Developing Your 2012 Pipeline and Preparing For a Great Year of Winning Business

If you are anything like me, you’ve dealt with three challenges during the holidays – trying to keep from overindulging too much and gaining hard-to-shed pounds; fighting off a recurring cold; and trying to juggle family time with proposals that are due early to mid-January. By the way, I am officially envious if you faced no challenges or dealt with them through advance planning and orderly life. You are my hero.

This article is for everyone else who is not a planning maven, or like me, tends to pile the plate so high that no amount of planning is enough, no matter how hard I try. Now that the holiday hustle and bustle is over, and there is relatively smooth sailing through the frigid months ahead, it is time to slow down for a day or two and finally plan. Dust off your crystal ball, sharpen your pencils, and let’s talk about getting your company (and you) to that next level of growth.

My first question to you is, what does your opportunities pipeline look like for 2012? This question is relevant to everyone – not only the executives, but also capture and proposal staff, and even proposal consultants. Every business has to have a healthy pipeline to thrive. It is surprising, however, how many simply do not have one, have proposal staff that don’t know about its existence (if there is one), or have one but are skeptical about its quality and usefulness. I hear a common story that bespeaks of broken pipelines from small and large companies alike:

• “We only submitted a handful of proposals last year; we could be proud that we are picky but our win rate is so low.”
• “We cannot find opportunities that match our exact area of expertise, so our pipeline is small and won’t sustain our desired growth.”
• “We bid on everything – I think our bid-no-bid process is broken – and having everything under the sun in the pipeline simply doesn’t make sense.”
• “We keep going after bluebirds – we haven’t updated our pipeline in a while.”

Or better yet,

• “We don’t know what our Bid and Proposal budget is. Because no one has planned the pipeline for the year. Therefore, we have not decided how much investment is needed to win the opportunities that show up in the pipeline to reach our annual goal, while factoring in our win rate.”

If you recognize your company in the statements above, or have other pipeline challenges, it is time for change. You have to put business development higher on your priorities list, because a quality pipeline directly correlates to your future revenue. Or lack thereof. If you are a business owner, executive, or a consultant, make sure that you make this an investment year into your pipeline development. It will contribute to your peace of mind, and give you greater control over your destiny.

If you are working in a proposal department – wouldn’t it be nice to bring some degree of planning and order into your resources, time, and efforts? Perhaps, you would be compelled to act bolder and ask your management for more resources knowing that you are facing a churn-and-burn proposal stretch. Maybe you could dedicate more time to capture – even if you could do a little bit at a time while you are busy on other pursuits. All of it will lower your stress and contribute to your quality of life.

My second question is, have you looked at your industry’s trends? What does the immediate future hold for you and your company? For example, with the government moving more and more work to the Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) vehicles and GSA and VA schedules, have you caught up and learned how to turn your company into a task order winning machine? What was the last time you have looked at the legislative changes impacting government contractors? What areas will continue to grow, like Cyber and Security fields – and what industries are bound to shrink with the budget crunch? How are your target customers changing their procurement behaviors given the state of the economy? How will you adjust the type of opportunities you are bidding on?

Also, what are your competitors now doing to beat you? Are they cutting costs – and if so, how are they doing it? Are they investing into new initiatives?

Answers to these questions will shape your pipeline even further.

These questions may seem irrelevant to proposal managers, coordinators, writers, editors, and other proposal professionals not as directly involved in strategy and planning – but I beg to differ. It will make you a better rounded professional if you understand what the industry is doing and how your company is likely to react – and you can adjust accordingly if there are certain risks on the horizon.

Which brings me to my third question – have you looked at your career and growth opportunities for 2012? What will you do to advance yourself, earn more money, and get greater job security, while helping your business? Will you stay in the same field or will you expand your abilities? In the business development field, there are always ways to command higher pay, be more in demand, and ultimately become more successful. On the other hand, many proposal professionals narrowly specialized in one field may find themselves in less secure positions.

