How Starting Earlier Will Improve Your Win Rate

Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of presenting a webinar to the APMP Maple Leaf Chapter. In this webinar, I dissected six key tactics to help improve your win rate. These tactics include:
  • Starting pursuits earlier to gain an understanding of the customer and competitive landscape
  • Applying a thorough strategy in the opportunities pursued
  • Documenting the intelligence gained from the capture or sales stage
  • Applying rigor in the bid decision process
  • Making your proposals easy to score
  • Conducting lessons learned so you can understand where you are doing well and where you need to improve.

In this week’s article, I do a deep dive into one of those critical tactics: starting earlier.

Opportunity Lifecycle
One reason it’s important to start earlier is that it enables you to implement long-term planning surrounding your growth and pursuit strategies. Long-term planning provides corporate awareness of upcoming opportunities aligned with strategic goals. By targeting opportunities that meet strategic goals of the company, and targeting those opportunities early, you’ll have time to implement effective opportunity pursuit strategies.

If you examine a typical opportunity lifecycle (see example above), you’ll notice several critical steps that are recommended for you to take before the RFP is released. As shown in this example opportunity lifecycle (which comes from the KSI Advantage© Capture and Proposal Guide), for the best results, it’s recommended that teams begin opportunity pursuit and capture activities at least 6 to 18 months prior to the Draft RFP, if one is expected, and up to 24 months in advance if no draft RFP is expected. Looking at the recommended positioning activities and pre-RFP draft development activities that should take place for the most successful outcome (found in the blue and pink boxes in the graphic), it’s no wonder that proposals that begin at the RFP drop—or worse—well after the RFP drop—are frequently unsuccessful. There just simply isn’t enough time to develop a winning strategy and winning proposal in that short amount of time.

As the Opportunity Lifecycle highlights, during the capture phase, teams identify potential opportunities, make customer contact, develop the capture plan and win strategy, send out data calls, and make a pursuit decision. During the pre-RFP phase, teams make the preliminary bid decision, start developing the proposal management plan and establishing proposal security, and begin to plan the writing through storyboarding exercises, annotated outlines, and sending out additional data calls. All of this research, planning, and preparation serve to support a smoother and more successful proposal process once the RFP is released.

Respond to RFIs and Sources Sought
RFIs and Sources Sought are critical elements in the customer’s acquisition process, so when the customer takes the time to release these for opportunities you’re interested in, it’s critical that you take the time to respond. RFIs and Sources Sought are formal resources that the customer uses to understand the available contractors and the available solutions relevant to their upcoming procurement. These documents help the customer understand that you are interested in bidding and are an opportunity to continue educating the customer about your organization and solution. When you don’t target an opportunity until after the RFP release, you miss out on these critical communication and shaping points with the customer.

Time to Gather Customer and Competitive Information
Starting earlier will also provide your team with time to gather customer, opportunity, and competitive intelligence before the RFP is released. This includes identifying who the key decision makers are with the customer, the drivers behind the solicitation, any issues they may be having on the current contract or other similar contracts, and which other companies might be interested in pursuing the opportunity. By starting early, you’ll have time to understand the potential strategies of the competition, who they might be teaming with, and what their strengths and weaknesses are. Armed with this information, you’ll be able to develop strategies to ghost the weaknesses and downplay the strengths of the competition.

Starting early will also enable key players from your organization to not only gather information about the customer, but to actually build a meaningful relationship with the customer and understand their underlying concerns. By meeting regularly with the customer well in advance of the RFP, you and your team will have the time to establish strong working customer relationships. As these relationships grow, the team will begin to understand the customers’ concerns directly related to the program and determine what keeps them up at night. With time before the RFP release, teams can also develop solutions to meet the customers’ needs and vet those solutions with the customers prior to the RFP release.

Final Thoughts
In this world of bids and proposals, we all certainly want to win more. However, there are so many factors that impact a company’s probability of win, and a number of things throughout the opportunity lifecycle can impact a company’s chances of winning (both positively and negatively). However, one of the biggest things you can do to positively impact your chances of winning is to start earlier. Proposals are won during the capture phase—and to build the necessary relationships, understand the competitive landscape, and mitigate potential issues—you need time. The only way to buy that time is to start earlier.

Remember that building a relationship with your customer and understanding their underlying concerns takes time. Without solid customer relationships, you won’t have the opportunity to understand their programmatic concerns or determine what really keeps them up at night. Further, you won’t be able to develop solutions to meet their needs and vet those solutions prior to the RFP release. Once the RFP is released, it’s too late for effective opportunity shaping and solution vetting. It’s no wonder that pop-up or short-notice efforts typically have a much lower win rate than targeted and well-positioned opportunities. This is all why starting the process early really is so critical to improving your chances of winning and increasing your overall win and capture rates.

Written by Ashley Kayes
Senior Proposal Consultant, AOC Key Solutions, Inc. (KSI)


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