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6 ways to become a better executive and win more contracts

It's how you build a prosperous organization

The purpose of this article isn’t to tell you how to be an executive. You already know that. And if you don’t, you’ll be hearing soon from all the needy voices. The purpose of this article is to share some insights and lessons learned related to business development, capture, and proposals that can help you grow your organization and be more prosperous. This article is not about the details of those functions, but what those functions need from their executive sponsor. This isn’t obvious stuff, it’s not generic rules of thumb, and it’s usually not taught. So hopefully there’s a pony in there somewhere for you.

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Organizational Development
  1. Make who does what clear. Don’t leave it up to your people to figure out roles and responsibilities by themselves. People without authority have no way other than asking nicely for other people to do things that are critical to success. They have no way to resolve other people’s priority conflicts. They know what needs to be done and how to do it. But they need you to make it clear who is responsible and what their priorities should be. When you leave an issue like billability vs proposal support unresolved, you’ll get watered down proposals. Every time. Your staff won’t consider alternatives that are easy for you. Your staff likely do not have the authority to compel people to do what might be necessary. With your experience and authority, you probably won’t need to use compulsion. In any event, clarity in roles and responsibilities prevents a lot of wasted time and reduced quality.
  2. Don’t break things. When you are involved, show up to reviews prepared, complete your proposal assignments on time, and follow the process. If you don’t set the example, your people will also find reasons to make exceptions instead of working together. If it’s too much of a pain for you to show up prepared and do things the right way, your staff will emulate that. On the other hand, when they hear you citing the RFP from memory, questioning interpretations, and matching strategies to what it will take to get the highest score, they’ll emulate that instead. When you make exceptions for yourself, you don’t just set a bad example, you break things you depend on.
  3. Explain resource trade-offs. Your staff may not understand it, but of course every function is understaffed. Staff are the biggest cost in a service company. One of the few ways to run a services business into the ground is to overstaff. They don’t realize this. They need to understand that it’s not just about profitability for shareholders, but that each new hire costs as much as a raise for 20 or so people. When they know the trade-offs that have to be balanced, it’s easier for them to understand why they can’t have everything they’d like to have. And when combined with creating a culture of growth, you can give them a light at the end of the tunnel. 
  4. Create a culture of growth. Your company’s mission statement is probably wrong and someone should fix it. The goal isn’t to be the “best at what you do” or whatever similar noise it currently proclaims. Your mission is to create opportunity. And the source of all opportunity comes from growth. Growth is like the tide that raises all boats. Your company’s growth brings new benefits to your customers, new positions for staff, salary increases, and increases in the size of the overhead pool. What happens without growth is not pleasant to talk about. There are precious few opportunities for raises or new hires when contracts are locked in for years. Opportunity beyond the status quo only comes from organic growth and winning new contracts. Every single person in your company contributes to that growth. And every single one of them benefits from it. But for too many of them, it’s just an abstract concept instead of an everyday reality. They don’t realize just how personal winning new business is. Building a culture of growth starts by making them aware and then making prosperous growth everyone’s mission.
  5. Explain your approach to bid/no bid decisions. Similar to resource trade-offs, your business development, capture, and proposal staff also need to understand that they’re not wasting their time pouring effort into a proposal for a pursuit that should never have been bid. If you can’t come up with anything more inspirational than “we can do the work” or “I think we have a chance at winning it,” you might want to reconsider the criteria you’re using to make bid decisions. Provide good, solid, inspiring reasons why each pursuit is worth the effort. Breaking into new customers in new markets may require bidding pursuits with lower odds of winning. Staying in front of a key strategic customer might make bidding something you don’t expect to win worth it. Instead of that being a signal to your staff that they can slack off, it should be a call to submit something competitive to improve your future chances of growth. Help them be goal driven. Help them develop a sense of purpose and accomplishment for all of their efforts. As a bonus, articulating your rationale will help you make better bid decisions in the future.
  6. Show that you understand win rate math and ROI economics. Your organization’s win rate determines its success more than any other metric. And yet, it is so difficult to properly calculate your win rate that it can be meaningless to compare win rates. What makes win rate so important is that it is crucial for understanding ROI. And understanding ROI is critical for measuring growth. You should become an expert in understanding win rate math and ROI economics in order to make data driven decisions about things like the proposal process and staffing. It is also good to teach it to your staff so that they understand how to measure growth and make better resource allocation decisions during pursuits. 

As much as process mechanics, having a common understanding of these issues is what will make your team work like a team. They add up to the combination of purpose and situational awareness needed for people to do a better job of working together to win.

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More information about "Carl Dickson"

Carl Dickson

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

Carl is an expert at winning in writing, with more than 30 year's experience. He's written multiple books and published over a thousand articles that have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is also a 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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