9 ways to fill your business opportunity pipeline

Eat the pie one slice at a time.

Marketing is about segmentation. Filling your pipeline is about divide and conquer. It's easier to eat the pie one slice at a time. Don't think of the total number of leads you need to find to hit your numbers. Instead, think of how many leads you need in each slice. Then strategically consider how big each slice should be. Is one dominant? Or do you not want to have all of your eggs in one basket? Which ones are required to maintain your revenue, and which are the targets for growth? Here are some ideas for how to divide your pipeline and make filling it easier:

See also:
Assessing and filling your business opportunity pipeline
  1. New customers. A new customer that you have not done business with before has the largest potential long-term value. And costs the most to gain. They should be part of your investment strategy. Other parts require smaller investments. Targeted relationship marketing is the best way to find and develop new customers, but it requires time, patience, and investment. It can also generate the highest return on investment.
  2. Existing customers. Once you “have your foot in the door” with a project for the customer, you may find other ways to serve them. Consider both vertical (similar specialization) and horizontal (other types of work) strategies. If you have a happy customer, make sure they understand the full range of your capabilities. Employ relationship marketing to its full potential.
  3. Organic growth. Don’t overlook whether your existing customer projects can be expanded. It might require modifying your contract and the customer may need additional funding. But this often takes far less effort than a new procurement to get those same services. Organic growth alone will usually not hit the big numbers you need, but it can be a nice boost.
  4. Recompetes. Recompetes are a wonderful hybrid. You can target them years in advance. You can selectively and efficiently conduct relationship marketing by targeting recompetes. But you are limited to business that’s already out there and an incumbent might (but maybe not) have the advantage. Recompetes can be a big slice of the pie. 
  5. Prime contracting. The price for controlling your own destiny is finding and winning your own customers. The prime contractor gets to claim the past performance, gets the most facetime with the customer, and gets to decide how workshare gets allocated. But a prime contractor has to invest more in its pursuits. A lot more. 
  6. Subcontracting. Not being responsible for the proposal is great. But if the prime doesn’t absolutely need you, you may not get what you expect. Leverage is required for success. Unique product providers with something needed by an integrator or service provider sometimes choose this route and successfully avoid a lot of overhead. It’s a lot harder for a service provider to be irreplaceable. Some amount of subcontracting, especially when playing the small business teaming with large business game, can be part of the mix. But outside of construction and products it’s rare to see companies only do subcontracting. 
  7. Public vs private sector. Sometimes public sector companies think they have something they can sell in the private sector. And sometimes private sector companies covet big juicy government contracts. But very few companies are good at both. Most attempts are disasters. The marketing, accounting, finance, sales cycle, organization, policies, procedures, regulations, and culture are very different. It’s a lot like having a split personality. Be skeptical of filling your pipeline by reaching across the public/private sector fence. Consider investing in a subsidiary that will be a company with the right attributes to do business on the other side of that fence, but that can share resources with the parent.
  8. Products vs services. If you sell products, services can be a natural add-on. If you sell services, they can sometimes be productized. Adding products or services can help you with organic growth. But sometimes it’s really more of a marketing and positioning strategy than a new strategic marketing where you can fill your pipeline.
  9. Contract vehicles. Adding contract vehicles won’t bring you business. They make it easier to close the sales you originate through relationship marketing.  Some vehicles do lend themselves to opportunistic bidding more than others. But opportunistic bidding as a strategy is a great way to destroy your company’s future potential. Go where your customers are.

Lots of other things can potentially impact your pipeline, but may not be strategies for filling your pipeline. For example, change of any kind such as technology, regulatory changes, reorganizations, and other transitions can create the need for procurements. But jumping on a trend is not the same thing as having a sustainable approach to filling your pipeline. 

But maybe your pipeline is not the problem. Maybe it’s your win rate. Double your win rate and you can hit your numbers with half as many leads. Improve your win rate by a more realistic 20% and you need to find 20% fewer opportunities to bid to achieve the same revenue. This is mathematically the same as finding a way to fill 20% of your pipeline. You shouldn’t be thinking about filling your pipeline without also thinking about your win rate. Investing in one without considering the other will not produce the best ROI.

Regardless of which approaches work best for your company to fill its pipeline, make sure you are measuring your win rate, cost of sales, and ROI for each approach separately. Some approaches to filling your pipeline will have a better ROI than others. Your win rate in each slice of the pie is going to be different. And those difference matter strategically.

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Carl Dickson

Carl is the Founder and President of CapturePlanning.com and PropLIBRARY

Carl is an expert at winning in writing. The materials he has published have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is also a prolific author, frequent speaker, trainer, and consultant and can be reached at carl.dickson@captureplanning.com. To find out more about him, you can also connect with Carl on LinkedIn.

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