Back to Basics: Understand the Full Cycle of Business Development to Get More Contracts

My 7-year-old daughter, when working on a puzzle, knows to glance at the whole picture first, before starting to assemble the pieces. So, her process is to study the picture, and then find a corner piece to which she then starts adding pieces.

We, as adults, sometimes forget to take a step back and look at the whole picture first when we solve our own puzzles: how to grow our company, how to get a contract, or how to bring in revenue. This is why an important tip for winning government contracts is to step back and take a few minutes to ponder the full life-cycle of business development. This way we can be better at putting the pieces together.

The several steps below shows a typical business development life-cycle for a government contracting company.

Step 1: Strategic business development planning is the corner piece of the puzzle. It is necessary because it becomes your beacon when you start looking at a universe of opportunities. Businesses often fall into a trap of working without a plan, or writing the plan once, and then leaving it to collect virtual (and physical) dust while they are engaged in the routine day-to-day operations. The trick here is to stick to the plan that you keep up to date, and avoid jumping at every opportunity that may have nothing to do with the plan but seems attractive at the moment.

Step 2: Market research is the next step. It goes hand-in-hand with your strategic business development plan and makes the whole planning process somewhat iterative. In order for you to plan, you need to know which vertical markets you are going to go into, and who are your ideal customers. This leads you to more detailed research, which then feeds your planning process.

Step 3: Pipeline development is the natural outcome of your market research. Now that you know which agencies and which areas you are going to explore, you will need to zoom in further and develop a list of opportunities that you are then going to narrow down further and further as you learn more about them. These opportunities will be in the near term with a request for proposal coming out in 1-6 months, the mid-term – with an opportunity expected to open up in the next 6 months to 1 year, and long term – 1-5 years out. Some of the large and important opportunities may then make it into your strategic plan – and you may start calling them strategic bids or must-win opportunities. Marketing to the federal government is related to the overall effort of attracting customers to your company, and creating awareness of your brand and offers.

Step 4: Opportunity identification narrows down the list to the select few pursuits that you decide to dedicate a significant effort to pursue. Each of these individual opportunities then enters the capture phase.

Step 5: Capture management. Capture (yes, it’s what it’s called in the professional business development circles) often is the longest step in the business development life-cycle. It has to do with positioning yourself pre-proposal for a specific opportunity. A proposal usually has a short deadline, whereas capture may take years. It doesn’t necessarily mean years of someone doing it full time. It means years of deliberate activities all leading you up to the victory. For example, I once ran a capture effort for 2.5 years for a billion dollar plus pursuit, but only spent $50,000 on my time and the time of an entire team of specialists during the first two years. It was not until the last 6 months of the capture effort that we had to focus a lot and start spending more money.

Step 6: Proposal management. Proposal management (or proposal preparation) is essentially just that: managing the development of a winning proposal document to deliver it by the deadline. It is an iterative process that usually involves multiple contributors and a set of reviews to check quality and progress. Here are some of the most important characteristics of a winning proposal, majority of which stem from a well-run capture effort:

– Matching the solution with the customer’s wishes and vision through a solid capture effort.
– Great process that gets you to the deadline without undue stress and allows you sufficient time to polish your document.
– Targeted features and benefits, with a clear value proposition.

Step 7: BD during implementation. The reason contract delivery is part of the business development life cycle is simple: once you have a government contract, the ground is ripe for adding scope (what is called “an up-sell” in sales).

Your people who work on the project with the customer are your eyes and ears if you train them correctly in the capture process. They can find out about the need for additional work, and inform your business developer. Your business developer will pay a visit to the government representative, learning more about the requirements. They can then use this information to submit a white paper or an unsolicited proposal. This may result in adding scope to your existing contract.

Your staff on the ground can also tell your business developers about other requirements they may be hearing about that may not yield themselves to adding scope. These are new additions to your pipeline – but these additions are infinitely more valuable than others because you get to hear about them early, they are from an existing customer that bought from you before and therefore trusts you more, and you already have a relationship.

