How Many Opportunities Make a Healthy Pipeline?

Shannon Rankin, Bound Sea

Shannon Rankin, Bound Sea

I heard a consulting executive recently say-- for every proposal win, there are three losses. For every proposal, there are three client needs that never make it to the RFP stage. For every identified client need (for argument's sake, let's say those are real issues that you validate with an actual buyer), there are three interesting ideas that never reach a client's ears-- and so on.  Somehow after all of this exponents were added up, she said a healthy pipeline had 27 potential opportunities. Note* For anyone out there that heard the same speech, it was something like that.  You know I can be a little spotty recalling specific details.  Anyway, the point is that you need a lot to win a couple. There is no exact number, of course, because the win to loss to dud ratios will vary.  Even so, this is a good way to think about it and 27 seems like a reasonable stretch goal for small and medium-sized businesses and the average business unit or account within the larger ($100M+ businesses).

Too often, we hone our list down in the name of "focus" but the end result is too small.  A meager list leads to highs and lows that are too heavily tied to specific wins and losses. This will make you insane which is not good for charming clients.  Too few can also mean a tremendous waste of time and loss of momentum when an idea you love doesn't resonate with a buyer. 

The solution?  Build a healthy, vibrant list with the magic number 27 in mind. In addition to being just an all-around attractive number with a great personality, 27 is totally do-able when you think about how you structure your day and move opportunities forward.  Think about this.  Most actions needed to move an opportunity along take 15 minutes or less-- schedule a coffee, write a short summary of your concept, research a client's position on an issue, etc.  So, you could realistically tackle 2-3 opportunities per day and "visit" each of them on a 2-week cycle.  To me, this feels about right-- especially because you'll be reaching out to contacts that probably don't have a tolerate (at least early on) to hear from you any more often than that.

Get started with these steps.

  1. Review everything you have to confirm viability.  On this occasion, sneaking a peak at your "neighbor's" paper is totally appropriate.  By this I mean, try to gather information on what opportunities people in your industry network are tracking.
  2. Next, document the leads that have been floating around in your mind but you've been too busy to write down. 
  3. Still short of 27?  Go through your contacts and see what ideas spark as you read each name and think about the person, their expertise, and interests.  This doesn't just have to be a review of your client contacts.  You pipeline could be teaming opportunities that you intend to pursue jointly. 
  4. Finally, commit to reviewing posts and updates from a handful of federal news sources for a week-- Federal Times, FCW, and Government Executive are all good sources.

Let's meet back here tomorrow and think through how to prioritize all this stuff!