Be Cynical. Be Ruthless! Dealing with Surging Demand

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Unless you’ve been living in a cave recently, you can’t fail to have noticed we appear to be drowning in tenders right now. Tenders to the left of us, tenders to the right. Drowning in potential. Choking on hope. Where have they come from? More importantly, where are they going? And why?

As a proposal manager this is fab news, isn’t it? Post-pandemic euphoria, right? Possibilities popping out of every orifice (no sniggering at the back). Work, work, work. Money, money, money. Joy of joys.

But, no, wait a minute.

Not so fast.

We all know the world of proposals can be one of peaks and troughs. Sometimes Himalayan. We’re clearly in one now. But is it a peak? Or is it a new normal? Can we cope? I have a great team of amazing professionals but there are only so many hours in a day. Twenty-four, the last time I checked. Work is just one part of life. There’s sleeping, too. And eating. And living. All of which means I can’t just tell everyone to buckle down and roll their sleeves up. Late nights and weekend working is just about acceptable now and again but it’s not a sustainable option. Not by a long chalk.

During an opportunity surge like this, we’re like kids in a sweet shop – so many goodies, so little time. Quick! Grab what you can, while you can…sugar rush, crash and burn, pocket money gone. Oops.

So, what should we do?

Two things. Be cynical. Be ruthless!

If you think ‘cynical’ sounds a bit brutal, look it up in a thesaurus: “Sceptical, doubtful, suspicious”. Tell me, bid and proposal folks, how often have those words summed up your thoughts sitting across from your sales leads describing their next “must-win” opportunity? (Cue wry smiles all round.)

As for ‘ruthless’, I’m not talking heartless piracy here. I mean relentless and inexorable.

Why am I recommending this? Think about it. We can’t simply throw open a window and shout for more hands on deck. Top quality professionals don’t grow on trees, you know. Nor can they be conjured out of thin air. We need to work with what we’ve got, which means working cleverly.

Cynical and ruthless. Step back, pick your target, strike.

We need to qualify our deals more vigorously! Being cynical means starting off with a healthy dose of suspicion. Is this a deal we have a chance of winning? The best chance of winning? Can we deliver? And does the client really, truly intend to move, or is this just a fishing exercise? The first stage of ruthlessness is NOT qualifying in those deals that don’t pass the ‘cynical’ test – and sticking to the decision. The second stage is acknowledging we’re unlikely to have enough resources to relentlessly pursue five deals at once (even if we had five deals that passed the ‘cynical’ test). It’s simply unrealistic. Once we’ve narrowed down our targets, we must narrow them down again. As a business, we need to take the tough decisions and agree which opportunities we are going to qualify in to continue.

We need to take priority calls within our organisations – together. Yes, that’s right – we need to do it together! This means working hand-in-hand with sales, subject matter experts and your senior leadership team to work through the following five steps:

  1. Executive support to be ruthless. Your board needs to buy-in to this approach. If they want to keep swinging in the hope they’ll eventually land the knockout blow, you’ll never adopt the right culture to pursue the right deals.
  2. Pipeline planning. A good sales process feeds a healthy pipeline, allowing sales leads to filter opportunities and agree with senior management those to initially pursue. Gathering high-level information on these opportunities into a pipeline looking 12-18 months ahead will give you an at-a-glance view of any peaks to be aware of – being mindful there will be the inevitable ‘unexpected’ opportunities arising. And regular pipeline meetings between you and the sales lead will allow you to discuss the opportunities and begin early capture or pre-proposal planning.
  3. Qualify out until qualified in. We shouldn’t chase a deal until we can justify why we’re doing it and the resources we’ll need. Take the approach that until you can satisfy your qualification criteria, the deal is not deemed as ‘qualified in’. This will instinctively drive more positive behaviour, and more action, to gather the information needed to meet the criteria.
  4. Formal reviews/gate decisions – Structured and timely reviews and gate decisions ensure compliance, comprehensiveness and a higher probability of winning bids. Do you have the capabilities to meet your customers’ needs and objectives? How do you match up against the competition?
  5. Qualify, qualify and qualify again. Because all good things come in threes! Qualification is not only completed once at the beginning of your capture phase (or you may class this as pre-proposal). Qualification should take place continuously throughout the capture planning process. Stages such as initial assessment, after solution definition (when new information becomes available), pre-proposal (after RFP receipt) and pre-submission. Set expectations with your team that this will be a continual process and feed the findings/outputs into your reviews and gate decisions.

That’s it, really. Five steps that will help your business choose the right wave to ride in a sea of potential opportunities.

This article was written by Lorraine Baird.

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