The ex-CEO of a subsidiary of L-3 Communications that I did some consulting for asked me if I would talk to a company called The Chesapeake Center that he was trying to help. Chesapeake has one foot in the commercial sector and one foot in the government contracting sector. They are a small business in transition to becoming a mid-sized company. The informal approaches to business development they had been following were no longer working. They knew it was time for them to become more sophisticated, they just didn't know how. Bob Rogers, CEO of Chesapeake, was kind enough to give me permission to write about our experience working together.
Over the next few issues, I plan to tell the story of how we implemented a completely new business development process at Chesapeake. It's a good story because it touches on every aspect of business development. For CapturePlanning.com, it was invaluable to be able to put early drafts of the MustWin Process documentation into people's hands and see what they did with them. We often went back and modified forms and instructions to make improvements based on what we saw people doing. However, most of the problems we ran into were fairly common. In each of the coming articles I'm sure you'll see things that resemble what happens at your company.
Most companies already have a business development capability to some degree. Most efforts at improvement are incremental and build on what's there. You may end up changing your entire process, but at least your people have some understanding of the terminology used. When you are introducing a business development process to an organization that has never had it or when you are completely starting over, it's much more difficult. People have to learn the terminology and the process while executing it. If it's not handled carefully, the experience can be traumatic.
My first meeting with Chesapeake was just about getting to know each other and assessing each other's capabilities and needs. Consultants are usually asked to find and/or pursue business opportunities for companies. But when the consultant leaves, they still may not have any more capability than before. Sometimes consultants provide training, but this is usually a one-time event. What Chesapeake needed was someone who could help them develop the processes, staff, and infrastructure to have a business development capability of their own.
One of the things Mr. Rogers liked most was how I helped the subsidiary of L-3 Communications create a new proposal group. The approach that I took was to coach and mentor a group of relatively inexperienced staff, providing experience and expertise until they became proficient and self-reliant. I started by providing them with a couple days per week of oversight and on-the-job training. Over a year or so, as the staff became more capable I eased back to a day a week, then a few hours a week, then a few hours a month, until they could stand on their own.
This turns out to be a very cost-effective approach. Hiring experienced professionals is expensive. Consultants are even more expensive. A little bit of quality review, process design, and guidance can help make up for a lack of experience. A part-time consultant isn't as much of a cash-flow hit, especially if it's handled as a transition to a fully functional capability.
Chesapeake, however, needed a lot more than just a proposal group. They needed a full end-to-end business development function developed. When I met with them, their Director of Operations was doing their business development. He was bright and capable, but there are only so many hours in a day. The company was quickly growing to where it needed a full time Director of Operations and a Director of Business Development. In addition to staff resources, they also needed a business development process and the reporting/oversight required to ensure that business development fulfills the company's strategic vision.
At the time Chesapeake contacted me I was working on documenting the CapturePlanning.com MustWin Process. Chesapeake agreed to be a "beta tester" for the process. This gave them immediate and low cost access to the process they needed.
Luckily, when I started working with them, they didn't have any immediate proposal deadlines. This enabled us to focus on pre-RFP process issues. We began by looking at their business development pipeline and putting a process into place for qualifying leads, gathering intelligence, and positioning the company so that they have a competitive advantage when the RFP is finally released. We used the pipeline analysis to set goals for business development, so that we'd know how many opportunities of what size we'd have to be able to handle. Then we implemented a series of reports and reviews to track business development performance. This included both filling the pipeline and procedures to validate and ensure RFP readiness. Only then were we ready to look at the proposal process.
As we implemented the new processes, we often took baby steps. We settled for major improvements over perfection, but making sure that they got even better on the next one. Once people got used to the process, we were able to raise the bar. But what really helped was that they got to see the benefits of the process and how all that "up front planning" stuff really becomes necessary at the back end. When you're still at the front end, it's easy to question why the "extra steps" are needed.
The implementation process is still ongoing. Now that Chesapeake has a pipeline, they are trying to fill it. As they do, they gain experience with the process, learn more about their needs, and find ways to make improvements. Each of the next few issues of the CapturePlanning.com newsletter will have an article that digs into the details of the process implementation for each aspect of business development, describes the challenges that Chesapeake faced and overcame, and presents the challenges that it is still facing.