During implementation, you also generate past performance track record that you can leverage in your next proposal. On the other hand, if you don’t do well, then you get to tarnish your record with the government very quickly – and this record proliferates from this customer to other government agencies through various past performance databases. It is important that once you have won a contract, you do a great job. Do whatever it takes to deliver and please your customer.

So, now you have the big picture, and know how all the pieces of the business development puzzle are supposed to fit together.

Hiring A Business Development Consultant – Mistake Or Opportunity?

I just finished searching the web for business and marketing consultants, and even as a professional Business Consultant, I was left confused and skeptical. The profession seems to be filled with those who over-promise, have little experience, and some who only want to sell you anything but knowledge based on experience. Fortunately, under the rubble, there are those who have spent a lifetime in business and who are practicing professional consultants with a great deal to offer the right customers. Since this is my business, I decided it might be time to offer my observations on why you might need a professional consultant, and how you can benefit.

I am a Business Development, Strategic Planning, and Marketing consultant. I specialized in helping small to mid-sized companies review their current activities and providing Critical Analysis, Strategic Planning and Implementation guidance in my areas of expertise. My goal is to help small business and mid-sized companies grow by understanding where they are today, where they want to go, and exactly how to get there.

With the disclosure out of the way, let me provide my guidance on hiring a business consultant, what to look for, and what to expect for your time and money.

1) EXPERTISE: The single most important reason to hire an outside business consultant is to bring in expertise that you do not already have in house.

Most people have a background in their industry, and many have experience in two or three industries. Some people even have experience with 10 or 15 products within that industry, but knowledge, experience and hands on management of a broader range of products, from over a hundred companies, and building marketing and distribution in diverse markets such as North America, Europe and Asia is experience few people have.

When you look for a consultant you want someone who has a breadth of knowledge and experience that exceeds that which you already have. Along with bringing a new or different perspective to your analysis and strategic planning, a consultant should bring knowledge that is outside the scope of your current environment.

By bringing in someone with a wide range of knowledge and experience in their area of expertise you supplement your current knowledge base. Most companies already have excellent people on staff performing their duties in the areas of business development, marketing and sales. Limitations occur because of the ‘box’ in which we work. You and your staff are running full speed ahead to keep up with the demands of your business. In many cases, you are putting out fires as quickly as they ignite (if you’re lucky). This environment dictates that you focus on the job at hand. When you and your staff meet, you are discussing real problems that need immediate solutions. There is little time to research what other companies are doing and what is successful or not for them.

A consultant should bring an ‘out of the box’ perspective to your table the moment they walk in the door. They may not understand the minutia of your business immediately, but through discussion and some research they will bring new perspective and ideas to your problem solving and business planning process. Their expanded world view will open new doors of opportunity for your organization and offer ideas that have proven successful in other environments.

2) ECONOMICS: The second most likely reason to hire an expert business development consultant is saving money.

Hiring the expertise you need for every aspect of your business development process is not only impractical, but impossible.

When we need professional expertise we either outsource or bring on new staff. Today, in this economy, hiring new staff is a luxury most small business cannot afford. Outsourcing is a good alternative, and in the case of consultants, a highly cost effective alternative.

In addition to bringing immediate knowledge, consultants bring all the benefits of outsourcing. Taxes and Benefits are the responsibility of the consultant and never carried as overhead by the company. Costs are controlled and can fit your budget. Hiring and firing are as simple as picking up the phone. No job search, no severance. Consultants are usually available when you want them and expendable when you do not. For many that description is a little uncomfortable, but a professional consultant is an independent business person (or company) who works at the pleasure of YOU.

In addition to all the benefits of outsourcing, a professional consultant brings immediate payback. Duplicating the expertise of a good consultant might require 3, 5 or even 8 different positions to be filled by experienced managers. Each position requires training and integration into the organization. One expert not only provides the knowledge-base of those positions, but also hits the ground running.

Finally, regarding a good consultant’s hourly or daily fee. My experience is that they are usually priced at the level of a senior partner in a law firm or regional accounting firm. When compared to the cost of hiring that same expertise on a long-term basis, they are almost always a bargain.

