When (and why) principals need to get down and dirty, and do the work themselves in the pre-RFP stage

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in some fields, such as real estate sales, there seems to be only one answer: pure commission. But this option isn't universal within the architectural, engineering and construction community
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If a key indicator of RFP success is the amount of time principals spend on the project at the pre-proposal stage, how does that insight affect our business and time management decisions?

There are two contradictory messages in this story. In the first, we can repeat the often-suggested observation that business leaders often try to do too much, too much of the time. They get bogged down in the various details of the business, second-guess subordinates, micromanage and mismanage operations, and create bottlenecks when they (in part because of their workload) fail to deliver timely decisions and responses.

Contract these thoughts to the successful California design firm that, after careful assessment, determined the primary factor in its “go/no go” decisions for new projects was the amount of time principals spent on the project before the deadline to proceed with the full proposal, or not. This practice time-coded the working hours of the various leaders and staff, and after adding things up over a period of time, determined that when the principals were actively invested in the project, it succeeded. If they weren’t, it failed. And thus the simple go/no go rule.

I think you can see where this apparent contradiction can present both challenges and opportunities for business development and marketing decision-making in AEC firms.

If hands-on involvement by principals is vital before the intense work of responding to an RFP begins, practices must do one or more of these things to grow:

  • Principals need to spend more time in pre-proposal work (especially for important projects);
  • You need more principals — that is, added partners with authority and decision-making capacity;
  • Careful thought needs to be put into what principals should NOT do free up more time to be actively engaged in the pre-proposal decision-making process;  and
  • A significant group of stable, reliable clients with ongoing new business will always be more productive than constantly fishing for new work, but you want to have some channels to ensure reasonable percentage of your efforts are focused on new business development.

The suggestion here implies  how some really simple and elegant changes can improve your marketing and business development success. But the process requires discipline — including principals entering time use codes in their computers accurately.  As well you will need to give the concepts here time to play through — for example, you may wish to start the time tracking now, but not change your go/no go rules until you have the evidence that the changes I’ve outlined here really apply for your practice.

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