Matt Handal is preparing a new training program for proposal managers. Although it hasn’t been released to the public yet, he has allowed me a sneak preview. The second lesson I learned (the first I’ll leave to Matt to express when he makes the course public) is that you need to truly appreciate the importance of selecting wisely which projects to pursue.
To start, of course, if you don’t bid/propose any work, you won’t win any jobs — so you won’t go anywhere fast. This obviously is not a good way to build a business if RFPs are the source of new clients (though in an ideal world, you’ll have a network of repeat clients who give you sole-source work without any competition.)
Then you have to weigh four other factors; The cost of preparing the proposal (including hard time, direct expenses, and lost opportunities to pursue other better proposals), the potential return if you are successful, and your likeliness of winning the work.Handal correctly observes that you won’t get far when you compete against extremely strong competitors. Sure, the reward if you are successful would be incredible, but the cost of preparing the proposals, and the likely success in winning them, mean you would likely be truly out-of-pocket.
The answer, he suggests, is to have an effective go/no-go form/system, and live by it. You complete when you have a good/likely chance of winning, and then make sure your proposal is truly the best you can deliver and far better than the competition. This principle applies, in my opinion, even if you think you have a slam-dunk opportunity to win the work because of your existing client relationships — because you don’t want to get caught out of left field by someone who pulls out all the stops.
Clearly, there are good arguments to prepare fewer proposals, more effectively. As well, there is a strong argument to spend money, time, resources and skills in perfecting your proposal selection and presentation skills, because the rewards are worthy of the effort. You can use consultants for these services, though you obviously should have strong in-house systems and processes. I enjoyed reading this recent Bernie Siben blog posting, where he pointed out the importance of integrity from the consultant — it is wrong, he says, for the same consultant to represent two competing businesses proposing for the same work. I agree.