Growth is the source of all opportunity for a contractor. Prices are locked in for the duration of the contract. Even when you account for pricing escalations, that usually just covers inflation, and not promotions, new hires, new tools, etc. Without growth, most contractors can’t even tread water for very long. Without growth, rising costs will force them to cut overhead expenses. Investing for the future almost always comes from growth.
Everybody in the company benefits from its growth. If you got a raise and it wasn’t offset by cutting somewhere else, it came from growth. If you’re sitting on a new chair, it was probably paid for by growth. If you can’t get a new chair approved, there probably isn’t enough growth. If you want a promotion, you need the company to grow enough to grant it.
A growing company is a happy place. A company that is treading water can be stifling. A contractor that is shrinking is a fearful place. The same, by the way, is true of people. People need growth to prosper.
Most growth for a contractor comes through winning proposals. You don’t have to work on proposals. You get to work on proposals. You get to grow. You get to bring growth to the others you work with. Whatever you think your job or corporate mission is, it's really about growth.
Growth Hack #1
Proposals are an investment and not an expense. People minimize expenses. When an investment is paying off, you go all in. But you have to know when an investment is generating a positive return. Win rate is a proxy for ROI. Carefully track what things are impacting your win rate (it can be counterintuitive and rules of thumb aren’t). If you want to grow by winning proposals, then instead of minimizing your proposal efforts you should invest in doing your proposals better.
Growth Hack #2
Growth comes from winning and not from chasing leads. At a 30% win rate, a 10% increase is mathematically the same as adding 30% more leads. How much would a company invest in gaining 30% more leads? But increasing your win rate is better because you don’t have to chase 30% more leads to achieve it. Increasing your win rate is also more profitable than chasing more leads. On top of all that, increasing your win rate will pay off again next year, but you'll have to find new leads to chase. So invest as much as you would in getting 30% more leads into increasing your win rate and you’ll be better off. Hoping for more leads is not the same as winning. It's time to get serious about winning business.
Growth Hack #3
Winning easily pays for more winning. What is 1% of your proposal submissions last year? Now multiply that by 10. That is what a 10% win rate improvement would have returned. It’s typically many times what it would cost to do your proposals well. Doesn’t that make the effort a worthwhile investment? Shouldn't you respond to RFPs like you're trying to get good at it?
Growth Hack #4
Shortcuts kill your ability to grow. Do you think that it’s too hard to get ahead of the RFP? Or that you can’t make your subject matter experts available to adequately support proposals? Or that executives are too important to read the RFP before participating in a proposal review? Or that it makes financial sense to stretch the people trying to win as thinly as possible? Shortcuts like these reduce your win rate, and the cost of them is far more than it saves. It’s penny wise and pound foolish. See Growth Hack #3 and run the numbers in the other direction. Is it worth a few hours of cost reduction if it produces a 1% reduction in win rate? A reduction in win rate typically costs you far more than the “cost savings” of trying to get by on the cheap. Most companies lose before they even start their proposals.
Growth Hack #5
Growth requires everyone to participate. Proposals need subject matter expertise. They need customer awareness. They need competitive intelligence. They need a price to win. They need appropriate terms and conditions. They need staffing. They need facilities. They absolutely depend on having great past performance. Not only does everyone in the company benefit from growth, but everyone in the company has something to contribute to achieving that growth. If you want to do proposals bigger than yourself, you've got to make contributing to growth the normal routine and not an exception.
Growth Hack #6
Beware the hand-offs. Now that you’ve got everyone contributing, you’ve got a problem. Are people worked in silos, or are their efforts integrated? Is sales delivering the information needed to write a winning proposal to the people writing the proposal? Is sales even participating in the proposal? Are the project staff who have customer contact providing insight? What about the hand-off to pricing? Is pricing working in isolation from your win strategies? Is pricing introducing strategies that aren’t reflected in your proposal narrative? Every hand-off is a chance for things to get watered down. Here's a list of 90 things someone needs to do to win proposals and who is usually responsible.
Growth Hack #7
Work backwards from the goal. What will it take to win? How do know whether the draft proposal reflects it? How do you build your proposal around it? How do you discover what it will take to win? The goal that you are trying to achieve informs each prior step required to fulfill it. Your proposal process shouldn’t start from a blank sheet of paper. It should start from a winning proposal and reverse engineer it. Your proposal process should be goal-driven and not steps that people can ignore or skip.
Growth Hack #8
Small companies can’t put off growth. You’re pulled in many different directions. You wear many hats. The only thing that will make it better is growth. Prioritize what you must do to achieve that growth. Only bid what you can win, and do what it takes to win what you bid.
Growth Hack #9
Don’t be afraid of losing. One thing that holds companies back from investing in improving their win rate is that they worry about not actually achieving an increase in their win rate. This is partially a result of not knowing how to improve their win rate. It's also partially because they still view proposals as creative expression based on people just trying hard, instead of a deliberate process based on quality validation. But it’s funny how they never avoid investing in sales just because it might not bring in the business or they haven’t already identified the leads they intend to pursue.
Growth Hack #10
If you can’t follow your proposal process, you have the wrong proposal process. Most companies don’t follow their own proposal process. It’s usually not because they aren’t capable or dedicated. Or because the process isn't enforced. It’s because their proposal process is based on common but flawed ideas. Don’t beat your head against a wall. Throw your broken process out and start over. It's worth the investment. Proposals can be a lot of work, but they shouldn’t be a struggle every time. If you accept that a chaotic train wreck is normal for proposals, then you will never achieve the highest win rate possible for your organization.
Growth Hack #11
Healthy growth requires developing and maintaining an information advantage. Maximizing your proposal win rate requires having an information advantage about the customer, opportunity, and competitive environment. When writing proposals, an information advantage is a competitive advantage. All of your customer interactions, whether sales, technical, or otherwise, should be part of developing and maintaining your information advantage.
Advanced growth hacking (for PropLIBRARY Subscribers)
PropLIBRARY Subscribers who are signed in will see an additional 4 growth hacks here describing the calculations needed to estimate how many proposals are needed to achieve your growth targets, additional calculations for how many people you need to hit your growth targets, how to develop your organization’s culture to support growth, and what to do to achieve an integrated workflow that deliver growth.
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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 email@example.com. To find out more about him, you can also connect with Carl on LinkedIn.