An end-to-end process is a systematic series of actions or steps directed toward a specific end. Organizations that consistently follow a defined business development process win more business and use fewer investment resources.
An end-to-end business development (BD) process is like a roadmap. It allows teams of business developers to know where they are, where they’re going, and what path to follow to reach their goals. The impetus to reengineer an organization’s BD process often stems from situations such as:
- Merged or restructured organizations
- Changes in management
- Failure to meet sales or win-rate goals
- Staffing fluctuations
- Sale of the organization
- Analysts’ concerns affecting stock price
- Maturing markets
- Loss of key customers or contracts
Due to the variability of the buying–selling cycle in various markets, there’s no one-size-fits-all process model. What works for a complex multisector company may not work for a company whose proposal department comprises only one or two people.
Every organization should design its own end-to-end BD process suited to its organization and customers—and gain senior executive buy-in and support. Proven principles and best practices can be adopted, or adapted, in designing an end-to-end process for any organization.
Figure 1 depicts the elements of a generalized BD process aligned with the phases, decisions, reviews, and outputs defined in the APMP Glossary of Terms. This model is illustrative, not prescriptive. This generalized BD process provides a point of departure for designing a tailored process for a particular organization.
Common features that will pertain to most end-to-end processes include:
- Defined BD selling phases aligned with the customer’s buying cycle
- A series of structured bid decisions providing executive visibility and control of targets to be pursued
- Team reviews to provide objective recommendations for improvement
- Defined outputs supporting a winning offer
Phases. The eight generally accepted BD phases are listed here and are more fully defined in the Introduction to the Business Development Lifecycle topic. The major activities undertaken in each phase are listed.
|Market Identification||Separating a market (at the macro level) into distinct, differentiated segments to target your offers according to the specific attributes of each segment|
|Account Planning||Maintaining a sales plan specific to each major customer, covering multiple opportunities with that customer|
|Opportunity/Capture Assessment||Researching specific opportunities to determine if they match your organization’s interests, capabilities, and resources available to bid on and implement|
|Opportunity/Capture Planning||Preparing an opportunity/capture plan specific to the opportunity and identifying actions and strategies to position your organization to be the customer’s preferred bidder|
|Proposal Planning||Planning a bid or proposal effort based on an opportunity plan and concurrent with the positioning and sales effort|
|Proposal Development||Preparing, reviewing, and approving a bid or proposal|
|Negotiation||Preparing for and performing final negotiations with the customer after the proposal has been submitted|
|Delivery||Implementing delivery of the negotiated solution to the customer and maintaining an ongoing positive relationship with the customer|
Bid Decisions. Progressing from one phase to the next is determined by bid decisions, sometimes referred to as gate decisions. These decisions are led by executives and address business and strategic issues. Their primary purpose is to help teams make decisions regarding allocation or withdrawal of BD resources. Disciplined bid decisions reduce BD costs by avoiding investment in low-probability opportunities. The most successful organizations tend to bid less and win more. Outcomes are generally limited to a decision to advance, end, or defer investment. The major questions considered at each decision point are listed in the following table.
|BID DECISIONS||CRITICAL QUESTION|
|Market Entry Decision||Is the market segment aligned with the goals in our strategic plan?|
|Opportunity Qualification Decision||Does the opportunity merit expending resources to research and assess it?|
|Bid Pursuit Decision||Should we commit resources to developing opportunity plans and influencing the customer to prefer our solution?|
|Bid/No-Bid Decision||Have we positioned ourselves favorably enough to justify planning to develop a proposal?|
|Bid Validation Decision||Is the opportunity still worth pursuing and the proposal worth preparing, considering the final details in the request for proposals?|
|Final Review||Should we submit the proposal we’ve prepared, considering the anticipated financial reward and level of programmatic risk?|
Team Reviews. While bid decisions determine what will be pursued, team reviews are aimed at improving the quality of thinking and documentation of a pursuit. Performed by management, staff, or subject matter experts, these reviews address tactical and execution issues and provide unbiased, constructive recommendations for improvement in the form of qualitative and quantitative outcomes. The team reviews and expected outcomes are summarized below.
