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Win the Right Work



Chasing a lot of work these days? Who isn’t? But some teams are so busy chasing work that they are missing the very opportunities they should be winning.

Across the industry, it wastes millions of dollars and countless hours.

The fact is, to win work—good work—you have to stop chasing all of it. Try these ideas instead.

Put Customers First

Be clear about what work you really want to win, and get engaged earlier in the process. Think about how to free up your employees’ time to build relationships before the RFP hits the street.

© iStock / olm26250

Be clear about what work you really want to win, and get engaged earlier in the process.

Get rid of those opportunities where the chances of winning are slim and will only be time wasters for your team.

Look Backward for Future Opportunities

Look at your last five proposal/RFP opportunities. When you read through them with an objective eye, did you give the client a reason to pick you, besides price? Develop a rating system, such as the one shown in Exhibit 1, and score those last five proposals.

Rating System

Proposals are first and foremost a selling document. How well do your proposals rate?

If the average is between 2.5 and 3.5, you are spending a lot of money to come up second too many times. Get your team busy, and have a candid conversation about making your proposals better.

Don’t stop there. Ask the prospects on the projects you lost: “What would it have taken to get our team and approach on your ‘must pick’ list?”

Look at your winning projects, too. This time, ask (yourself and those clients), “What added enough value that we were selected?”

The response may be humbling. “It’s what we expected” or “we trust you” are not rousing endorsements, even if you win the job.

© iStock / 5xinc

Find out—from both your hits and misses—what makes your company and services stand out from the crowd.

Get serious about identifying and selling the value you bring to the client and project.

Identify Your Value

You either need to give prospects a strong business reason to pick you, or you are left with only two strategies: Cut your price, or don’t bid the project.

If the customer is going to buy on price alone, great. That is wonderful to know before you invest a bunch of time and money. Decide if it is worth your time to play that game.

If it is, get in and be competitive. But do it in ways that minimize the cost of chasing the work. This is a good time to dust off the boiler plate and get efficient.

If you going to pass, thank the customer for saving you a bunch of time and money, and go look for better opportunities.

Worker on tablet
©iStock / shotbydave

Chasing work benefits clients, but not you. Regain control and make better decisions about what opportunities to pursue. Develop a scalable go/no go mechanism for projects.

Remember: Most clients have no idea of the cost and time consumed in chasing work. It’s in their economic best interest, however, to have you join the pack.

So, regain control and make better business decisions about what opportunities to follow.

Know What You Need to Win

Without a compelling reason to do otherwise, customers will typically pick the lowest-priced proposal from the largest qualified contractors chasing the work. Instead, try a “winning project approach,” (see Exhibit 2) which requires three elements:

  • Meet/exceed project expectations;
  • Deliver a competitive price (one where you make money); and
  • Provide a unique reason to pick you.

Two of these elements won’t do it. That only gets you posited to be second. So, swing for the fences with an approach that grabs attention, showcases your unique value, and delivers a competitive price.

How to Do It

To win the right work:

  • Head upstream. Identify the best customers and opportunities before they go out for proposal. Meet the key players; get pre-positioned.
  • Get serious about your go/no go.  Develop a mechanism to quantify how much to invest in the opportunity. Make sure your mechanism is scalable for different project sizes and types.
  • Tighten your estimating costs and approach. Structure your estimating team and costs to win work. Increase the real-time feedback from the field back to estimating.
  • Develop “discovery questions” to find out the prospect’s perspective and needs. The better you understand those, the more likely you are to deliver real business value.
  • Engage your team in creating a winning strategy. Ask: Why should customers pick you over competitors? What unique value do you offer? What dollar impact will your service have on the customer?
  • Punch up proposals and presentations for greater impact.  With pizzazz and confidence, answer the “so what?” behind your message—the benefits you bring.

In short: Think less like a contractor, engineer or architect—and more like your customer.

Cynthia Paul

About the Author: Cynthia Paul is a managing director at FMI Corporation and practice leader for business development. She helps construction industry organizations stand out from the competition by discovering their differentiated platform.

Contact Cynthia.



“Building Success” is written by professionals at FMI, the world’s largest provider of management consulting, investment banking, and research for the engineering and construction industry. FMI serves contractors, building materials and equipment producers,architects and engineers,owners and developers,and others across the industry. Author information is available at the bottom of each blog entry.



Tagged categories: Architecture; Construction; Consultants; Engineers; FMI; Good Technical Practice

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