Why relationships are not enough for successful business development

What good are customer relationships if they don't impact your proposals?

In business development, companies often have one person managing the customer relationship. All relationships are personal, so companies tend not to think about making them process driven. But this causes problems in business development because over the life of the pursuit, many people will get involved. Relationship marketing is not about having relationships. It’s about winning because of your relationships. For relationships to lead to business, they must be productive.

The goal of the customer relationship is to supply what is needed to turn customer contacts into contract wins. This means it must produce the information that will be needed to win the proposal and accomplish certain goals. There are multiple stakeholders whose needs should be addressed.

To actually accomplish what you need to be ready to win at RFP release you need to guide that relationship to ensure that it delivers what is needed to address everyone’s needs and to close the sale with a winning proposal. If you just leave it to people, then no matter how hard they work or how smart they are, the results will be hit or miss, uncoordinated, and ultimately unreliable.

If one person owns the customer relationship, is the sales person, writes the proposal, and specifies what will be offered, there is no need for formal coordination. But once you have multiple people involved, you’ve grown beyond the point where business development is just about people.

When you make it a people problem, what you see at most companies is:

See also:
Information advantage
  1. They get to RFP release feeling unprepared because they can’t answer some of the questions other stakeholders have in order to write a winning proposal
  2. They measure the strength of their customer relationship and progress towards being ready to win by how recently they’ve contacted the customer instead of what information they got out of those contacts
  3. Regular business development meetings are about status and not about discovering what it will take to win
  4. Those involved in business development disappear once the proposal starts
  5. Bid strategies and themes are not developed until the proposal starts or those that are developed before the proposal starts are abandoned
  6. The proposal team doesn’t know what matters to the customer and is not sure how to position what they are writing about
  7. When any of the dozens of trade-off decisions come up during the development of the offering or proposal writing, they don’t know which side of the trade-offs the customer prefers

So what’s your score? How many of these occur at your company? How often do they occur when it’s your own recompete? If you think you have solid customer relationships but still have many of these issues, your relationships are not productive. The problem isn’t that people aren’t working hard enough to get the information, the problem is that a lack of structure is making results hit or miss and failing to deliver what stakeholders really need.

In this environment, some have better luck than others. Some work harder and some work smarter. They can win by making the best use of what they know instead of having what they really need. This is enough for the business to continue operating, and maybe even to grow by a contract here or there. If it’s a big contract, they can convince themselves they know the recipe for success.

A large percentage of the proposals you are competing against are made up by proposal teams without any real customer insight, often written by companies who are sure the strength of their customer relationship will win it for them. You can boost your win rate simply by being better than that. And the way you do that is to bring just enough structure to your pre-RFP business development efforts to ensure that you deliver the information that all stakeholders will need later to close the sale.

This makes it more than just a people problem. You need to:

  • Anticipate what information will be required to win
  • Manage the relationship to obtain the right information and accomplish your other goals
  • Coordinate with the other stakeholders about that information
  • Communicate progress towards being ready to win as well as status
  • Convert what you discover into a useable form

If you leave business development to your people, you’ll get their best efforts, just like all your competitors. But if you take the path less followed and create a structured approach to discovering what it will take to win, and then convert what you discovere into a winning proposal to close the deal, your win rate will reflect it.


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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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