When hiring a consultant, clearly define your objectives and identify the deliverables he or she will provide. Always receive a firm bid quote. Then consider; can we do this in house? If so, what is the cost in using our own manpower, including the cost of pulling that manpower off other projects? If not (which is usually the case), then ask if the deliverables and benefits are worth the cost?

3) USABLE DELIVERABLES: You want a deliverable that can be used over a long period of time throughout the organization.

In most cases, you hire a business development consultant to help you solve a specific problem or more often help you define a plan of action for taking you where you want to go. In such cases, you want someone who can deliver in writing a road map for future activities. To do this, they must be able to guide you through a careful and thorough review process in which both you and the consultant identify what is working and what is not, and where the holes are in your present plan.

A good consultant will then be able to lead a strategic planning process in which the consultant, you and your staff collaborate on developing an expanded plan in which your ideas and wishes are combined with the consultant’s to create a plan that is much better than anyone alone could create.

Finally, a qualified expert consultant will be able to create a written plan that includes a full marketing plan and budget that can be used as a guide, a road map if you will, to take you where you want to go.

This document should not be an academic study, but a dynamic real-world document that reflects the hands-on expertise of your organization and the consultant, and is used, reviewed, and updated on a regular basis.

4) OBJECTIVITY: You must have objectivity that ensures the advice you receive is in YOUR best interest.

You want a consultant that is objective with no conflicts of interest or hidden agendas. In order to give you the valuable information you’re paying for, your consultant must have only one allegiance – you.

This doesn’t mean that the consultant you hire hasn’t, or won’t in the future, work for companies in your industry. In affect, that experience and diversity of knowledge is what gives them value. It does mean that they sign a confidentiality agreement; they do not discuss or disclose any proprietary information to anyone outside your organization; and they are not obligated to another company in any way that would degrade their work for you. ­­­­­­­

What you want is someone who has the experience to be called an expert, and professional ethics to match their expertise.

5) HANDS ON EXPERIENCE: Finally, you want someone who has experience in the field. As a small business manager or entrepreneur you need experts who understand the challenges you face, and who have had to meet and solve those challenges.

As a small businessman in my first company (a drafting and engineering company) I hired someone who had been a high level manager with a very large engineering firm. I thought they would bring expertise in how to run my business. What I got was someone who was used to managing assistants and departments, but who had no real knowledge of how to get the job done. In other words, he understood big business and big budgets, but he didn’t know how to roll his sleeves up and deal with my problems. After spending much time and money, I finally realized my mistake. After that, I made sure the advisors I hired had the hands-on experience of an entrepreneur and knew what running a small business was all about.

When you hire a consultant you want someone who has been there, built and managed companies, analyzed markets, and implemented and managed business development, marketing and sales campaigns in a wide range of markets for diverse products, for small to mid sized companies. You want a professional consultant with hands-on experience who understands your problems and can offer real world advice and solutions.

The best way to ensure you have an experienced professional that can truly help your organization is talk with them. A qualified consultant will have a history that speaks to your market, will have references, and will be able to communicate with you in a way that tells you they know what they are talking about. You will hear their competence in their answers to your questions and in the questions they ask you.

What I suggest is after you read their materials, visit their website, and complete your due diligence, call the individual(s) you think are qualified and talk with them. Ask questions specific to your business and industry, and listen carefully to the answers. If the answers are full of fluff and hyperbole know that the service you receive will likely be the same. If, on the other hand, you hear information that feels real, has substance, and reflects an understanding of the subject, you may have found someone who can truly help you shortcut the learning curve of building your business, help you reduce costs, and help you significantly move your small business or mid-sized company forward.

Some final comments about hiring a business development consultant:

Consultants may be experts, but they won’t know everything about every industry. In most cases, you will know your industry and business better than they ever will. What a good business development consultant brings to your table is a diverse range of experience that can apply to your situation. They bring new ideas, and the ability to think outside of the box, which, when combined with your specific company knowledge, catapults your organization forward. Don’t expect them to know upfront all your industry statistics or demographics, that they can obtain through research. What they will know is how to solve the broader questions of where you want to go and how to get there.

