSA development; however, I wouldn't state emphatically that this evolution in business ownership has been the cause of incentive cessation. Perhaps emerging Consultants undercut seasoned professionals and stopped requesting incentives in order to land gigs for more money or the same amount or even less up front with nothing on the back end.
Whether a growing trend small business owners comprised of new citizenry altered business as usual Consulting practices; or field practioners discarded incentive traditions for quick gains, the result is, we all have suffered from the loss of classic incentives. Consulting as a tried and true profession is derived from many years of practice. Just as direct hire employees are exemplars in their fields, through organizational steadfastness and commitment resulting in 401Ks and retirement benefits - Proposal Management Consultants with a lifetime of service support history in learning and understanding the Federal and private sector solicitation processes have earned their .01 to .10 percentages as they have and continue to "win" awards for clients.
Let's work together in FY09 to reintroduce incentives to our clients to the betterment of us all. More resources