I have a confession to make.
Whenever I see or hear folks talk about ‘silos’ within their companies, departments, or teams, the mental image my brain conjures up isn’t of farm buildings. It’s not even something military-related. Nope, it goes straight to this:
Yes, that’s the Cone of Silence from the classic TV comedy Get Smart. But when I thought about it, it actually makes sense from a proposal creation point of view.
First, a quick primer on Get Smart if you’ve never had the pleasure of watching it: Maxwell Smart, a bumbling spy working for the CONTROL agency, battles the evil forces of rival spy agency KAOS with the help of his competent partner, Agent 99.
See? KAOS (er, chaos) vs. CONTROL. That’s the whole reason why silos exist in companies.
Let me explain.
When it comes to collaborating on projects like proposal creation, chaos and control can seem like the only two (mutually exclusive) options. You either maintain control by keeping tasks and content siloed within teams or departments or you open the process up to chaos by having multiple people trying to work on it simultaneously, with different versions of the document flying around.
What if I told you it didn’t have to be that way? That there was a way that you could have the best of both worlds. A way to remove the silos without also opening the floodgates for duplicate, outdated, or just plain incorrect content and design. A way to pump the brakes on docs with helpful metrics and efficient approvals without slowing the process down to a crawl.
You see, chaos isn’t the opposite of control. You just have to get smart about it. There is such a thing as organized chaos—it’s smart collaboration.
In this post, I’m sharing four ways to achieve smart collaboration, where you keep a level of control over your proposal creation process and avoid chaos. You’ll be the (clever, capable, cool-as-hell) Agent 99 of your team in no time.
What causes silos?
How do these silos (or cones of silence, as I like to call them) come about? It tends to come down to a lack of transparency.
If folks outside your sales team don’t know what your reps are working on, it’s hard to help them. If your sales team is unaware of company goals and priorities, it’s easy to get wrapped up in their own work.
That’s why the impetus for collaboration has to come from the leadership level. Your sales team likely works closely with departments like marketing or customer success and less so with other internal teams. At the very least, sales leaders should be meeting with other department heads to keep everyone informed of what people are working on and figure out the best use of available time and resources to complete projects and achieve company-wide goals. This way there are no disagreements between departments over the priority level of certain tasks.
Why collaboration is important
To see why collaboration in the workplace is so important, let’s look at what happens when companies don’t encourage a collaborative environment: 86% of employees and executives cite a lack of communication and collaboration for workplace failures.
Yikes. Okay, what happens when collaboration is a priority? Organizations that encourage collaboration among their employees are five times more likely to have a considerable performance edge over businesses that don’t.
So if collaboration gives teams an edge and helps them succeed, why do teams avoid collaborating on proposals? Here are three likely culprits:
1. Priority mismatches
Proposals are a top priority for your sales team but that might not be true for other people and/or teams, meaning the turnaround time is longer.
2. Collaboration confusion
Multiple versions of Word docs will start flying around, getting lost or buried in email inboxes, meaning no one’s sure what they’re supposed to do and when.
3. Process inefficiency concerns
Productivity and send volume are important metrics so having proposal approvals go through, say, the busy director of sales for approval is not ideal, as it can create a bottleneck.
Those are some compelling reasons. No one wants to put their deal in jeopardy while they wait on approval. No one wants to spend time searching for the most up-to-date proposal version or even working on a proposal when they have their own tasks on a loaded to-do list. But proposals really do benefit from collaboration.
Since people are now more specialized than ever, salespeople need subject matter experts to weigh in on or contribute to their proposals. An extra set of eyes can spot issues or errors before they become a big problem, like a project scope in a proposal that doesn’t align with the timeline.
Plus collaboration builds trust through joint ownership. You can’t snark on that bloated project scope if you were part of the team that put the proposal for it together, right? And, contrary to popular opinion, it can actually be more efficient when you do it right and have the right tools in place.
That’s why setting up proper proposal collaboration processes is so important. Let me show you a few ways to do this.
