Most companies have regular business development meetings to discuss their pursuits. These meetings usually do very little to increase the company’s win rate, but give everyone a chance to convince themselves that “they’ve done everything they should.” The reality is that the meetings have been subverted. How did that happen?
It happens when your business development meetings focus on:
- How many things you’re tracking and what they add up to. Most companies obsess more over how much they have in their pipeline and too little on what they are doing to win them. Should your business development meetings be about quotas and your company’s future finances, or about increasing its chances of winning?
- What’s on the reports or in the PowerPoint instead of discussing what matters. Reports usually describe the opportunity or activity instead of whether or how you are getting into position to win. When people read their reports they run out the clock for discussing anything more substantive, like assessments, validation, differentiators, and what it will take to win.
- Status instead of change. It’s too easy to hide behind an acceptable sounding status. What really matters is what has been accomplished since the last meeting. What matters is change, both good and bad.
- What people are doing instead of what they are accomplishing. Another good way to run out the clock is to talk about what you’ve done instead of the results you’ve achieved that will impact your chances of winning. So what if someone called on the customer? What did they learn that’s useful? Or what have they still not discovered that you need to know in order to win?
- The same-old, same-old. When pursuits become routine, people tend to go through the motions of team building, qualification, compliance, and positioning. They do what they think is expected without thinking about it. Your company is what it is, and nobody is going to admit it’s normal instead of great. What gets lost is differentiation. Normal doesn’t win. What will you offer and how will you deliver in ways that are superior?
- Your company’s perspective instead of the customer’s perspective. When your meetings are about what you have done, what you have learned, and where you are at, what gets lost is what matters to the customer. What matters to them regarding their needs? What matters to the customer regarding a potential vendor? Why should they care about you? Whatever you do, do not let this slide because no one knows the customer well enough to reflect their perspective.
When the customer isn’t talking and you’ve exhausted your other sources, it’s hard to learn anything new. Most companies simply wait for the RFP, holding business development meetings that they coast through. Instead, spend the time thinking about what can you do to better position your company, develop your offering, or close the gap between where you are now and what it will take to win. Use your business development meetings to detect when pursuits have stalled and to provide inspiration regarding what else can be done to increase your chances of winning.
Here are some things you can do in your business development meetings to resist the incredibly strong pull towards routine and being merely ordinary:
- Throw away reports that just describe the opportunity. Create new reports with three items: what changed last month, what changed this month, and what it will take to win. Look for trends or stagnation. Make the meetings about winning instead of describing.
- Define and continuously debate what it will take to win. Create criteria. List questions that need to be answered. Start with a long list and use it to create a process of elimination. It will help people tremendously to know what is expected of them and what they should be prepared to discuss.
- Measure yourself against what it will take to win. Your meetings shouldn’t be about what you know or what you’ve done. They should be about whether you know what you need to know to win. Measure your pursuits against winning and not against last month. Do you have an information advantage? A competitive advantage? Differentiators? Bid strategies? Do you know how to write a proposal from the customer’s perspective instead of you own? What is the gap between what you know and what you should know? Are you trending towards or away from what it will take to win? Are you going months without any progress?
- Require people (including yourself) to read the reports before the meeting. Never spend expensive time sitting around a table reading information people already have. Instead, talk about it. Talk about what matters about the information instead of the information. Talk about the challenges and what to do about them. Talk about what else can be done to improve your chances of winning and how to accomplish those things.
- Switch from asking “what do we know about the customer?” to “what do we think matters vs. what does the customer think matters?” Don’t let people get away with saying what they think matters to the customer. Push hard for verification directly from the customer. The customer will decide whether you win, and they won’t hand it to you just because you think they should.
- Recognize that while you will never submit a bid knowing everything you would like to know about the customer, that shouldn’t stop you from trying to discover it. Whether you are making sufficient progress towards being ready to win is a judgment call. The process should deliver the information you need to make that judgment call. You don’t want to make it blindly or simply accept whatever comes in as being all that could be obtained. When someone hits a stone wall, that’s an opportunity for you to add resources, try other contacts, try different approaches, and leverage your collective connections. The reason you should push is to create the opportunities for that to occur.
During the pre-RFP phase, it is critical that you capture the information you will need to close the sale with a winning proposal. Without an information advantage, your proposal will be doomed to being merely ordinary. Your business development meetings should not be about reviewing "status" but about discovering that information advantage.
What you do in your business development meetings can ultimately have a greater impact on your win rate than what you do during the proposal phase. So why do people put heroic efforts into the proposal phase, but sleep through their business development meetings?
Subscribe to PropLIBRARY
Unlock our premium content, including the recipes, forms, checklists, etc. that make it easy to turn our recommendations into winning proposals.
The materials he has published have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is an expert at winning in writing. He is a prolific author, frequent speaker, trainer, and consultant.
In addition, the groups Carl moderates on LinkedIn provide a place for tens of thousands of business development and proposal professionals to discuss best practices and network.