|Market Assessment||An assessment of the plan to achieve specific business market objectives within an industry or market segment|
|Account Review||An assessment of the sales plans for potential opportunities with major customers|
|Competitor Review||An assessment and analysis of competitors’ likely strategies and solutions|
|Opportunity/Capture Plan Review||An assessment of the opportunity/capture plans to validate the win strategy and planned positioning actions|
|Content Plan Review||An assessment to validate the execution of the bid strategy for writers and to verify compliance with customer requirements|
|Final Document Review||A comprehensive review of the proposal by independent reviewers who emulate the customer’s evaluation team. It includes independent assessment of the entire proposal, its readiness and responsiveness to the solicitation, and its effectiveness in conveying strategy, themes, and discriminators, as well as ghosting the competition.|
|Business Case Review/Senior Management Review||An assessment of all the internal milestones and approvals (internal governance) required to sign off on the solution, pricing, and legal requirements|
|Lessons Learned Review||An assessment of the proposal development/management process and results conducted after completion of a proposal. The purpose is to identify areas for improvement on subsequent projects.|
|Project Review||Periodic status reports and reviews with the customer.|
|Market Assessment||An assessment of the plan to achieve specific business market objectives within an industry or market segment.|
Outputs. Outputs are developed in each phase and become inputs to the next phase. Note that an organization’s strategic plan is an initial input to the market identification phase. Beware of outputs required for no justifiable reason. If an output doesn’t help advance the effort, eliminate it.
The gradient shading for major outputs in the proposal planning and proposal development phases in Figure 1 indicates variability in when these outputs are prepared—pre- or post-RFP.
Base decisions on how much to plan or prepare in advance of the RFP on the level of confidence regarding what will be requested. For example, if a draft request for proposals or an RFP from a prior competition (recompete) is available, you can form a conceptual solution and plan most sections of the proposal in detail.
Outputs and their contents are summarized in the following table.
|Market Strategy||A plan to achieve specific business market objectives within an industry or market segment.|
|Account Plan||A sales plan that is specific to one customer and covers multiple opportunities with that customer.|
|Competitive Intelligence||The process of comparing your potential offer with that of the competition as judged by the customer.|
|Opportunity/Capture Plan||A documented plan that is developed during the opportunity/capture planning phase specific to the opportunity and identifies actions and strategies to position your organization to be the customer’s preferred bidder.|
|Pricing Strategy||The strategy that differentiates value and price such that the customer perceives the value of your proposal to them to be greater than the price you are charging.|
|Proposal Management Plan||A plan that identifies the resources, schedule, and tasks needed to reach the final submission date with a winning proposal.|
|Proposal Responsibility Matrix||A document that identifies proposal team members and their specific proposal section responsibilities.|
|Proposal Outline||A framework for proposal content and organization based on customer requirements.|
|Response Matrix||A tool that identifies where in the proposal you have addressed the solicitation requirements.|
|Style Sheet||A set of standards developed specifically for a particular proposal that editors and writers can use to ensure consistency in style, grammar, terminology, and mechanics, such as naming conventions, abbreviations, acronyms, response tone, and approach.|
|Content Plan||A plan that provides guidance and a framework for addressing requirements, detailing win strategy and themes, and meeting page allocation requirements.|
|Proposal Budget||The cost or resources required to complete a proposal.|
|Executive Summary||A short abstract of the main points of the offer aimed at the senior-level decisionmakers in the customer’s organization.|
|Proposal Plan||The project document developed by the Proposal or Bid Manager to identify resources, schedules, and tasks needed to reach the final submission date with a winning proposal.|
|Proposal||A compliant, responsive, competitive description of your recommended solution to addressing customer requirements.|
|Best and Final Offer (BAFO)||A customer request for a document that describes your organization’s final price (also called Final Proposal Revision [FPR]).|
|Products and Services||The deliverables resulting from a winning offer.|
|Market Strategy||A plan to achieve specific business market objectives within an industry or market segment.|
Additional Elements. In illustrating an end-to-end BD process, consider these additional elements:
