By Claus Thorsgaard
Revenue growth is a top priority for nearly 1 in 2 firms (49.3%) according to a recent IDC study. Yet bid preparation often takes billable consultants away from billable work. Even firms with dedicated business developers eventually engage billable consultants to define solutions, scope effort, or justify credentials.
But trading billable time for non-billable proposal work may delay engagements already in progress, jeopardizing client satisfaction. And the revenue on billable work is delayed, while costly non-billable hours quickly pile up. Can capturing new business be a little easier—without taking on unnecessary cost and risk?
The Typical Approach
Information gathering is often the most cumbersome step in producing winning proposals. Just think of the distinct information typically needed: Past work for the client or similar work for similar clients, costs realized and historical margins, the resources involved and their performance; the list goes on.
With information often locked into separate systems, imagine poring over spreadsheets or project plans to identify resources who have previously done this kind of work, accessing some kind of project management tool to copy the scope of past work, or having to wade through separate financial records to determine profitability.
And after finding all this information, you still need to put it together. Alternatives aren’t pretty—investing long hours at the expense of billable work, or rushing the bid process and putting success in jeopardy.
A Better Process
Don’t be among the 44% of firms whose win rate is 50% or less1. Instead, find ways to engage billable consultants quickly yet effectively—an approach that encourages appropriate consultant involvement, recognizes their participation, and minimizes the “extra” work so billable staff can quickly return to billable work. Focus on three ways to bring better information easily and efficiently to these typical elements of a winning proposal.
1. Demonstrate Experience. Winning bids must put your firm’s expertise on display. Make this quicker by attaching resumes to each resource’s employee record—most savvy practice management systems easily store PDF attachments. But resumes quickly become outdated, with static information that’s hard to use. Better is linking each resource’s record to a LinkedIn profile, which is typically more detailed and also more current. Even better is to track resource experience along multiple dimensions, like industries, responsibilities, or deliverables. Imagine how effective and efficient proposal preparation could be if the practice management system could provide the number of hours each proposed staff member has worked on a given project type, in a specific industry.
2. Define Capacity. Committing to delivery dates requires certainty—yet confidence is elusive when you’re unsure if needed talent will be available. Resource capacity is driven by current progress, estimated completion, and forecasted future workload. So does completing the bid response require a meeting of proposed resources, their engagement managers, and perhaps someone with an eye towards upcoming work? That means even more hours taken from billable work. Instead, integrate the resource plan so it’s constantly updated against current WIP, and tie in the pipeline so any “soft” bookings are visible. Then make resource views easily available – so your talent capacity is quickly accessible, and proposal developers can confidently reserve the talent they’re proposing.
3. Determine Pricing. Work has to be profitable, yet winning bids must be competitively priced—be it hourly, value-based, or milestone-driven. You don’t want people guessing—but profitable pricing can’t mean digging through financial spreadsheets to determine the cost of similar tasks, accuracy of past bids, or effectiveness of resources used. Avoid the risk of losing business (and the embarrassment of unprofitable work) by looking to your practice management system for effective pricing guidance. Advanced business intelligence found in modern systems makes deep analysis easy even for “novices”—who can quickly establish pricing guidance from actuals vs. estimates, resources involved, or even profitability on similar past work.
We all want to win new business. But why not carve a little cost out of a “win at all costs” approach? Look to better use your firm’s performance data to help billable consultants quickly turn around winning bids, and then return to billable work on the jobs your firm has already won.
Claus Thorsgaard is Executive Vice President and General Manager, Professional Services of Deltek.