One of the most enlightening, thought-provoking and rewarding parts of my job is talking business with some of the really smart people who comprise my company’s customer base.
The refrain I’ve been hearing from them lately has to do with proposals and landing new business. Whether I’m talking with the head of business development at a global construction and engineering company, the CFO at a busy government contractor or the principal at a small, family-owned architecture firm, they are all telling me essentially the same thing: any tools that enable them to quickly and efficiently craft proposals aren’t just nice to have, they are essential to winning the right business. What’s more, the firms that are really flourishing in terms of new business attribute much of that success to having an organized, repeatable approach to pursuing new business, along with tools that automate, streamline and standardize their capture and pursuit processes.
There will always be a premium on the interpersonal skills involved in winning new business and cultivating long-term relationships. However, in a highly pressurized business environment like the one we are in today, with labor in short supply and companies across industries and markets seeking any edge they can find in vying for new business, relationships will carry a business only so far in its new business pursuits. What I’m hearing from people throughout the industries we serve is that their companies are leaning more heavily than ever on tools that enable them to better evaluate business opportunities to pursue new business and to automate and structure their pursuit processes. Across the board, organizations fare better in their new business pursuits when they have a stronger proposal process, along with better tools to support the teams and people involved in that process.
Based on my ongoing conversations with customers and the original research we regularly conduct to gain insight into our customers and the industries we serve, here are several approaches, practices and capabilities that consistently translate into optimized win rates:
1. Use analytics tools and a formal gating process to determine which pursuits are winnable and which aren’t. When we asked government contractors to identify the biggest business development (BD) challenges they plan to address this year, they identified “being smarter about targeting their pursuits” as their top priority. To that end, we see more firms conducting strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) and other competitive analyses. We also see more firms adopting a formalized gate process and bringing advanced analytics tools into their evaluations of each pursuit at specific points in the capture process. These kinds of approaches enable them to make better bid/no-bid decisions and to cull “losers” early in the capture process, before they become time and money sinks. The most successful firms conduct reviews multiple times during a pursuit and don’t hesitate to halt a proposal effort if new information adversely changes the win probability.
2. Develop and consistently follow an organized, repeatable and automated approach to new business pursuits, rather than a one-off approach to each solicitation. Unrealistic RFP timelines, staff shortages and higher volumes of work are a few of the biggest impediments to consistently creating high-quality, winning proposals. Simply throwing more people at the problem isn’t the answer, based on how costly that can be amid the prevailing talent shortage. Instead, organizations that excel at converting proposals into new business have put in place standardized, automated digital frameworks and processes, and they apply them to each and every new business pursuit. Automating parts of the proposal creation process helps ensure the entire organization is working toward the same end in terms of deadlines and deliverables. It also helps with quick-turnaround RFPs, particularly when a company is short on staff. And it spares an organization the expense of new hires.
3. Strengthen channels between proposal staff and other relevant parts of the business. To craft and submit well-priced and well-supported proposals on-target and on time, the entire capture team must have ready access to data, information and individuals across the business. Automation can really help here, leading to seamless, speedier processes across the teams involved in proposal creation, including business development, sales, project management, human resources and finance. Companies with a solid enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution that enables open lines of communication and the seamless, secure flow of information across the enterprise are ahead of the game in this regard.
4. Arm yourself with the right CRM tools — and use them consistently. In our recent research involving government contractors, almost half told us they still rely on Excel as their primary pipeline tool, while about another third said they use no customer relationship management (CRM) tool whatsoever. While that’s probably not reflective of every business and industry, it’s clear that implementing a single, integrated CRM solution tailored to your business can help keep the pipeline full and the project backlog growing.
Regardless of an organization’s size or the industry in which it competes, winning new business and keeping the pipeline full nowadays demands a strong, sophisticated set of pursuit and capture capabilities. In the end, firms that embrace these capabilities should win significantly more pursuits than they lose.