When it comes to managing your inventory of active opportunities, where you are and where you want to be may not be all that far apart. “Why bother” you say – since most of us have more work than we can handle. Well, just like we’ve built efficiency on the delivery side of the firm in order to optimize our resources, building efficiency on the practice growth side of the firm will also optimize our resources. Many mid-market firms have yet to attack this challenge. The result is sub-optimization of resources in developing and closing opportunities. The manifestations are manifold.
- Partners pursuing larger opportunities with the same methods as smaller ones (these pursuit techniques are different)!
- Opportunities “dropping through the cracks”.
- No succinct, easy-to-understand pipeline showing what is being pursued.
- Proposal logs (an inventory of late-stage opportunities where we have little ability to influence outcomes) instead of pipelines (which include early-stage opportunities which enable us to influence outcomes).
- Smaller, low-odds opportunities taking the same priority as larger, more strategic opportunities.
- Opportunities that get stuck for weeks or months with no apparent movement through the opportunity cycle.
- Lack of clarity about “next steps,” also masquerading as “waiting for prospect to respond.”
- Business developers who are sub-optimized (then later questioned about whether they’re adding value).
Envision a firm that embraces opportunity development. Where the pursuit of large pieces of business is conducted with the same level of sophistication as service delivery. With some knowledge and execution, that firm can be your own.
Developing a Large Opportunity Culture
There are firms which have changed their culture to become expert at harvesting significant opportunities and consistently boosting win rates. They’ve done it by implementing a few key steps.
- Develop an effective pipeline process
- Train partners in winning larger opportunities
- Coach partners through large opportunity development
- Effectively integrate your business developer(s)
Pump up the Pipeline!
Developing your culture starts with properly implementing a large-opportunity pipeline. The pipeline is a visual inventory and behavioral roadmap that lets you know what’s happening and who’s making it happen. I’ve seen many pipeline processes, some great and many weak. The quality of the pipeline process is the difference between creating a cultural change and having just another report to fill out.
The pipeline review is an analysis of current opportunities and assignment of dollar amounts to each. The review is typically conducted in a twice monthly teleconference with partners. The session is led by the managing partner. Before and during the review session, a pipeline spread sheet is updated by the partners with the help of an administrative person who compiles and shares the results. The pipeline review does many things, starting with facilitating communication among offices and partners; the pipeline report supports the review by displaying all firm activity in one easy-to-track document.
Pipeline reviews evolve, from a sharing of what’s happening where, to a process which involves adding value to each pursuit. Positive peer pressure increases pipeline activity, encouraging partners to pro-actively drive opportunities. Congratulating opportunity leaders and asking them to share their winning strategies with colleagues grows the collective brain of knowledge. This leads to a higher-quality effort, better resource deployment and ultimately, higher win rates. Losses are perceived as teaching moments, rather than embarrassing personal failures.
Time to Train
The next important step in building the opportunity development process is training. It is at this point that partners who have honed skills in many other areas often recognize the need for specific instruction in the pursuit of high-quality opportunities. Like the preparation required for a tax or audit offering, landing large business requires specific skills and knowledge.
Training includes how to become a coordinated team, how to improve the quality of the opportunity process, and strategies for closing opportunities and retaining clients. Are lunch meetings in or out? Are emails as effective follow-ups as snail mail? What are the methods that will edge out the competition and keep them at bay? As partners are trained, they continue to learn from one another, shoring up the firm’s collective knowledge. They become very knowledgeable about competitors and their strategies and winning approaches. What’s more, training provides a common vocabulary for pursing significant opportunities. Being able to have a common language which includes “qualified vs. unqualified,” “triangulating” and “recalibrating” helps a team work more efficiently toward shared goals. This vernacular can lead to more focused initiatives and ultimately, greater opportunity success.
Coaching to Hone Skills
Coaching develops the practical application of newly learned skills large opportunity methods. Coaching can be done by the firm’s business developer (if there is one), other partners who have landed large opportunities, or outside resources. Landing large opportunities is similar to learning to ride a bicycle, golfing, or any other skill. It requires hands-on feedback and practice to get better. The more your partners practice, the better your firm will be at edging out competition and increasing your win rate.
Integrating Your Business Developer
For firms who have business developer(s), including them in the largest and most strategically significant opportunities will insure you’re using your resources wisely. They can be either “on the ground,” meeting with large opportunity prospects, or behind the scenes coaching and brainstorming with strategy development. The best way to integrate them is to use the pipeline as a focal point to identify those opportunities where they should be involved. Without a tool like this, they’ll end up working with the partners who are most receptive to their involvement – and this doesn’t necessarily represent the partners who are driving the largest and strategically significant opportunities.
Ready, Set, Win!
If getting the big wins is a goal for your firm, consider implementing the above 4 steps to create the right cultural expectation and supporting processes. Set high expectations! This approach has resulted in some eye-popping successes. One firm realized a 40 percent increase in the number of large opportunities being pursued just 2 months after its first pipeline review. At another firm, a 4-month process yielded a 15 percent increase in their win rate. There are other intangible, but valuable, results, such as better communication within your firm, especially among far-flung offices.
There’s a large-opportunity culture waiting to be implemented at your firm. Embrace it with open arms.