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How to break down silos and make collaboration happen—without losing control
1. Remove silos with a central content library
A big part of what can make proposal collaboration so chaotic is that there’s no one central place where content lives. Some might be in a shared drive somewhere, but no one knows if it’s up-to-date. Other pieces of content might be buried in emails or pulled out of old proposals.
All this uncertainty leads to people re-requesting information, tying up more of the collaborators’ time, leading to multiple versions of content and, you guessed it, chaos. This is where a central content library can save your content collaborations.
A content library keeps your proposal content in one spot. This means everyone knows exactly where to go to find, add, or update the content used in your team’s proposals. If you’re using proposal software, like Proposify, your content library can include more than just copy snippets. You can save fee tables, images, signature boxes and more so anyone creating proposals can simply drop them in.
Any time they need updated, the subject matter expert or other colleague collaborating on the content knows exactly where they need to go to make their changes. Or you could keep it even more streamlined and have one admin person who is in charge of checking and soliciting updates so that the sales team doesn’t have to keep bugging Barry in the bids department or Pam in product.
2. Avoid a free-for-all with roles & permissions
Roles and permissions might seem like you’re just putting up more walls but it’s actually key to making sure you don’t slide too far into the chaos side of collaboration.
Let’s work through a scenario to show you what I mean.
Say two colleagues are collaborating on a proposal, Chudi and Joy. Chudi is still putting some finishing touches on the document but Joy misunderstands and thinks it’s ready to go. She sends it without some vital information. With roles and permissions set up in proposal software, however, you could have different parameters for how each of them can interact with proposal content.
For example, Joy could be set up with an account that only allows access to the content library so she can update content but not send. Chudi, on the other hand, would have sending capabilities but may not be able to make edits to the content. They could each go in and collaborate on the same proposal, but with strong controls in place to keep the document creation process on track.
3. Keep track of your proposal pipeline with key metrics and commenting
Sometimes the best way to collaborate is to know when you DON’T need to step in. No, as a sales leader you don’t need to learn to mind-read. You just need to get on top of your metrics and notifications game.
Know which metrics are key to your deals and stay on top of those. That’ll help you know where to jump in. And you can keep tabs on where proposals are in the pipeline—created, sent, signed, and so on. This helps you do two things: stay on top of what’s happening with your team’s proposals and feel like more of a collaborator and less of a micro-manager since you won’t need to keep “just checking in” all the time.
If you’re using proposal software, you can keep all your internal comments on the proposal in one place, rather than random Google docs or emails. For example, within Proposify you can leave general comments relating to the whole document or you can go in and comment on specific pages. The proposal lead will receive an in-app and email notification that a colleague has left a note for them.
4. Easily get eyes on docs before they go out with approval workflows
A too-casual approval process can mean errors can slip through. And something too strict could slow your sales process to a crawl right at a critical point. But proposal approval is a critical collaboration point. After all, you wouldn’t want your team’s proposals going out with nasty surprises, like errors that could have been avoided if there was an easy way to get another set of eyes on them.
As in number 2 above, this is where roles and permissions shine in the proposal collaboration process. Using proposal software, you can set up your proposal creation process so that proposals need to be viewed and approved by certain users before they are ready to be sent out.
But instead of gathering dust on a desk or in an email inbox, your sales reps can quickly send their proposal for approval. In Proposify, this means that users under this setting see a Request Approval button instead of a Send button. The approver receives an email with a link to review the proposal and provide their feedback or stamp of approval. The proposal creator then receives a notification that their proposal has been reviewed and can edit or send as required.
Start here to improve proposal collaboration
Okay, it’s time to get smart about proposal collaboration. Many teams avoid collaboration because they think they have to pick a side: the evil chaos of group participation or the kind of ineffective control that causes silos.
The first step to knocking down those ‘cones of silence’ is to review the tech stack you’re using to create and manage proposals. Why? Because technology forms the foundation of how we work together today. In fact, 89% of professionals depend on tech to collaborate.
Start by asking a couple of questions, like how is each piece of technology helping or hindering collaboration within your team and with other colleagues or departments? Is there a new process or software that you could add that might make collaboration as silo-free and smooth as possible?
Then, using the tips above, you’re ready to dial in on your proposal collaboration strategy.