Business development rule No. 1: Gather intelligence

Sound business development requires purposeful interaction and dialogue with the customer.

Would you believe that crystal balls are still being used in business development decision-making? It seems that fortune-telling devices are frequently used to gaze into the future and make decisions about pursuing opportunities. But many of those crystal balls are actually snow globes in disguise, where opportunities are obscured with an imperfect perception of reality.

In this situation, there are two groups of business development soothsayers who read business opportunities. One group makes decisions whether to pursue opportunities based on hard facts and human intelligence. The other makes decisions based on assumptions, desires, emotions and what gets posted on the Federal Business Opportunities Web site that day.

The first group is a business development-driven organization focused on a purposeful interaction and dialogue with the customer. Both parties understand the problems or challenges presented and have discussed possible solutions in a candid, two-directional information exchange. Details are communicated back to the company, capabilities evaluated, and a specific win strategy is designed to continue the dialogue, including soliciting feedback on recommended solutions.

That organization uses this human intelligence to make informed decisions whether to pursue an opportunity at each stage in its business development, capture and proposal processes. This is characteristic of a well-defined and well-implemented opportunity identification and qualification process, enabling decisions to be made early, based on hard data and human intelligence gathered directly from the client. Precious bid and proposal funds and personnel resources are committed only to opportunities that match the organization’s capabilities and where hard intelligence data indicates a high probability of a win.

The second category is the reactive, pursuit-driven organization. These individuals scan the wires awaiting requests for proposals that match keywords concerning their firm’s capabilities. In their collective thinking, each pursuit carries the same probability of a win, so any win depends on the proposal, and the best-written proposal wins. These organizations base their pursuit decisions on how many proposals they can write, whom they’ll unearth as a partner with an existing customer relationship, the resources that exist to write the proposal, and whether the RFP lists their preferred keyword.

A win probability is assigned based on some validation, and if the result is greater than a specific number, they’ll pursue it. Time, personnel and attending resources are committed, and it’s game on, meter running and money flowing.

This strategy is generally missing a key component: the client. In preparing to decide whether to pursue the opportunity, no one contacts the client to build a relationship and discover what real issues exist or uncovers an existing relationship already developed by a competitor wired to a win. Without a person-to-person dialogue and customer advocacy, the proposal is written based on assumptions. The worst scenario is that one or more of these reactive RFPs are won, prompting confidence in the validity of this system. Bid and proposal resources are heavily invested in the mistaken belief that this is the best way to sustain growth. But this results in a downward spiral of submitting more proposals with an ever-decreasing win percentage, fought with more proposals in the attempt to achieve desired win rates.

Instead, implement an opportunity identification and qualification process based on gathering human intelligence. Make this missing link of human intelligence an integral part of business procurement procedures in support of your capture and proposal teams. The key is to be intelligence-data driven, facilitating intelligent and impartial decision-making derived from client feedback, not based on internal desires or emotions.

An opportunity identification and qualification process is work with no shortcuts. But such a focused effort separates those companies that chart their own future from those that become part of another organization’s future and wind up on the short side of a merger or acquisition.

About the Author

Bill Scheessele is the CEO of MBDi, a global business development services firm providing expertise in Business Development best practices in the national security, defense, scientific, energy and engineering industries. The firm offers BD consulting services in addition to education workshops to help BD professionals and teams identify hidden strengths, barriers to progress and opportunities for improvement. Learn more about MBDi, their revenue growth resources and their new virtual training options at or 704.553.0000.

Reader Comments

Mon, Aug 17, 2009 Observer Jr.

This column rehashes well known elements of textbook technique used in government contracting for several decades. The more successful firms follow the intelligence gathering approach. The column does not seem to engage with the ethical lines which are increasingly high-risk to cross while gathering market intelligence. What would be interesting is to run the tactics of market intelligence gathering against the extant ethics standards--government regs, the commercial statute and case law on industrial and trade secrets and common practice. What kind of ferreting of government and competitor organizations, and specific emploeyees, is okay today? Exploiting recent hires for what they know, even if they do not make calls on their former employers (this is widely seen as a big favorite of big companies). Plying the "safe" arenas of some professional and trade assn meetings, where money can talk for preferred access to clients. There is a whole raft of things that could come under the heading of "intelligence." Certainly, in the national security variety of "intelligence," stealing secrets, penetrating organizations, and suborning and compromising employees of the target organization is all fair play. Which of these techniques occur, even with a lot of subtleties and the patina of being "OK," in today's government contracting world? To what degree do these contribute to a tilted playing field?

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above.

What is your e-mail address?

My e-mail address is:

Do you have a password?

Forgot your password? Click here

Washington Technology Daily

Sign up for our newsletter.

Terms and Privacy Policy consent

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.


contracts DB