Do you know how much you're spending on marketing and proposal response? Our monthly reports contain the numbers but managers (not to mention staff) rarely have a sense of the organization's investment in pursuit of a piece of work.
The problem? Tying general account marketing costs to a specific opportunity is nearly impossible-- unless you have amazing time accounting detail or there are only a handful of targets in the pipeline. Proposal spending is probably more accurate but is ripe for run-away expenses. Once you've committed to going after a job, you're kinda in for the ride. RFP responses often get more complex as responses to questions are released, are extended (ugh, I hate that!), on go through unplanned-for negotiations with the client.
In the end, you win some and lose some-- which is fine because we all understand the game. Issues arise when, though, when you continue to bid indiscriminately. The pursuit of bids is expensive and takes a toll on the very staff you're counting on to deliver on current work and doesn't necessarily result in more work.
3 Step Solution. Avoiding this endless churn helps saves money which in our world comes down to the team's time and energy but it requires discipline and a little creativity.
- Limit yourself (and let's face it-- your boss) to only going after work you knew about in advance and discussed in some capacity with the client-- or someone from the client organization. The unfortunate part is that we all have past experiences winning blue birds (RFPs that pop out of no where). The memory of these past wins costs us dearly in the present. We all know in our hears that the win probability is too low to warrant the investment of time and distraction for the staff-- even if you do have a great solution. It's unfortunate but ultimately better for everyone to pass.
- Thrash early. I love this concept from Seth Godin because I have lived the alternative for so, so long. The idea is that you invite senior management in (or whoever has the potential to be a pain in the ass during color teams) early in the process to share their ideas and direction. Give them as much information as possible and let them go nuts. Debate, whiteboard, and take great notes-- then make everyone sign an agreement on the way out that they will not second guess the solution, win themes, font choice, etc. at the 11th hour. One root cause of runaway proposal budgets is the jumping through internal hoops and coping with anxieties caused by impressing the leadership. Comments and changes late in the process result in so much rework for (usually) an only incrementally better response. Imposing boundaries helps everyone put focus their energy upfront instead of on the backend.
- Team! Yes, you'll have to share the work but you also share the expense and hassle of responding the bid. You'll also most definitely improve the solution. We often don't realize how stale our approach becomes over time. Teaming forces us all to think about how to bring a fresh perspective to the client's problem. The best teams function as cohesive unites by breaking down any misplaced fears over loss of "proprietary" information. The reality is that most bids barely touch anything truly special or secret in the technical response (there is never enough room!). Plus with good non-disclosure agreements and an investment in the relationship, the risk is reduced with the open sharing of information.