To change this situation, it is important that you don’t succumb to burnout-induced complacency. Explore professions that are adjacent to your fields to increase your competitiveness and pay grade. There are natural career paths for certain professions. For example, proposal managers would greatly benefit from getting training in management, capture management, orals coaching if your customer set uses orals, technical writing, pricing, desktop publishing, and graphics skills – and could definitely use training in cost proposals development. Capture managers should expand their skills into proposal management, business development, price-to-win, and cost strategy. Technical writers should consider proposal coordination and proposal management as a career path if they are comfortable with higher levels of responsibility over the team. Proposal coordinators could venture into desktop publishing, graphics, and editing; or step up and becom e proposal managers.

For executives, investing into developing more versatile proposal teams means higher success rate in winning proposals, and ability to rotate personnel from one role to another on a variety of proposals, preventing team burnout. And, ultimately, getting a more skilled resource pool may mean a different type of pipeline where you can be more aggressive in pursuing opportunities.

Determine what training courses you are going to attend in 2012 to expand your capabilities, and definitely plan to make it to the APMP-NCA’s educational events.

Well, onward and upward, as some of my dear friends like to say. If you haven’t already asked yourself or your colleagues these three questions, it may be time that you do. Life may not go according to a plan, but it is better to have one anyway. Life without a plan is almost guaranteed to have much less spectacular results. I wish you a professionally and personally rewarding year!

Business Development Strategy – Next Years Planning

I’m amazed at how each year slips by just a little more quickly.

Only a few weeks ago I was running the San Juan River in Utah – blazing sunshine and ninety degrees in the shade. Now it’s Fall already. And hey, I live in Southern California – in some places it’s almost winter. Friends of mine back East are talking about 30 degree temperatures – or colder. Even snow flurries.

Blink – and it will be November, then Thanksgiving, and right its heels – New Year’s. All of which is great if you love to ski, or snowshoe…

Which brings me to every businessperson’s favorite indoor sport – planning.

Each year around this time I urge clients to dust off last year’s business plan and compare it to what is really going on. Because many people – believe it or not – forget what they committed to for the year. Oh – they know their sales and profit projections – but most people don’t pay close enough attention to the other issues. Things like market development, new customer growth, distributor relationships, customer services improvements, even new products: all the things that make it possible for a businesses to grow and prosper year after year.

If you haven’t done so recently, now is a great time to review this year’s results, and plan for the coming year. Take a look at how you are doing compared to how you hoped you would do. It doesn’t matter what month you are in – just compare your results to date to this month last year. And if you’ve already built next year’s plan, you may want to consider it in a new light.

The typical approach to planning goes like this:

Start by setting a goal for next year’s sales growth.

This figure is often arrived at by multiplying last year’s results by some acceptable factor. In business school they taught us to use 10% if we didn’t have a better idea. This ten percent shows up again and again – I think it has something to do with having ten fingers. Standards vary from industry to industry – ranging from 5% to 25%. But in today’s economy, many people will consider it a win if they just remain even with where they were last year.

Next, add solutions to a few key problems you’ve been meaning to address. Follow this by some enhancements to your product line – and there you have it – instant plan!

Those of you who’ve read my book know that I encourage people to think differently.

Here’s a process I’ve used with all kinds of clients; it has led to some truly inspiring – and profitable – results:

Step 1

What do you – in your heart of hearts – want to accomplish this coming year? The key words here are “want to do.” Not what do you think will happen, not what will the market let you do, but what do you want to do.

When you answer this question, it does help to think about things like money – revenue, profits, cash-flow (as if anyone wouldn’t) – but also consider other non-monetary details as well.

Think about what new products or services you’d like to introduce, what markets you’d like to branch into, how you’d like to improve your relations with customers, how many new distributors you’d like to add, how you will make thing better for your employees, partners, even your community, and of course, what lifestyle and “work- style” changes you’d like for yourself.

For each of the targets and goals you are about to set – why do you want to set these targets. Make sure your reasons strongly support you.

Step 2

Learn what you can from whatever has happened over this past year. This is something many of us simply don’t do.

