Forecasting Your Chances of Winning: How to Assess and Improve Your Win Probability
(Part 1)
By Harley Stein, Partner, Tenzing Consulting

Why do some companies win a higher percentage of their bids than others? Is there a magic bullet, a secret formula? Yes, of course there is—but it is more about the rigorous application of this formula than it is about the secret formula itself.

So what is the secret? Only bid jobs you can win.

Simple, huh? Now you merely have to persuade your capture managers to stop bidding all those jobs you know we can't win. Begging the capture manager to no-bid hasn't worked; after all, there is lots of money to be won. Pleading lack of quality resources hasn't worked; after all, there is lots of money to be won. Demonstrating that we lack a technical solution hasn't worked; after all—well, you get it.

What you want to know is what to do about it.

The answer is to develop forecasting criteria that help your organization objectively score the strengths and weaknesses that determine whether you win or lose. The specifics of those criteria will, to a degree, vary from organization to organization. But the basic elements don't vary.

The value of this is more than simply winning more bids. Correctly forecasting your chances of winning early in the pursuit process enables the capture team to focus on areas that require the most attention, areas that provide the most return on investment, and areas that will most improve your chances of winning. Correctly forecasting helps determine whether you should prime or sub, and it guides your search for teammates. Finally, correctly forecasting your chances of winning, and then no-bidding efforts you can't win, frees up scarce bid & proposal resources that can then be allocated to efforts you can win.

There are 5 key steps to objectively forecast your chances of winning:
  1. Determine the right metrics
  2. Validate metrics
  3. Sell metrics to the organization
  4. Apply the metrics rigorously
  5. Test and update the metrics.

Determine the Right Metrics

Determining the right metrics for your organization is the single most important step you will take. As such, I'll devote most of this article to the questions to ask, the rationale, and an example of what constitutes the right metrics.

Across many organizations doing business in many industries, the questions that are discussed at bid/no bids or pursue/no pursue meetings are remarkably similar. These questions tend to fall into 7 categories:

  • Customer Relationships: What is our relationship with this customer? How well do we understand their hot buttons? How well do they know us?
  • Customer Requirements: Do we have a technical approach/solution/CONOPS? Have we briefed them on it? Do we meet their requirements? Do we exceed their requirements?
  • Capture Team: Who is the capture manager? Who is the program manager? Have we identified the key personnel? Do we have an "A team?" Who is the proposal manager? Do we have the necessary proposal resources?
  • Process Rigor: Is this an experienced proposal team? Do they understand the process or is there a steep learning curve?
  • Timely Starts: When did we begin to actively pursue this effort? Before CBD announcement? Before DRFP release? Before RFP release? How long have our competitors been pursuing this?
  • Past Performance: Have we ever done this before? Were we successful? Do we have relevant, recent, applicable past performance? Will those customers provide positive write-ups? Are these efforts really of similar size, scope and complexity? Do we have technology or an approach or a solution that we can leverage or apply?
  • Competition: Who are the competitors? What would their score be using our forecasting score sheet? Will they bid? Do we want them to team with us? Will they team with us? Is there a company we must have on our team to win?

These questions—and their answers—form the basis for the forecasting metrics shown in Figure 1. This forecast scores the potential opportunity and assigns a numerical value to probability of win. It is based on factors that have historically proved significant in winning new business at one organization, which I'll call Company ABC, and, indeed, across many industries. A brief explanation of those metrics and their rationale follows, as well as their weighting for Company ABC.

Figure 1. Forecasting metrics for Company ABC.
Category
Weight
Criteria
Points
5
3
0
-2
Customer Relationship 4X Have identified the key decision maker(s) for the program and understand their perceptions of the program requirements, us, our competition Have identified the key decision maker(s) for the program and understand some of their perceptions Have identified the key decision maker(s) for the program Do not know the key decision maker(s) for the program
Customer Requirements 1X Thoroughly understand, documented, and validated Have a good understanding based on reliable sources Have some understanding based on limited resources Have little or no idea
Capture Team 2X Have proven capture manager and “A” team available and committed Have a proven capture manager and some “A” team members available and committed Have team identified and available Have not identified team and committed to their availability
Process Rigor 1X Experienced, frequent users of proposal process Have used proposal process on occasion Have never used proposal process Do not intend to use proposal process
Timely Starts 1X Began actively working this pursuit before RFP release Began actively working this pursuit when RFP is released Began actively working this pursuit after RFP release Began actively working this pursuit more than 7 days after RFP release
Past Performance 1X At least two directly applicable, recent contracts with a positive customer write-up At least two directly applicable current or recently contracts with a positive customer write-up Closely aligned current or recently contracts with a positive customer write-up No closely aligned or directly applicable contracts
Competition 1X Thoroughly understand who competitors are Have good understanding of competitors based on reliable sources Know who competitors generically ought to be Do not know many of our competitors
Note: Maximum Score – 55; Definite Bid Score – 44; Definite No-Bid Score - 38