Professional consultants are full time and have been for a long time. They are not part time consultants and not ‘between jobs.’ Their expertise is born of long term work and effort, and it is displayed in the service they provide you.

The best consultants work on a fee basis, with costs quoted and known upfront. Proposals should be in writing and itemized to identify a projects objective, scope, and timeline. Transparency and no-surprises are exactly what you’re looking for.

Good luck and good marketing.

What is Business Development?

Too often, I have encountered business managers hiring Sales people and classifying them as Business Developers. The same holds true when managers call their Sales people Marketing Professionals. Main reasons behind this misclassification are twofold: First, many people DO NOT understand what the differences are between sales, marketing, and business development. Second, organizations do not accurately recognize which of these functional areas need help to drive revenue and how they compliment each other. These misunderstandings of disciplines cause unrealistic expectations and failure to achieve goals.

Business Development (Biz-Dev) is often misunderstood. It is often times mistaken as purely a sales role and other times as a marketing initiative. Well, it is a little of both, but it is also much more. Understanding what Biz-Dev is and what it does can focus the strategic direction of an enterprise, which ultimately creates new opportunities. Biz-Dev can be sales oriented, but it also can act as an operational function to support sales. Biz-Dev supplements marketing, sales, operations, and management. All of these functions are dependent upon each other. Biz-Dev is part sales, part marketing, part strategy, part planning, and part management. Biz-Dev can also work on promotion of an enterprise or even relationship building functions.

Isn’t a business developer’s main job expected to generate sales? Isn’t the lifeblood of business driven by sales? Yes, the ultimate business goal of an enterprise is to gain and grow sales. Even non-profit organizations need to raise money to survive. Without sales there is no revenue, without revenue there is no working capital, no working capital means no sustainability, and so forth. However, all units in an organization affect the outcome of sales. A company must define its purpose and objectives within their business plan. Upper management must communicate directives to staff and control processes. Employees are accountable to perform duties within their unit of responsibility. All units must work cohesively with their output contributing to the common goal of the company. For example, marketing cannot initiate a promotional campaign without input from finance, otherwise budgets and production costs will soon run into chaos.

Simply said, Biz-Dev is management process that uses resources available to an organization and coordinates plan activities to achieve goals. Sometimes the goal is increased sales, but other times an organization needs improvement or aid in another part of its operation. Examples that are not exactly sales oriented include business planning, administrative refinement, market research, finance, general management, and more. The bottom line is Biz-Dev can perform multiple initiatives to achieve a goal that will improve a functional business process resulting in opportunity. Think of Biz-Dev as project management for sales.

Understanding the various roles Biz-Dev can perform will improve the focus of your enterprise and help achieve its goals.

Business Development Steps and Strategies

Business development requires a multi-disciplinary approach and there is no ‘one size fits all’ strategy.

Below are some of the ways available to help ensure business development:

o Identify – Before you can seriously plan for business development it is necessary to identify new business opportunities.

o Plan – Once new business opportunities have been identified you will need to decide how you can best reach those new customers and markets. If your in-house resources are already stretched, you may need to look for help elsewhere. The same applies if you find the capacity or skills for business development do not already exist within your business. Outsourcing is not always as expensive as you think and could work out more cost effective over the time needed.

o Develop – What innovative marketing plans can you develop to raise your business profile among your existing customers and new markets? You may wish to consider things that you haven’t tried before. It is important that everything you plan to do can be tested on a small scale first and that you build in the opportunity to fine tune your efforts.

o Implement – If your business is not at the stage to appoint a full time marketing director, at least hire an experienced business development professional to work with your company for a few days a month.

Commitment is the key to business development. If you want to see results you must persevere. If your attempts are sporadic or you give up, you will waste the time, money and effort that have already been invested into your business development programme. Be consistent.