5 things billion dollar companies do differently to win their proposals

How much difference is there?

Instead of being well-oiled intimidating machines, most big companies are a collection of political territories that often don’t know what resources are available to them and don’t cooperate very well anyway. They don’t have an abundance of staff because all those bodies are all already committed and their proposals are just as understaffed as the ones at small companies. And even though they have billions in revenue, they can only spend what’s in their budget on the proposal. But they do have some advantages over small businesses, they just aren’t what you think.

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Small Business
  1. Big companies have more patience. They target bids they know are coming up for recompete years in advance. They may not do much more than track them, but they are patient, and know where most of their future business will come from. IF they have their act together, they’ll go into it with an advantage in preparation. If they don’t have their act together (which happens far more often than you would think) they still have at least a little advantage.
  2. Big companies use more senior staff and specialists. Big companies usually don’t have an advantage in the number of people they can throw at their bids. The difference is they have more experienced managers and more business development, capture, and proposal specialists. Their proposal manager usually isn't also their administrative assistant. Also, because they're more hierarchical, the people doing the proposals at large companies usually have more authority to get things done.
  3. Big companies budget according to metrics and not according to cash flow. If they think they need to spend 2% of award value to win a bid, they spend it. If they think the proposal will require 8 hours a page over 200 pages, they will be prepared to cover the cost of 1,600 hours to write the proposal. It’s not that they have more money to spend. It’s that they can wait to recover it when they win, even taking their win rate into account (you don’t win them all). A small business might think spending $30,000 is a lot of money to win a $3 million dollar bid because they’re concerned about cash flow. A large business will spend that much or more on ten bids in a row, knowing the profit from winning a few will cover that cost several times over. It may take a couple of years just to break even, but they can ride it out.
  4. Big companies hire more consultants. See the item about budgets. If they need outside expertise and they’ve got the budget to cover it, they get it. They don’t hesitate like they’re taking money out of their own pocket.
  5. Big companies have more mature processes. They’ve done it before. Many times. So even if they are a bit dysfunctional or have processes that aren’t the best (which is usually the case), they’ve got more to work with and are more used to working as a team than a company with limited or no institutional knowledge.

The advantages that big companies have come down to experience, patience, and willingness to invest. Small companies that want to beat larger companies need to use smart processes and discipline to overcome the experience and budget advantages of their larger competitors. It also helps to have the financing needed to take a long-term view of your proposal investments. But even without that, you can submit better bids with fewer people if you are smarter about how you go about 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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