Win at all costs is a bad motto

I’m often asked what my win rate is. It’s a question without an easy answer as there are many factors that determine why a proposal may or may not win. Here’s a better question: How can you increase your chances of winning the kind of work that makes you successful? The answer: Know the value you bring and be choosy about what you propose on.

I heard from a client today. Back in January we proposed on a contract that was worth more than $10 million. Following the proposal review, they invited his company and a few others to be interviewed. After interviewing the finalists, they sent all the candidates a request for a “best and final offer” (BFO). My client had submitted a price of $15 million, then revised that to a BFO of $13 million. He was then told that the price needed to be more like $11 million to be considered. And to top it off, they wouldn’t budge on their original contract start date, in spite of the fact that the additional negotiations had taken up two more months.

At this point, my client said no. He politely declined to shave his price any further. What he realized was that even at his original price of $15 million, the contract was ill-suited to the way he likes to work. For one thing, it would have been difficult to make a profit. And the contract offered no incentives for increasing efficiency. So when they wanted to pay him even less, that convinced his head of what his gut had been telling him. He got off the train and missed out on what would have been by far his largest contract.

Within two weeks of saying no, another contract for which we had submitted a proposal came calling. This one was completely different. The contractual relationship was non-adversarial. There were incentives to save money and be more efficient (just the sort of thing my client loves as it gives his team a chance to shine). And he got the contract. The size of the contract was $12.5 million, the same size as the one he had turned down.

“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully….Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.” – Steve Jobs

The interesting thing is that if he had won the first one, he would not have had the resources to accept the second contract, especially with the aggressive start date.

The moral of the story is this. My client knows the value he brings. And he knows the kind of arrangement where he can shine in his client’s eyes and make money for his own company. When he aligns his value with a prospect’s needs, he almost always wins. And when he sees that things aren’t lining up, he refuses to get caught up in the chase and he bows out.

That’s smart. And that’s the best way to up your win rate and your profitability. Be choosy.