- The customer’s buying process
- Notional timeframes for phases, decisions, reviews, and outputs
- Defined goals for each phase
- Critical business decisions for each phase
- Listing of activities embedded within each phase
- Indication of accountable roles for all activities
- Listing of tools, templates, and other aids associated with each activity
Notation of changes to pipeline status, CRM, or other tracking systems
1. Create a documented, unified process.
Organizations with a defined end-to-end BD process realize significant benefits:
- Higher win rates and capture ratios
- Lower BD costs
- Higher productivity and morale
- More accurate forecasting
- Increased management visibility, direction, and control
In the absence of a defined BD process, organizations typically experience problems, such as:
- Confusion on what to do, when to do it, and who is responsible
- Wasted effort in reinventing or justifying a process rather than focusing on winning
- Inability to build on past success, as doing it differently every time precludes continuous improvement
- Overreliance on individuals who are called on to make heroic efforts to salvage false starts
- Lack of team competencies—without a defined process and defined roles, training and professional development isn’t possible
- Executive involvement that is too late and sometimes counterproductive
Such organizations typically operate at the lowest BD-CMM maturity level, the (Initial) ad hoc level. To achieve the second level (Repeatable), the organization must at least have a repeatable process for response generation. At level three (Defined), a defined BD process allows teams of business developers with organizational competencies to focus on developing a winning solution guided by a shared understanding of process and roles. When the BD process has been fully integrated with corporate operations, the benefits of maturity levels four (Managed) and five (Optimizing) can be realized.
Any effort to design an end-to-end process should include representatives of all stakeholders who will eventually be affected by the process. Their insights are critical to designing a process that meets the organization’s needs, and their early involvement promotes acceptance and effective change management.
2. Align with the customer’s buying cycle.
An end-to-end BD process must align with the customer’s buying cycle. The customer’s interests, priorities, and accessibility vary across the buying cycle. Create phases in the BD process that include activities responsive to the customer at each phase. The generic buying cycle described below, which illustrates the customer’s changing interests, provides examples of how a BD process might be aligned with a customer’s needs.
Operate. During this phase, customer needs are latent—potentially not even recognized or identified. Corresponding BD phases (e.g., market segmentation and account planning) will include activities aimed at positioning the seller’s organization for meeting potential customers and gaining a better understanding of future needs.
Assess Needs. As customers’ latent needs become explicit, the BD objective is to assist the customer in defining requirements and collaboratively evaluating the benefits of satisfying those requirements. These are opportunity assessment phase activities.
Value Solutions. During this part of the buying cycle, customers initially identify potential solutions and then assess the relative value of those solutions. In aligned BD phases (e.g., proposal planning), the customer and seller collaboratively quantify the added value of potential solutions to the customer’s organization.
Resolve Issues. At this point in the buying cycle, the customer is actively soliciting and evaluating alternatives. During this time, the BD process is aimed at preparing for and developing formal responses—proposals. Aligned BD phases include proposal planning, proposal development, and negotiation.
Implement. Customers focus on attaining the anticipated benefits of their chosen solutions. Business developers reinforce the value delivered, highlight the value of further enhancements, and begin positioning for the next sale.
Figure 2 shows a BD process aligned to the buying cycle.
3. Make the process flexible and scalable.
The end-to-end process provides a baseline for designing a BD process tailored to any organization. Tailoring begins by determining who the primary customers are. Are they governmental bodies (business-to-government [B2G]) or other companies (business-to-business [B2B])?
Understand the role your organization typically plays. Does it usually bid as a prime contractor or as a subcontractor? Does it bid on full and open competitions or on set-asides? Are most bid for new contract vehicles or for task order responses to existing contracts?
Based on the answers to these questions, define a small set of opportunity categories. Design a process robust enough to address the largest, most complex type of opportunities, but flexible enough to support smaller, simpler opportunities as well. A flexible process implies that phases, bid decisions, and team reviews are included based on the opportunity category. For example, decision milestones may be mandatory, recommended, optional, or not applicable, depending on the complexity, value, risk, and strategic fit of the opportunity.
The process should be scalable depending on the size of an opportunity, delivery deadline, and available resources. Don’t skip critical elements; instead, conduct them at the appropriate level of intensity. For a large, complex opportunity, a face-to-face kickoff meeting is appropriate. For simpler opportunities, you may be able to conduct the kickoff meeting virtually, with fewer participants.
4. Clearly define roles.
Once an end-to-end process has been defined, it’s possible to establish clear roles with associated responsibilities, authority, and accountability. Eliminating redundant efforts is critical to gaining efficiency. Clear role definition also ensures that no tasks fall through the cracks.
Distinguish between roles and positions. A position or title is most simply defined by what’s on a person’s business card. Typical BD positions include Bid Manager or Proposal Manager. A role defines the functions a person assumes, perhaps temporarily, during the BD lifecycle. For example, a person whose position is Program Manager may temporarily have the role of Opportunity/Capture Manager for a particular opportunity. In small settings, a person in a given position may perform many roles.
