The quickest way to increase your proposal win rate is to do fewer of them. Most A/E firms I've worked with over the years submit too many proposals and win too few of them.
Maximizing your opportunities might seem like good strategy—what firm hasn't won a long shot along the way—but it comes at a cost. Every hour spent working on a proposal with little chance of winning is an hour that could have been spent more productively. With many firms sporting win rates below 30%, that's a lot of hours wasted.
Most firms seem to aspire to be more selective in which RFPs they pursue. They have some kind of go/no go process. But following that process is often sporadic across the firm. Some firms try to enforce it, which frequently leads to people filling out forms without doing an honest analysis.
To increase real selectivity, I think you have to cross two thresholds: (1) you need to sell people on the value of being selective and (2) you need to have a process that's not too burdensome. Let me focus on the latter in this post.
Many go/no go forms break one of my basic rules: "Don't ask for more information than you actually expect to receive." I've seen some that not only ask for a competitive assessment, but require detailed calculations of costs, return on investment, staffing needs, profit potential, and effective multiplier. I understand why all this information is desired, but the problem is that in most cases compliance with such a rigorous process is low.
Do you really need that much data to make an informed decision? I don't think so. Let me propose a simple three-step process that, if followed thoughtfully, will yield the insight you need to make a good decision:
Filter #1. Have we been talking to the client? In my experience, you have a very slim chance of winning if you weren't talking to the client before the RFP was released. You would be wiser shifting the time you'd spend on that proposal to another one with better odds—or out talking to a prospective client in advance of the RFP! So I advocate a "no know, no go" policy. That doesn't mean no exceptions, but that in the vast majority of situations it's no go.
Filter #2. Can we beat the competition—really? It's not about qualifications; it's about winning. In evaluating your prospects, try to project yourself in the role of the client's selection committee. Why would they choose your firm? What advantages do you have over the competition? What shortcomings might prevent you from being selected?
Yes, I know these are the type of questions that appear on the typical go/no go form. But they often fail to evoke honest assessment. Simplifying the process to three steps, in my experience, helps sharpen the focus on the questions that matter most.
Filter #3. Can we prepare a strong proposal? This is a question that is often overlooked but is critically important. Doing a strong proposal requires more time and attention than I usually see firms devote to the typical submittal. You have limited proposal preparation resources. Spread them too thin, and you limit your chances of success. That's why I prefer to pick my best opportunities and give them my best effort.
Being capable of submitting a strong proposal goes beyond simple resource issues. Do you have the client and project insight you need for your proposal to stand out? Can you assemble the right team? Can you get commitments from your relevant experts? Even if your analysis passes through the previous two filters, you should be wary of a go decision if you're not able or willing to prepare a winning proposal.
Does this sound helpful? Let me know what works for your firm in deciding which proposals to submit. Or give my three-step process a spin and let me know how well it works for you.