…that every firm should ask about every RFP, RFQ or RFI that crosses their desk, jams their mailbox, spams their e-mail or grabs their attention on GovernmentBids, BidSync, RFPDB, Comm- PASS, or whatever bid listing sites they scan daily for dollars. A preplanned set of criteria for evaluating a project’s suitability can save a firm time, money and energy shot on a down-at-the-bottom or doomed-from-the-start proposal packaged together out of need for work or a hey- that’s-for-me gut reaction to an RFP/Q/I without fine- tooth-combing its details.
In my previous post I mentioned a Go/No-Go decision system an Indianapolis civil engineering firm used to help provide more up-front information about each new considered project proposal. So I thought I’d elaborate on that in this post.
At a recent Boston Society of Architects Marketing/PR Wizards meeting, Kathy McMahon, Director of Marketing for CBT Architects, presented her firm’s Go/No-Go proposal criteria.
- Is there enough time to put out the proposal?
- Is it in our area of expertise, experience, or specialty?
- Is the project enough in our region to give us a chance at it?
- Do we have any personal or political connection(s) to the project or client?
- Would the project be a strong design or social opportunity for us?
- Is the project profitable enough for us, based on its budget and fees?
- Would the project present a possibility to expand our expertise or our regional impact?
- Do we have the marketing capacity to get the proposal done?
- Would the project create a customized connection that would result in a future commission for us?
- Is the cost to develop our response to the RFP/Q/I reasonable and manageable, relative to our odds of winning the project?
- How well could we write about the problem the project poses and articulate the solution we propose, capturing the culture of the client and the essence of the building?
- What is our track record at winning proposals for similar projects in similar regions?
- How far did we go in the proposal selection process on projects like this? (One way to find these answers is to have an RFP database handy to keyword-search for, say, a courthouse, hospital, public school, etc., your firm has done or proposed in a particular city, county or state, to determine your chances of success on a similar RFP/Q/I you’re considering.)
- How distinct are our insights into client needs and expectations, based on our level of familiarity with the client and how much data and information we could gather about the client?
- How favored would our competitor(s) be in this contest, compared to us?
- How available to us are needed team members in the project?
- How negotiable is the price of the project?
- How well does this project fit in with our firm’s stated marketing goals?
- Would this project weaken or lose us an existing account?
- What are our odds of winning the project?
- Is the project’s funding certain? (Always call the purchasing office of the source of every new RFP/Q/I to find out first thing before proceeding with the proposal.)
Go/No-Go Decision Matrix: To facilitate the process of deciding whether to pursue an RFP/Q/I, these and other questions could be put into a matrix like the one above (which you’re free to click on and drag onto your desktop as a JPEG file to open up and print out for your firm’s use).
Put each question into a viability category: Client Contact/Rapport, Marketing Intelligence, Competitive Advantage, Qualifications and Experience, Project Team Availability, Profit Potential, Pricing Sensitivity, Cost to Respond, Consistency with Marketing Plan, Odds of Winning, etc. Then list these categories in a “Proposal Factors” column on the matrix’s left-hand side.
Then have at least three firm members in varying organizational ranks (to get a variety of perspectives) fill out the matrix as follows:
- Score each category on an ascending scale of 1 to 6 from least to most appropriate for your firm.
- Rate your most immediate competitors for the project in the same way, depending on how much information you can find about their qualifications for the project, connections with the client, etc.
- Add the scores and divide the final sums by how many questions are on the matrix.
- Those who filled out the matrix should compare their scores and combine them according to their mean, median or mode, depending what is agreed upon beforehand.
- The resultant “Overall Rating” should be at least 4 before deciding to write a proposal. If less, consult appropriate firm management before proceeding with the proposal.
- Encourage all matrix reviewers to leave written comments in the Comment Box at the bottom, to stimulate further discussion about a project’s viability and the reasons for a Go or No-Go decision.
Teamwork: The teamwork required for proposal production I discussed in my last post also applies to the Go/No-Go decision. All members of a prospective project team should participate in the decision discussion based on the matrix scores and comments.
It also helps to keep everyone informed of the time and effort required to write and package each successful proposal — which can be at least three full business days — as a consideration in the final decision, so a consensus can be reached on whether or not that proposal is time and money well spent.
A Go/No-Go criterion to avoid: a too-stringent fee ceiling. This could cost your firm valuable opportunities that might enrich your portfolio, lead to more profitable projects and client connections down the road, or at least keep you working and let the world know you’re “in demand” so you stand a better chance at getting better-paying work. If you tend to shun any project budgeted below a fixed minimum figure, before long you could find your firm in a work/ revenue shortfall that could force work week reductions, layoffs, and/or office space shrinkage.
It’s better to consider each project fee on a case-by-case basis when deciding as a team whether or not to go for it, and to make the budget one among many factors in choosing “Go, Team” or “No Go, Joe.” But certainly choose the latter if:
- the fee is so low in proportion to the project’s scope, duration, manpower and expense it won’t be lucrative for all concerned;
- the project’s funding is so uncertain it could leave you hanging at the end, even sending the client months of reminder invoices;
- the project’s budget is undecided or unavailable (even over the phone), so you risk being shortchanged or pro bono-fied.
It can cost as much as $3,500 to assemble a proposal, qualifications or information package. So a detailed list of criteria questions for evaluating a project’s merits ahead of time can save your firm considerable sums of money by helping you weed out projects you have little or no chance of getting. This will also free you up to pursue more suitable opportunities, as well as make the most of your billable time on your current work. That is how the Go/No-Go process can help a firm stay solvent as much as winning new work.
As Benjamin Franklin put it, “A penny saved is a penny earned.”
For more insights on reaching a Go/No-Go verdict, read “Developing Your Go/No-Go Decision Tree” by David Kutcher.
— Todd Larson
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