Oct 16, 2009

Developing your RFP Go/No-Go decision tree

The situation:
A potentially juicy RFP falls into your lap. You try not to get too excited because you know that creating a winning proposal can be an expensive and time-consuming affair. Before you get invested in the project proposal you want to determine whether this is, in fact, a worthwhile project for you to chase, or one that you should pass.

Companies should always be taking a hard look and evaluating their leads as a way of increasing their win percentage and return on investment (proposal writing), but this is especially important in today's tough economic environment. When you receive a RFP it is easy to get excited about it, especially if it was specifically sent to your company. However, it is important to be able to quantify your chances of success so you can avoid becoming column fodder. Spending time developing a Go/No-Go decision tree, and continually working to improve it, is a way for your company to keep these decisions objective and to approach sales opportunities with your eyes wide open.

What is a Go/No-Go decision tree?

A Go/No-Go decision tree is a document that you create to numerically quantify your chances of success in winning the project. We have seen it take the form of a multiple choice test, an evaluation form, a flow chart, and others. The Council of Public Relations Firms has a rudimentary form that they call their "Fit to Win" questionanaire that might be a good starting point. You want to ask tough questions of both yourself and the project to determine whether it is a good RFP but not the right project for you, a bad RFP but possibly worth responding to, or whether it is a good RFP and one that you're definitely going to bid on.

(You might notice we're not advocating the half-measure of sending in a weak proposal as we believe that just makes you look bad).

In creating this document you want to ask tough questions of yourself, the project, and the client. By asking tougher questions you'll develop a better, more realistic view of the project, and in the long run save on non-billable time but probably also win more projects. These questions also don't need to be limited to questions designed for helping you win the project, but can also be designed to determine whether the project is actually one you want to win. For example, you might have had bad experiences with projects run by a committee; perhaps that should be one of your questions.

How do I create my Go/No-Go decision tree?

Your decision tree should not be treated as a simple sales tool; a good decision tree will both help you in determining which leads to pursue because you can win them, but also enable you to target the leads that result in the best projects for your company. And don't limit these questions to the positive; which projects and project leads turn out to be losers. These decisions go beyond the sales team so we advise including more than the sales team in formulating your tree.

  1. start by identifying your best and worst projects
  2. evaluate your portfolio and identify your strengths and weaknesses
  3. revisit your proposals, both won and lost

The purpose of this introspection is to be brutally honest in identifying trends in your business that can aid you in both finding the right projects while avoiding the wrong projects. Use this information to formulate the questions that will enable you to put proper perspective into your business prospecting.

Now take a look at the proposal. Start writing the tough questions that will enable you to figure out if you have enough information to bid on the project and if you have a worthwhile shot at winning the project. Some questions to start you off might be:
  • Is the current vendor bidding on the project?
  • Is there an established budget, do we know the budget, and is it reasonable for the project?
  • How well can we demonstrate we should be awarded this project?
  • Are we a good fit for this project?
  • Is this project a good fit for us?
  • Have we won similar projects to this in the past?
If you don't have all of the information you need to answer your questions make sure to ask the client the questions that will enable you to continue. Ask questions, lots of questions, until you feel you have enough information to make an educated evaluation of your chances.

Turning it into cold, hard mathematics

Everyone has a different method for turning the questions into a formula, and everyone's questions will be different based on the results of your business introspection. We've seen companies working upwards to a weirdly weighted seemingly random number, we've seen companies working backwards from 100% and subtracting based on negative questions, and we've seen ornate flow chart decision trees. Perhaps a spreadsheet of 50 questions works best for you where a full value is 2 points, half-value is 1 point, and you work upwards to 100.  There's no right method beyond finding the formula that works for you.

The next step is to look at the numbers that are generated and create a numerical-based sliding scale of "RFP worthiness" that will help you in both determining how good your chances of success are, and how worthwhile chasing this RFP will be. We encourage you to document your results for each RFP received, especially for those that you choose to respond to. Track your win percentage and any post-mortem results/feedback from each proposal and use these results to further refine your decision tree.

An important thing to remember

The most important thing to remember is that the Go/No-Go decision tree is a tool. It is a tool that will provide you with better results if you put more work into it and continually develop it. Every win and every loss can provide you with further insight into your selection process, so make sure to periodically revisit your tree's questions and valuation arithmetic. There are lots of opportunities out there, your time is best spent on the projects that are a good fit for your company and projects that you can win.


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