Identify supporting organizations. Numerous organizations support BD. They must be identified, and their roles must be defined. Examples of supporting organizations include:
- C-Level Authority (CEO, CFO)
- Contract Administrators
- Finance and Accounting
- Human Resources
- Information Technology (IT)
- Proposal Center
- Quality, Regulatory Systems
- Research and Development
Once you’ve identified roles, positions, and supporting organizations, create a RACI matrix to document who is responsible, accountable, consulted, or informed for each activity in the BD process using the following conventions:
|R = Responsible for task||The “Doer”—at least one required|
|A = Accountable||The “Owner”—the final authority, only one allowed|
|C = Consulted on task||Provides input—two-way communication|
|I = Informed on task result||Notified—usually after task action is taken|
5. Develop needed staff competencies.
For a defined end-to-end BD process to be successful, users must understand the process and have the skills to execute and adapt it appropriately. Given a clear definition of roles, organizations can identify necessary competencies and skill gaps and plan training. Rely on the competencies for Proposal Managers and Opportunity Managers identified by APMP as a baseline for establishing a training plan.
6. Ensure consistent, disciplined use.
Designing and developing an end-to-end BD process is a straightforward task that most organizations can accomplish relatively quickly. Even smaller organizations can adopt an existing process rather than continuing with ad hoc operations.
However, implementing and sustaining an effective BD process requires management focus and continuous effort. Barriers include corporate inertia, individual resistance to change, and constantly changing priorities that blur focus and erode commitment. To succeed, the launch of a new BD process must include a change-management plan that accounts for the predictable stages that most individuals experience when faced with change:
- Satisfaction—I’m happy as I am.
- Denial—This isn’t relevant to my work.
- Resistance—I’m not having this!
- Exploration—Could this work for me?
- Hope—I can see how I can make this work for me.
- Commitment—This works for me and my colleagues!
Change management is a significant challenge, and those attempting it should take advantage of guidance from experts in the field.
Common Pitfalls and Misconceptions
Lack of discipline and accountability
Defining an end-to-end process is a necessary but insufficient element in achieving higher levels of BD capability maturity. To realize the benefits of a process, an organization must have the discipline to “walk the walk” and not just “talk the talk.”
This begins with executive leadership. Any BD process reengineering project must begin with complete executive support. Engage senior executives throughout the design efforts and gain their buy-in at critical milestones. Encourage them to actively promote and socialize the benefits of the new process.
Don’t forget senior executives when planning training for the new process. They too may have new assigned responsibilities and may require training, coaching, or mentoring.
Lack of support with tools and training
The very best BD process won’t be successful if it’s not supported with appropriate tools and training. When faced with implementing a new way of doing things, individuals will resist and revert to old ways unless they have the competencies required by the new process.
Corporate inertia and changing priorities
Most organizations readily agree that an end-to-end BD process is necessary. However, the tempo of daily operations frequently overshadows the will to begin improvement. Changing priorities frequently sidetrack BD reengineering efforts that are underway. Unfortunately, a crisis is often the catalyst that produces improvement.
- A defined end-to-end BD process is critical to achieving high levels of BD capability. It comprises a series of phases, decisions, reviews, and outputs.
- The generic end-to-end process introduces the principles and best practices common across selling environments.
- Organizations must develop tailored end-to-end processes that best support their company and their customers.
- For an end-to-end BD process to be successful, a proactive change-management plan must support its implementation.
Terms to Know
- Best and Final Offer (BAFO)
- Bid Decisions (General)
- Bid/No-Bid Decision
- Bid Pursuit Decision
- Bid Validation Decision
- Business Case Review/Senior Management Review
- Business Development Phases
- Competitive Intelligence
- Competitor Review
- Content Plan
- Executive Summary
- Final Document Review
- Job Role (Relationship of Roles to Job Titles)
- Lessons Learned Review
- Market Identification
- Market Strategy
- Opportunity/Capture Plan
- Opportunity/Capture Plan Review
- Opportunity Qualification Decision
- Pricing Strategy
- Proposal Development
- Proposal Outline
- Proposal Planning
- Proposal Responsibility Matrix
- Proposal Management Plan
- Response Matrix
- Reviews (General)
- Style Sheet