Customer Relationship and Customer's Key Requirements – For Company ABC, these two categories combined were valued at approximately 45% of the total score. The rationale for that was straightforward: if the customer doesn't know us very well, and if we don't understand what the customer really wants, are chances of winning are slim. The customer gets to know us well through multiple visits where we share ideas and listen carefully. We get to know the customer well through these same visits, and through discussions with our field representatives and teammates. Company ABC learned through painful experience that they could score at the top in every other category and still lose the procurement without high scores in these two categories.

Capture Team, Process Rigor and Timely Starts – These three categories combined were valued at approximately 36% of the total score. Writing a superior, winning proposal is a difficult challenge, and frequently our proposal teams have had little or no training in how to overcome this challenge. If we have done our homework and scored well in the previous customer categories, we now need a top-notch team to craft a superior product that is our first deliverable to the customer. The history of numerous organizations—and Company ABC in particula—has shown that we have a better chance to win with a proven Capture Manager (someone who has won before), and a proposal team that has succeeded before. In addition, the capture team must have no significant other commitments that might prove to be obstacles during the proposal effort.

One factor that separates the top-notch capture teams from the rest is the rigor with which they follow a disciplined process. Superior proposals do not just happen; they are painstakingly crafted through a proven, iterative process. Invariably at Company ABC, the best capture teams were those that embraced the proposal process, and those that began actively working on key aspects of our proposal before the RFP release.

Timely starts were critical for Company ABC; our research as we developed the metrics indicated that late starts were a significant issue for them. There are no hard and fast rules as to what constitutes a timely start; there are, however, some clear gates that indicate a late start. If the RFP has been released and you haven't started, you are late. If the first you've heard about it is in something like a Commerce Business Daily (CBD) notice, you are late. If there is an incumbent who is starting the last year of a 5-year contract and you are just now starting your effort, you are late; at the very least, the incumbent has probably been working the re-compete for a year already. If the competition has been working the procurement for months or years before you have started, you are definitely late. It is hard to catch a company with a big lead: typically, they've been in to see the customer many times; have been influencing the RFP; have already developed a solution or conducted early design trade-offs to substantiate their claims with proof or acquire needed capabilities; and have already teamed with the best players.

Past Performance – For Company ABC, this category was valued at approximately 9% of the total score. The reason this was such a low percentage is that we assumed that if we did not have a past performance story to tell—if we did not have directly relevant programs that met the basic criteria that they were of similar size, scope and complexity—we would not even consider bidding. Past performance is what is often referred to as "table stakes." If we don't have the credentials, we won't even be allowed to play in the game.

There are often reasons when past performance is weighted significantly higher. For example, in a procurement where the playing field is limited to a few companies or where some companies have niche expertise that others don't, this might be weighted higher. However, this is also a dangerous category to forecast as an incumbent. We often believe what our people on the ground tell us rather than dispatching resources that can develop an objective view through discussions with the customer, teammates, and even the competition.

Competition – This category was valued at approximately 9% of the total score. For Company ABC, their core competency was shared by a handful of other companies; the competition in each procurement was easy to predict, since it was typically the same cast of characters. For many industries—IT, health care, jet fighters, etc.— the players are well known. Often, there is little that differentiates each company's solution. Try as we might to ghost the competition, the reality is that most times we have little real knowledge of what the competition will do. Our ability to forecast who the bidders are, who the evaluators will be, what the winning dollar figure will be, who is teamed with whom, when the RFP will really be released—regarding all of these and more, most organizations are wrong far more often than right. For all these reasons, weighting the competition higher often does not make any sense.

Where it often does make sense, however, is when there is an incumbent or when there will be multiple awards. This requires sifting through what our customers say to find the truth, rather than what they say simply to ensure sufficient competition. And with multiple awards, objectively evaluating where you stand in a competition where you only have to finish in the top 5 is critical.

A final note on competition: If you are the incumbent and the re-compete RFP hits the streets without you knowing it ahead of time – something a colleague of mine dubbed the pop-up re-compete – you are in trouble.

Part 2 will focus on how you can determine and validate the right metrics, sell them to your organization, and then apply them rigorously.


About the Author
Harley Stein is a professional oral presentation coach and Partner of Tenzing Consulting, specializing in strategies, proposals, presentations and coaching. Contact Harley at hstein@comcast.net or 302-593-6718. Visit www.tenzing-consulting.com.


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