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8 pursuit and capture process goals to accomplish before your proposal starts

How to bring just a little structure to the pre-proposal pursuit

Most proposals are won or lost before they begin. Either you go into the proposal with an information advantage, or you are trying to fake your way through the proposal without one. Even though this is true, most companies don't have a mature process for pursuing a lead before the proposal starts. Their process amounts to:

  • Hire a good salesperson, whatever that means, to dig up some information.
  • Create the illusion of process by having bid/no bid reviews. 

As a company matures, bid/no bid criteria tend to become more sophisticated. However, believing you have a chance at winning is not the same thing as having the information you need to write the winning proposal. Having a standard for whether to bid a pursuit is not the same thing as having a process for lead pursuit and capture. 
When most companies start thinking about formalizing their pursuit and capture process, they often only think about activities, like meetings, events, and contacts. And because they don't know what sequence the events will occur in, they can't imagine how to turn it into a process. They create bid/no bid criteria and often just make the rest up as they go along.

What they need are goals for pursuit and capture. Goals inform people about what they should accomplish. And goals can be used to prepare to close the sale with a winning proposal.

1. Establish that you have an acceptable lead

See also:
Pre-RFP Pursuit

When your prospecting efforts appear to have found something, you need to establish that it's an acceptable lead. Some companies track every lead they consider. Some companies only track leads they intend to pursue. Some companies incentivize lead discovery. It’s not a lead until it has been accepted as such. Note that an acceptable lead still needs to be qualified as worth investing in pursuit. An acceptable lead is generally one worth looking into so you can determine whether it is a potential match for your company. What is required to identify a lead as acceptable at your company?

2. Qualify that the lead is worth the expense of pursuit

Once you have a lead, the next goal is to qualify the lead and prove that it is worth pursuing. This goal is an investment decision, because capturing a pursuit is expensive. Some companies have rigorous requirements for qualifying a lead, while other companies merely need to know if they can do the work. The level of effort put into lead qualification is usually proportionate to the cost of closing the sale with a winning proposal. If you sell commodities and crank out lots of proposals, lead qualification might be a simple checklist. If you sell complex services or unique solutions in a competitive environment with large, complex proposal efforts, you should put more effort into proving your leads are worth the cost of pursuit.

The criteria used for lead qualification are often similar, if not identical, to what you use for making bid/no bid decisions. A company with an ineffective bid/no bid process will also usually have an ineffective lead qualification process. In an effective bid/no bid decision process, each goal, step, or review is another bid/no bid decision gate. Each one is an opportunity to cancel a pursuit that is a bad investment. When you limit each decision to whether to take the pursuit to the next phase, the decision criteria can be more specific. You don’t have to do a detailed win probability assessment in the early stages. But in later stages that would certainly be one of the considerations. In early stages you will be operating with less information and what is acceptable then may not be acceptable for bid decisions in later stages. 

3. Pursue with the intent to capture

Once you have qualified that a lead is worth pursuing, the next goal is to prepare to capture the pursuit. This requires achieving several goals all at once:

  1. Discover what it will take to win
  2. Develop an information advantage
  3. Respond to customer requests (requests for information, sources sought notices, draft RFPs, etc.)
  4. Determine what to offer

This phase might take 80% of the pre-proposal capture level of effort. It will require regular (weekly or monthly) progress reviews. 

8. Prepare proposal input

If the sale closes with a winning proposal, then it's critical that the pursuit process delivers the information needed to write a winning proposal, in the form that proposal writers will need it in. Otherwise, all that effort may not do anything to impact the award decision. What good is having an information advantage, if you don't take action on the information you have? What good is having an information advantage, if the proposal writers are unaware of its significance, or what to do with that information in the particular sections of the proposal where it is relevant? If all you do is gather information and wait until RFP release, you will not achieve the highest win rate possible.

What about relationship marketing?

Having a customer relationship is not the goal. A customer relationship is a means to achieving your goals. Every one of these goals will be more easily accomplished with a strong customer relationship. None of these goals may be possible to achieve without a strong customer relationship. The strength of your customer relationship is often a good lead qualification and bid/no bid decision criterion. The strength of your customer relationship can be measured by how well it produces an information advantage.

Turning your goals into a process

Each goal will have activities to accomplish. Each will also have process deliverables to complete. And each will have quality criteria that define whether the goal has been successfully accomplished. You should articulate your goals and design your process deliverables so that the result produces the information advantage required to close the sale with a winning proposal.  That is what having a pursuit and capture process look like. It requires more than just holding progress meetings.

The Goldilocks pursuit and capture process

image.pngIntroducing too much structure all at once can be overwhelming. A goal-driven process can be introduced a little at a time. Achieving the goals is far more important than the procedures used in achieving them. If all you do is define your goals and nothing more, you will improve performance. 

As an organization matures, it can introduce things that make achieving the goals easier. This is the real reason to have quality criteria. Quality criteria are better used to enable people to know when they’ve accomplished a goal, rather than simply using them to catch defects in performance. A goal-driven process is less about procedures and forcing people to do things in a particular way, and more about helping people accomplish their goals.

Setting up pre-proposal goals enables you to seek a Goldilocks solution. You don’t want too little structure. You don’t want too much structure. You want just the right amount of structure. Just the right amount of structure makes performance easier for people while maximizing your win rate. 

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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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