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Should you purchase a database for business development?

From some of the BD databases I've seen, they go for around 10-20% of what you could hire a person for. But that's a single user. If you get a multiuser subscription, it could be a lot closer to the cost of hiring someone. With enough users, you'll exceed it. So what should you do, focus on hiring business development staff or purchase a database?

A person and a database will always be better than either a person or a database alone, so it's no fun discussing which of those is better. But if you have one BD manager, a few executives, and a few key project managers, then you really could be looking at a choice between getting a BD database or hiring another BD specialist. That's worth discussing.

Here are some key points to consider:

  • Do you want primary source research (straight from the customer) and relationship marketing or do you lack the relationships and want an easy way to add leads to your tracking system?
  • Do you want your BD staff at their desks or in front of customers?
  • Will the database increase their productivity, or will it become a crutch that your staff will use to get their updates from the database instead of their contacts?
  • If you don’t have the database, isn’t that like having a handyman without any tools?
  • What advantage do you have over the competition when you’re all using the same databases?

So is a database worth the cost? The answer is an equation. An ROI equation. The problem is we don't have all the variables (and maybe never will):


Start with:
The annual profit from the amount of new leads that you would not have found on your own that turn into wins


The annual profit from the amount of submissions won because of intel that you would not have found on your own


The negative impact of raising your overhead costs through an expensive purchase during a period of customer price sensitivity


See also:
Assessing and filling your business opportunity pipeline
  • The size/number of your bids and profit margins have a lot to do with the outcome. If you are in a competitive market with low margins, it will take a much higher number of leads to return a positive ROI.
  • If you only bid into existing customer relationships, the database will have limited impact (it won't help you with your recompetes or natural project growth). However, if you are trying to establish new customer relationships, the data will have more value as a way to figure out which doors to knock on.
  • Your ultimate ROI will be determined by how effectively you use the database, which has more to do with your BD process than the database.

A more useful way of looking at it might be to first put in place BD staff who enable you to bid with an information advantage. Once that is in place, then you can ask yourself if you can significantly increase their productivity by giving them new leads to chase, or more advanced notice of leads.

I know a company that was implementing the Readiness Review process we recommend for pre-RFP pursuit. They were in a small niche and sought to identify all the relevant contracts so they could target the recompetes, some 5 years in advance. It made sense for them to subscribe to a database that identified all the contracts that have been issued so that their BD Manager could focus on establishing relationships instead of finding the contracts.

But I have also seen companies that purchased databases, where the BD staff spent their time copying leads out of the database and into their tracking system. They added little or no information advantage to win the proposals. But they had a lot of stuff to bid!

If you are trying to figure out which database tool is right for you, here is a link to an article we wrote a few years back that is just as valuable today: 42 things to look for in a search tool.

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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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