When we first saw the chart for Chesapeake's pipeline, it had about 30% of the leads that it should have. We expected that, but it really helps to be able to visualize it. One of the first things we did was purchase access to the database of Federal contracts distributed by Eagle Eye Publishers. This database would enable us to:
- Identify all current Federal contracts in the areas that Chesapeake is interested in and target their recompletes.
- Schedule and prioritize pursuits based on contract expiration dates.
- Identify agencies to strategically target, based on the amount of relevant services that they purchase.
- Determine whether Chesapeake's business targets are achievable in the markets they have chosen.
- Research competitors who pursue the same types of contracts.
- Identify potential teaming partners.
There are other databases that could be used. Most information technology (IT) firms use databases from Federal Sources or Input. Since Chesapeake is not an IT contractor and we could not find any databases specific to their niche, the Eagle Eye database made the most sense. It cost a few thousand dollars, but it gave us immediate leads. To make use of the database, Chesapeake:
- Sent people to Eagle Eye's training, so they could make the most of the investment.
- Set up criteria to define contracts they would potentially be interested in.
- Prepared a list of potential contracts that were at least 3 months but not more than a year away from contract expiration.
- Extracted all the information available from Eagle Eye for opportunities on the list.
- Called to verify key pieces of information like the current contracting officer and contract expiration date (Contract modifications, option years, etc., can change the date).
- Entered the opportunity into Chesapeake's opportunity tracking system.
- Assigned someone at Chesapeake as the Business Development lead and set Readiness Review deadlines.
Many of the contracts that were on the initial list were dropped by the time an initial contact was made to request updated information. But it was still enough to take Chesapeake from 30% of the leads it needed to 50%.
Chesapeake also formalized their business development process, using an early version of the CapturePlanning.com MustWin Process. This did several things for them:
- Gave their business developers clear goals regarding what questions to ask and information to seek.
- Set deadlines to accomplish their intelligence gathering and positioning goals.
- Provided oversight to make sure it happened.
By giving their Business Developers clear goals and deadlines, they got more out of their contacts. In the past they did not do much outreach beyond calling the contracting office when an RFP was announced. But now they were tracking leads months in advance and were seeking program contacts as well as contracting office contacts. When they called, they had a specific agenda and weren't wasting anybody's time. What they found was that instead of just the one opportunity they knew about, each personal contact led to multiple opportunities. Soon they went from 50% of the leads they needed to 70%.
In addition to exploiting the Eagle Eye database and personal contacts, the next area they focused on was to leverage their teaming partners. Chesapeake often bids with teaming partners, some huge and some small. Being more strategic in their selection, and discussing more than one opportunity at a time ("I put you on my team for this one, you put me on your team for that one"), resulted in additional opportunities. When they got strategic with one of their larger teaming partners, they found areas that Chesapeake specializes in that the larger company needed. And a larger company would rather solve all related problems at once than have to find another company to team with each time. These relationship-based opportunities took Chesapeake from 70% of the leads they needed to 90%.
And we haven't even talked about growing their existing customer relationships yet. Typically most Government contractors look for 10% growth from their existing contracts alone.
Filling its pipeline took Chesapeake a few months. But they arrived at the start of a new year with 90% of their new leads already identified. As the new year passes, those leads will all move from the lead identification stage to later stages or get dropped. In order to maintain their pipeline, they need to replace on average 1/12 of the opportunities in the lead identification stage. For Chesapeake, filling a hundred million dollar pipeline was intimidating. However, maintaining it by adding $10 million a month in new leads, while much less intimidating, is ultimately where the hard work will be.