The importance of the Program Manager-Designate (I say "designate", as this individual is not yet in charge of the program, but will be, upon award) cannot be overestimated. Why is that?
First, customers buy not only an organization, but customers also buy people. The single most important "people" the customer has an opportunity to "buy" is the Program Manager. This is the individual with first-line responsibility — and corresponding authority — to ensure successful execution of the program. Therefore, if the customer either doesn’t know the Program Manager, or knows and doesn’t like that individual, then the entire organization, and the entire proposal, is "swimming upstream" in that competition.
Second, the proposal team needs a countervailing force to the Capture Manager, and the Marketing Manager. Those two proposal team members’ primary concern is winning the competition, and they are typically not nearly so concerned about how to execute the program, and / or how to make money on the program at the offered price. The Program Manager, on the other hand, knows (or should know) the implications the proposal has for program execution. So the Program Manager brings to the proposal team that "steady hand" that prevents over-promising, or under-bidding, in the proposal.
Typical Problems Achieving this in Practice
"We don’t have anybody."
My experience is that, even in large organizations, the perceived field of talented, skilled program managers is narrow. Limiting the choice of program manager to those with name and face recognition with the customer even further narrows the field. Therefore, the inventory of program managers meeting the criteria is thin or non-existent. OK. Then either find someone, (within the company, or outside) who DOES meet these qualifications, or seriously consider a no-bid.
"We have somebody, but he/she is already tied up with another program, and can’t be spared."
That’s another way of saying, "We want to win, but not badly enough to get really qualified people on the proposal effort. OK. Then this is a signal that Top Management is not really committed to winning, and again a no-bid signal. Remember that "commitment" is without meaning, unless that commitment is evidenced by the willingness to spend money to achieve a win.
Placing the right Program Manager-Designate on the proposal team has two benefits: It sends the right message to the customer,and it improves the probability that the proposal, as submitted, can be executed at a profit.