Don't ignore the value of gate reviews to your BD process
- By Bill Scheessele
- Jun 15, 2012
Few business leaders consistently evaluate and review the quality of decision-making in their organizations. This is especially true in business development, even though gate reviews are set up to address this shortcoming. Gate reviews should be a key activity within any capture or business acquisition process. When utilized correctly these checks evaluate the risks, rewards and probability of a win from a company perspective. However, if not performed correctly, reviews tend to be a waste of time and an opportunity to consume the company Kool-Aid.
Many organizations fail to understand or value the importance of gate reviews. Some common errors are:
- Reviewing multiple gates simultaneously
- Decision-making based on flawed Intel or data
- Inability to balance a business case from both the company and client perspective
As reported in The New York Times, CIA intelligence breakdowns leading up to the war in Iraq forced a thorough overhaul of that agency’s decision-making processes. Many companies follow a similar, flawed approach, but do nothing to correct it.
As business development professionals, we are tasked on a daily basis to engage prospects to gather and validate human intelligence. This intelligence, when used correctly, should dramatically enhance decision-making.
But, from our experience, most companies rely on data and intelligence but don’t require human intelligence o drive their decision making. “Approval authorities” should be highly skeptical when presented with data and information if there isn’t human intelligence to validate it.
In the emerging government acquisition environment, it’s critical to begin your intelligence-gathering efforts early in the customer's buying cycle. Companies that value early prospect engagement task their business development personnel to connect with prospects early to understand their issues, needs and wants and discuss available solutions. These proactive companies will win more business than organizations that begin their reactive business development process after the request for proposals is released. One of our clients recently shared, “The opportunities you have today are the result of actions you took 18 months ago. Conversely, it takes 18 months to realize you have a problem.”
Frequently, gate review decisions are made with non-validated intelligence and gut feelings, leading to erroneous conclusions. If you can't validate the data being offered and you don't know firsthand what the prospect really needs, be very suspicious of the information being presented.
To correct this problem, find ways to quantify subjective information. Many conclusions are based on what we think, rather than what we know. Leaders tend to concentrate on only a couple of criteria when they make decisions. As a consequence, staff may become familiar with this bias and will spin-up information to fit the approach to decision making. To overcome this bias, establish review criteria and a scoring system to assist the approval authority” to focus on the areas that matter. Doing so will balance the evaluation of an opportunity across multiple criteria rather than just one or two specific areas.
Unfortunately, gate review decisions are rarely revisited. Adding a quantitative element to each review will assist with this re-examination. Taking a backward glance and identifying where things went wrong is crucial to establish lessons learned for all involved in business development. A small minority of companies have established a protocol to evaluate and hold people accountable for choices made during gate reviews. When an opportunity is lost, it's usually the “functional areas” which take the brunt of criticism with comments like, “the solution was not right or the price was too high.” Ideally, the real question to ask is, “Where did we go wrong, or more specifically, what intelligence or lack of it led us to the wrong decision?”
In his political treatise, The Prince, Niccolò Machiavelli wrote, “There are three kinds of intelligence: one kind understands things for itself, the other appreciates what others can understand, the third understands neither for itself nor through others. This first kind is excellent, the second good, and the third kind useless.”
Many companies rely on the second or third types of intelligence, because they either don’t know how or believe they don’t have the time to proactively seek the first kind. With gate reviews, don’t follow, but lead. Understand first hand from your prospects what their issues really are, and watch your win rates soar.
Bill Scheessele (firstname.lastname@example.org) is chairman and chief executive officer at MBDi, a business development professional services firm.