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  • What Makes a Must Win Opportunity Any Different?

    Must Win opportunities are important. A Must Win opportunity demands an even more heroic effort than all the other pursuits that people pour their hearts and souls into trying to win. Nobody really knows what the extra "something" should be, but if it's a Must Win opportunity, it's got to have it.

    Must Wins are typically opportunities that are critical to the company for either strategic or financial reasons. Recompetes are often Must Wins because the company relies on them financially and in other ways. In a service business, the amount of money available for overhead and other expenses is a percentage of your total business. If you reduce that total, you must either reduce your overhead expenses or raise your rates/prices. It's so much better to win and not have to face that choice.

    Must Wins can also be strategic, such as breaking into a new customer, releasing a new product, or launching a new service line/capability. In each of these cases, you need something that you can cite as a reference, so your first customers are critical to your success. They often merit extra effort to secure the win.

    A Must Win opportunity isn't special just because someone named it so or because the company really wants to win. What separates a Must Win opportunity from other opportunities is resources. A Must Win opportunity is different because the company is prepared to do whatever it takes to win. If a Must Win opportunity pursuit is starved for resources, then it really isn't a "Must Win." It is worth noting that it is not sufficient to throw bodies at a Must Win opportunity. You need experienced, knowledgeable staff --- the kind whose availability is always in demand. A Must Win opportunity is not one to staff with people whose major qualification is that they happen to be available.

    Must Win pursuits should be started long before the RFP is released. If an opportunity just pops up and gets labeled a Must Win, something is wrong. A Must Win that is known in advance but gets started late is also a bad sign. A major reason that companies hold off on starting a pursuit for a known opportunity is that it costs more to start early. However, starting early is one of the best ways to invest in a Must Win pursuit.

    Even when they are started early, Must Wins often lose momentum, because they don't have a business development process in place that provides a way to measure progress. Many companies who start early follow the "let's find out everything we can" approach. This approach is rarely effective. You need to have clear goals regarding what you want to know and what you want to achieve before the RFP is released. Progress towards meeting these goals should be evaluated on a regular basis to determine whether strategies are sufficient to properly position your company to win.

    As the name implies, companies try harder to capture Must Win opportunities. They often try to implement best practices and improve their processes to help ensure a better chance of capturing the Must Win. This approach requires lots of training and hand-holding since the staff working on the proposal, though experienced, may have limited exposure to the process. It may also require some patience since the people implementing the process may not have had a chance to fine tune it. The more outreach you do, the better. In addition to making sure that staff know with absolute clarity what is expected of them, you need to make sure that they understand how to go about completing their assignments.

    It's much worse when companies who don't have process discipline try to invent it for their Must Wins. While most people understand the value of a good process, those who are inclined to resist know that they only have to outlast the proposal. If process discipline has not been part of the culture, you will always have people who will resist. If your assignments and process are well-defined, you will have many opportunities to evaluate performance. You may have better luck focusing on results than on process.


    Merely saying that an opportunity is a "Must Win" will not make it so. If you want your Must Win pursuits to be meaningful, there are a few key things you must do:

    • Start early - but measure progress
    • Provide sufficient resources - and make sure staff are experienced and capable
    • Implement best practices and process - but provide lots of training and hand-holding

    If you do any one of the above without the other, your chances of winning go way down.

    Final Note

    If the steps you take to capture a Must Win opportunity are successful, consider institutionalizing them and making them part of every pursuit.

    Carl Dickson
    By Carl Dickson, Founder of CapturePlanning.com and PropLIBRARY

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