Who you don't want in your BD organization

Beware of shepherds who waste resources and bring little value

Along with having a way with words, Mark Twain could offer an insight into the business end of our industry with this quote, still pertinent a century after his death:

"There are lies, damned lies and statistics."

As much as we like to cite data to support our decisions and conclusions, sometimes the assumptions we stretch in our pursuit of data, while not lies in a strict biblical sense, might not be totally true.

Twain might have said it better: "It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so."

In business development terminology, there are strategic hunters in search of new business and organic farmers pursuing add-on business opportunities. But there are other personalities that fit neither description. These are the shepherds. Unfortunately, many organizations have a herd of them.

Shepherds glean information from rumor mills, pull hints of potential business from industry media, are linked to someone who knows someone who might have a contract brewing, or devote time to rummage through potential leads on the Federal Business Opportunities Web site. They are toiling away like actual shepherds in obscure field conditions, ignoring their hazy, incomplete knowledge. Lacking verifiable information on prospects, they diligently follow any star to where opportunities lie.

Given the pressure to build a robust pipeline, shepherds are motivated to sniff out what they consider pertinent data almost anywhere. They’re actively involved in a lot of research and work diligently to keep current. All along the way, they invest time filling out forms, checking off boxes and minding the gates. That’s what good shepherds do. They tend their sheep.

But that's problematic because there’s little, if any, hard qualification on shepherded prospects through first-person intelligence from people who are driving contracts and potential business.

After one of their opportunities is corralled, that critical intell is lacking, and much time, effort and energy has already been invested. Under those circumstances, it’s difficult to let the opportunity drop out of the pipeline to tend to the needs of the rest of the flock, many with a higher win probability.

More bid and proposal funds are invested in what nearly everyone recognizes has little potential of being won. The pipeline has only mythical potential, not the real probability of revenue results.

These are changing times in the industry as Defense Secretary Robert Gates made very clear. “This department simply cannot risk continuing down the same path – where our investment priorities, bureaucratic habits and lax attitudes toward costs are increasingly divorced from the real threats of today, the growing perils of tomorrow and the nation’s grim financial outlook.”

Given the defense reform effort, companies need to be prudent with their business development initiatives. If you suspect that you have a number of shepherds lurking in your organization, now is the time to contract an outside assessment of your organization’s revenue-generating capability. With the federal government’s emphasis on controlling cost and efficiency savings, it makes no sense to deal with this new reality saddled with a business development organization better suited to the previous business climate.

The emphasis today is on tough opportunity identification and qualification of pipeline pursuits by strike teams of super hunters and savvy, focused farmers.

The days of shepherding pipelines based on weak identification and lax qualification and feeding bloated bid and proposal budgets that result in mediocre success rates are gone in government contracting.

Organizations can ill afford lost sheep and no-win opportunities. Shepherds need not apply.

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.

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