The way most companies go after new business is not based on what it will take to win. It’s based on the people they have. Even if they are good people working hard, we all have gaps in our expertise and experience. The way this plays out is that you’ll see companies where the proposal manager is really a production manager, the business development function treats the proposal as a simple hand-off, or where one person “does the proposals.” People tend to distribute the work based on their capabilities, interest, and availability. The result is that capturing new business is based on people and circumstances instead of what it will take to win. Some small businesses fall into this trap, but so do the largest ones.
The way you avoid this trap is to define how you capture business with a full perspective of what it will take to win, instead of what individuals think about it. Instead of sweeping gaps under the rug, you need to call them out and recognize them as roles that are currently unfilled or “dual hatted” and impediments to your company’s competitiveness that you are trying to grow out of. You may not be able to solve them today, but you should organize everything you do around solving them over time. That way you build your company around one integrated way of winning. If you don’t set things up to grow into it before you have multiple people at multiple locations involved, you may never get there and be doomed to competing below your potential.
It helps to consider what it will take to win and look at the things that need attention, separately from whether anybody focuses on them currently or how. You need to think in terms of what needs to be done and not who you have to do it. It helps to break out of your workflow and instead of thinking about things sequentially, think about them functionally. Here are six functional areas where people need to put some attention to win new business:
- Offering. If you are designing your offering by writing about it, or if you don’t start until the proposal phase, you can’t compete with companies that have a smarter offering design process. You should structure the way you design your offering around figuring out what you will offer before or separately from writing about it.
- Content. Who is responsible for the content? How do you separate the effort and responsibilities between subject matter experts, writers, offering design, management, review, and production? Someone has to create the content for all those other functions. But all those other functions are involved or related to content production. Is creating proposal content a silo or an integrated function? Who decides and how does it get implemented? If you have one person preparing your proposal content, you don’t have an integrated approach to preparing winning proposal content. So how are you going to grow into it? You need to know what you are trying to grow into first, and begin changing your culture now.
- Message. It’s not enough to have proposal content. It has to be positioned in ways that matter to the customer and optimized against how the customer will evaluate the proposals. This requires having messages, a story, themes, or whatever you want to call them. Whoever decides the messaging, decides how the proposal should be written and is making a judgment about what it will take to win. Does that person have a relationship with the customer? How can they do the job if they don’t? Is messaging one person or another integrated function? When and how is it implemented? Who decides when people disagree? The Business Development Growth Trap turns this into a territorial squabble. Messaging gets decided at the back end, but has to start at the front end. This almost always makes it a shared activity. How it should be shared should be defined by the organization early, even if one person is wearing all the hats.
- Process. Who decides what the process should be before the RFP is released? Who decides what it should be after RFP release? Who decides how to integrate the two? You don’t actually have to have a process to decide who. Identifying who makes these decisions will imply who will become responsible for developing the processes, and who their stakeholders are. Done right, this sets you up to phase in more mature processes that are fully integrated.
- Production. Who gets the document after it’s complete to format, finalize, and deliver? Is this what your “proposal specialist” does? Do they also do process, messaging, content, and offering design? Does it make sense that they should? Define the various roles now, even if they are assigned to one person, so you know what responsibilities and authorities that person should have and can separate the roles as your company grows.
- Graphics. Producing graphics is not one thing. With a hat tip to Mike Parkinson of the 24 Hour Company, conceptualizing the graphics is very different from rendering them. And the two are often performed by different people. Since we’re talking about what it will take to win, visual communication has to be part of the mix. This means you should task conceptualizing and rendering graphics separately, even if today you don’t have any graphics specialists. That way, as you grow into having graphics specialists, you’ll know what type you need, who is responsible for what, and can approach your graphics as an integrated part of the message, with responsibilities shared by all producing that message.
A lot of it comes down to defining roles that aren’t based on staff availability, org charts, or locations. Both before and after RFP release, business development, capture, and proposal roles should be defined functionally and based on discovering, assessing, and articulating what it will take to win. Over time you will need to define your processes, both before and after RFP release, but that will be easier if you already have the roles defined. If you wait until you have a lot of people or multiple locations involved, it will be like herding cats to get everyone to agree and comply. But if the roles are there, then it will clearer who gets to decide what, and who the stakeholders are in those decisions.
This sets you up to grow into an integrated process while you are still too resource-constrained and busy to think it through. It sets you up to add people without having to structure. It enables you to still work like a team as you grow. It enables people to grow into specializations. And it also sets you up to grow incredibly fast.
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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.
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