17 questions that will determine the success of your business development efforts

Winning more business this year is not as simple as submitting more bids or trying harder. There are so many things you could improve that it’s easy to get lost in the weeds. So instead of making the longest list we could think of, we’ve prepared the shortest.

There is nothing on this list that you can safely ignore. And anything we can think of to add is arguably just a subset of something already here. While we wrote the list with an entire company or business unit in mind, there should be plenty here to help you at the department or organizational level.

Because we kept these so succinct, the questions have broad implications and subsume other questions at a more granular level. In answering the following, consider their full potential:

See also:
Pre-RFP Questions
  1. What’s your future if you stay on your current path and don’t change? Is it good? Is it bad? What should you do about it?
  2. What businesses do you want to be in? Note, this is a different from what businesses are you currently in. We played with the idea of making this one “What do you want to be when you grow up?” because we find it helpful to always be thinking about becoming and building towards something great instead of just being.
  3. What changes do you want to make internally? Separate from reactions to the external world, dealing with trends, and keeping up with the competition (and your customers!), you should periodically consider what you’d like to change within your own organization and how you do things.
  4. What numbers do you need to hit? Finance matters. It determines your resources, what you need to accomplish with them, and what strategies are applicable.
  5. How do the numbers translate into a pipeline of business? Just because you have targets, doesn’t mean you’re going to hit them. Understanding your pipeline serves two purposes. It tells you what it will take to hit your numbers, and helps you measure your progress towards achieving them.
  6. How should you invest in this future and allocate resources? Pursuing new business requires investment. But where and how much? Investment can mean both what shows up in your budget and the things that don’t. Effort is a form of investment that may or may not impact your budget. Where you are going to put effort is as important as how you are going to allocate your budget.
  7. How should you position in each marketplace you want to target? Are you the low price provider or the top quality provider? There are an infinite number of ways you can position. And you can position in the customer’s eyes, against the competition, in terms of technology, or any other way that makes sense. But you can’t position as everything to everybody. And you can’t change your positioning every time the wind blows.
  8. What differentiates you? The customer will select either you or an alternative. Differences matter. Planning to be different helps ensure that you show up with the right difference.
  9. Where should you look for leads and how will you qualify them? Where should people prospect? What constitutes a valid lead that’s worth pursuing?
  10. What information do you need to win and where will you get it? When everyone is bidding against the same RFP, being able to better interpret the RFP and understand the customer’s perspective becomes a major competitive advantage. In order to get the information that will help you win, you have to know what to seek and where to look for it.
  11. How will you track your progress in developing an information advantage for each lead? If you want to make sure you have an information advantage at RFP release, you have to take steps to ensure it happens. If you don’t track your progress, then the time will pass and you may have nothing to show for it. How you track your progress in developing an information advantage is a major part of the secret sauce for consistently winning. It’s the difference between knowing what you should do and actually doing it.
  12. Which of your leads should you not bid? Making effective bid/no bid decisions is important. If you're bidding everything you find, something is wrong. What you choose not to bid is a good indicator of how effective your bid/no bid decision process is.
  13. How does your positioning translate into bid strategies for each bid? While bid strategies should be pursuit-specific, they shouldn’t be made up out of thin air for each bid. Bid strategies should reflect the way your company wants to position itself. When you have solid positioning strategies, bid strategies are both easier to develop and more effective in implementation.
  14. How will you figure out what you should say in your proposals? Figuring out what to say in your proposals by writing them leads to re-write after re-write that ends with submission of what you have instead of a proposal that reflects your full potential. One of the single most highly leveraged things you can do to improve your win rate is to improve how you figure out what to say in your proposals before you start writing them.
  15. How should you define proposal quality? You can't achieve it if you can’t define it. If you think you know what it is and you can’t define it, then you don’t really know what it is.
  16. How will you assess quality and progress? Once you know what quality is, you need to implement an organizational approach to assessing it. Likewise, you need more than just draft reviews to measure progress towards creating a great proposal. Your ability to assess quality and track progress is crucial for the success of your proposal efforts.
  17. How will you get everyone on the same page to prepare the proposals you want to submit? Other people are a problem. Doing a proposal with other people requires coordination, communication, collaboration, and oversight in addition to just doing. You might be able to do a proposal quite effectively. But getting other people to do proposals effectively is the challenge. If your company is going to consistently win, you have to get everyone on the same page. A good place to start is by making sure everyone answers these questions the same way.

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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.

Click here to learn how to engage Carl as a consultant.

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It all starts with a conversation. You can contact us by clicking the button to send us a message, or by calling 1-800-848-1563.


One of our consulting services shows your company how to quantify what you need to do to successfully grow your business. We can show you mathematically how much effort is required at each phase and what has the biggest impact on revenue. It clarifies your goals, budgets, and how to allocate resources. Understanding your pipeline can turn business development from an art into a science. It all starts with a conversation. Use the Proposal Help Desk to ask us about how we do pipeline assessments.