Bill Scheessele

4 moves to improve your win rate

Whether you’re an optimist and call what we’re experiencing a slowdown, or a realist and term this a downturn, the government contracting industry is suffering through a precarious situation. As a company, we’ve weathered a range of revenue cycles during our decades working in the government contracting industry. But this time the experience is quite different. The real question to discern is whether we’re living through a cyclical, disruptive occurrence or a long-term trend that will redefine the industry, particularly in the defense arena.

One thing is certain … you can no longer rely on simply writing a good proposal to win business. This environment has validated the old quote, “If you don’t know by bid day if you’ve won the business … someone else has.”

Proactive vs. reactive BD processes
To elevate your probability of winning, you have to be proactive and engage prospects early in their buying or acquisition cycle when they are involved with solution or concept development. Doing so allows you to consultatively engage with them to fully understand their needs and wants. You can then assist them in identifying the right solution. You’re in the position to “shape” their needs, wants and ultimately the RFP requirements. Remaining reactive, merely responding to RFPs, positions you at a major disadvantage.


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Human intelligence: Client engagement’s missing link
Most organizations have well-documented policies and processes detailing what to do and when to do it in each phase of the BD or business acquisition process. The vast majority, however, lack the how component of client interaction. They lack a purpose-driven client engagement process (CEP) to gather human intelligence or HUMINT. HUMINT is intelligence gathered by engaging in client-focused and trust-based dialogs with qualified leads and prospects regarding their problems and concerns. It cannot be gathered by analyzing data and information from online investigation, paid research or other listening-posts.

From our observation, successful BD professionals utilize a consistent and repeatable client engagement process to engage prospects early in the buying cycle. Validated HUMINT, gathered using a client engagement process, is the critical component needed for qualifying or disqualifying decisions made during the opportunity identification and qualification phase of a company’s BD process.

Drop the “dog and pony show”
A client engagement process is a highly disciplined intel-gathering process with the sole purpose of providing intelligence to qualify and/or shape opportunities. It is a learned system of gathering HUMINT by following four frequently overlooked steps:
1. Complete homework before a call.
2. Develop a proactive call plan and scripted questions to gather HUMINT.
3. Execute the call.
4. Utilize the intelligence gathered to assess and update your plans or business case.

If the client engagement process is so important, then why aren’t more BD professionals able to do it effectively? In reality, customer engagement is not intuitive. It’s not an inherent skill or process that everyone instinctively knows how to execute.

The traditional way to develop business is to market or sell customers on your capabilities by offering impressive multi-slide presentations and briefings concerning your firm’s expertise. The client engagement process is the alternative to this dog and pony show approach. It involves engaging your customers in a dialog rather than making unwarranted presentations or bold, sell-centered statements. Your dialogs with customers should be focused on asking insightful questions instead of making statements or giving demonstrations. You orchestrate these dialogs to gather the human intelligence crucial for qualifying or disqualifying opportunities and making pursue/no pursue decisions in your business development process.

Tortoise or Hare Strategy
It should be clear that executing a proactive, deliberate client engagement process is 180 degrees from reactively rushing to submit a bid after superficial, little or no upfront customer contact. Take a tip from the tortoise’s playbook, not the hare’s race strategy. The client engagement process is a slow, deliberate game plan to win business. It’s not a sprint to deliver a proposal in response to an RFP. If you haven’t shaped the RFP, somebody else has. The moral of the story is that the early bird gets the win.

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

Fri, Apr 27, 2012 Mariano Tellarini

Thanks Bill, your points are strong, easy to follow and give us, the readers, good material for valuable discussions. In my view, the industry and market have already changed (hence the contraction in revenue and the economic cycle). I believe that the industry has been redefined already and we are just witnessing the adjustment phase of a paradigm shift. Every company will have to go through this process. Some seem to be faster than others. It is important to acknowledge that this shift also impacts the way business is won AND lost. In this type of environment, give your customers what “they want” and you could end up with a termination for convenience, give them what “they need” and you would hardly win business. Success lies in the middle. Now, how do you improve your chances? 1) Execute on a customer engagement strategy that makes focus on the “why’s” and not the “what’s”. 2) Build alliances: Pick, as early as possible, all technology partners that would be needed and stay stick to them. 3) Understand your stakeholders’ different interests and create value for ALL of them: End Users=timely deliveries; COs=Clean contract executions; Business Partners= Validated implementation schedules and timely payments; Your Finance Team=a feasible cash flow structure. Your competitors=Your weaknesses and ways to bring your approach down.

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