Monday, January 29, 2018

Go or No Go: Keep It Simple

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 do what it takes to create 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.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Why Everyone Should Be Networking

There was renewed interest in the topic of networking a few years ago as the effects of the recession lingered. And rightfully so, for networking should be the centerpiece of your business development strategy whether the economy is weak or strong.

Now that business is picking up, I expect networking to take on growing importance in recruiting talent as well. With looming shortages of technical professionals, this can no longer remain simply an HR function. Firms will increasingly need to mine the collective relationships of their employees to find adequate new hires to fuel their growth goals.

But there is value in tending your network that goes beyond merely meeting the current pressing needs of business. This came home to me, surprisingly, when I first went out on my own and was in desperate need of clients. It occurred to me at that time that attempting to jump start my networking efforts just because I needed to grow my business obscured the reason those relationships really mattered.

After over 30 years in the A/E business, I found myself pondering what my legacy was. What had I done of lasting value over all those years? That question took on added meaning when my former employer of ten years was acquired by another firm. Virtually everything I had accomplished in that period of time was rendered void in the transaction. Another decade of achievement was essentially lost when my top client was also acquired.

Many of you can point to facilities that you designed as a lasting testament of your professional achievements. I did some design work early in my career, but most of those facilities have since been replaced, improved, or abandoned. What about your designs? I later helped with a few major environmental remediation projects. But the goal of most of those was to leave as little visual reminder of our efforts as possible.

My point is not to diminish the value of our work, but to put it in context. The realization I came to after 30 years in this business was that what really mattered were (1) the relationships I had built and (2) the people I had been able to serve along the way. Whether the job entailed designing, consulting, selling, or managing, the results were best measured in how much people were helped by what I did. And those relationships had irreplaceable value beyond whatever information, referrals, or new work they might generate today.

Networking has unfortunately been miscast as primarily a sales activity. But it is better viewed as a relationship building activity with benefits far beyond selling. If relationships and serving others are the two enduring products of our careers—and I'm convinced they are for most of us—then networking shouldn't be left only to those who are business developers. Everyone should maintain their network of professional relationships.

Networking is a discipline that helps us hold onto those valuable relationships. I must confess that I have done a poor job in this regard, as have many of you. I've changed jobs, changed locations, lost clients, and lost track of some of my favorite colleagues and clients over time. This despite the technological tools that make it relatively easy to stay in touch. But like many of you, I often succumb to the tyranny of the urgent at the cost of tending to the important, less urgent, matters—like relationships.

That's why I'm constantly urging young professionals to develop the habit of building and nurturing their network. Like investing in the stock market or a retirement fund, the installments you make in professional relationships accumulate value over time. And like your nest egg, you will appreciate being able to fall back on those relationships when your current source of security fails—a job loss, career change, business startup, etc.

Of course, stepping up our commitment to maintaining our network is good for us old dogs too. The bottom line is: Make friends and business associates, take care of them, stay in touch, and you'll reap the rewards, both personally and professionally, for years to come. Not a bad legacy either.