For example, make this year the year you act on the knowledge that it takes three months to train a new distributor, not the four weeks you generally plan for. You’d be surprised at how many entrepreneurs repeat variations on the same mistakes over and over again.

Deliberately capturing the lessons of the past year, and thinking about how to use that new knowledge can provide major opportunities to boost profits.

Step 3

Set targets which will inspire you and your team and get out of bed every morning (even when it’s snowing.)

Instead of using that 10% multiplier – or 25% or whatever – come up with growth numbers that you believe in and which will make it all worthwhile. Say you are committed to 35% growth. But you’ve never had more than 15%. Well how are you going to do that? What would it take? Is it possible? If you believe it is, but you don’t know how yet, don’t worry. You’ll tackle that in a minute.

Step 4

Now is the time to review changes in your market.

Are there new factors – changes in customer buying behavior, shifts in the demographics, new issues in your industry and fresh competitor activity? Consider how these changes will make it easier or harder to achieve your bold targets.

Do any of these changes cause you to rethink the targets you’ve set? If so, go back and make adjustments you feel are necessary.

If you’d like a list of the kinds of questions I ask businesses, send an email to stratq@lemberg.com.

Step 5

Figure out how to reach the targets in Step 3.

How can you achieve the targets you just set? Do you know how? Will that plan work? You may have to work backwards using the Merlin Method. (For those of you who don’t know, Merlin was a wizard who was born old and lived his life getting younger. What he called seeing the future was really just looking into his own past.) So use this idea to create action plans.

This is the method I use successfully with my consulting clients to transform their businesses. I’ll give you a quick overview:

Visualize those bold targets as already met. Looking back from the future to the present, ask what was the final step or milestone you achieved before completing the goal? And what was the step before that? And before that? All the way to the present day. Check for reasonableness.

That’s your action plan.

Believe me, this works! Do this for each of your targets and goals, then execute that plan, and you can almost guarantee a breakthrough year.

In a future article, I’ll write more about the critical success factors you need to review.

Best regards,

Small Business Marketing – Opportunities

In the third of this four-part series, we will consider another of the most important considerations for analysis of the marketing efforts of a small business. A small business’ opportunities are the third part of a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis, and reveal where the business has future growth and development chances. Opportunities can take many different forms, and should be examined and periodically reviewed to notice any changes, as they may happen suddenly, then disappear again just as quickly. Business opportunities can include some or all of the following:

  • Emerging trends which require your products and services
  • New technologies which increase demand for your product or service
  • Favorable changes to customer characteristics (demographics, psychographics, etc.)
  • Changes in customer tastes, preferences, or values
  • Poor competitor performance leading to dissatisfied customers ready for a change
  • Newly unsatisfied customer needs
  • Problems or gaps in existing offerings (creating opportunities for follow-up sales, cross sales, and up sales)
  • Completely new desires on the part of customers
  • Discovering new uses for old products and services which satisfy other market segments
  • New or expanded product and service offerings for your firm
  • New or expanded product and service offerings for other firms which complement your offerings
  • Changes which make substitute goods or services less desirable
  • Additional applications of recent research and development activities
  • Changes to current laws, regulations, or rules which allow opportunities which had been restricted
  • Beneficial changes to a supplier’s terms and conditions, or new suppliers becoming available
  • Beneficial tax changes or incentives for business development
  • Favorable side effects which are realized from using your product or service
  • Access to a greater supply of human capital with industry experience, fresh perspectives, or both
  • Less competition, as some competitors leave the market or go out of business
  • Decreased cost of raw materials used in making your product or providing your service

Put simply, the more of the above patterns that are present, the greater the amount of opportunity that exists in the market which can be utilized to start a new venture, or continue an existing operation. Even when there are fewer opportunities to make use of, highly successful businesses can still be established, but the amount of skill required to do so is significantly greater. Generally, the businesses which make the best use of their opportunities in a rapid, efficient, and effective manner are best positioned for success in the future.

Copyright 2010, by Marc Mays