By: Damien Walz, Vice President of Business Development
For years, VectorCSP, like other small Federal services contractors, struggled to establish a meaningful opportunity pipeline supported by a sound and simple process. And, while we’ve not gotten a lock on the perfect answer (we’ll always battle the pipeline), the evolution of our pipeline has grounded us to two foundational truths – (1) if it isn’t on the pipeline it isn’t real, and (2) if it is on the pipeline and it isn’t current or accurate, then we don’t really have a sufficient grasp on the opportunity. For VectorCSP, the opportunity pipeline now drives planning on multiple fronts, from capture initiatives and proposal planning to operational transitions and staffing drills. But, it took us a long time to mature the pipeline and likewise, for the organization to engage and leverage the pipeline appropriately.
There are myriad questions to answer to effectively establish and maintain a current and accurate pipeline, and we’ve bumped up against most of them:
- What is the tool we will use to manage the pipeline? Probably, the least important question of all, but the first one to tackle. The tool selected (be it a whiteboard, a spreadsheet, a homegrown database, or some type of cloud-based subscription) needs to be able to store a fair amount of data, should be relatively easy to input data, and most importantly, provide accurate and useful reports.
- What is the set of data we want to collect for every opportunity, and how can we standardize the data set? We’ve probably rearranged the type of data we capture dozens of times, continually tinkering to meet the strategic demands of the markets we are in at the time. Some things are obvious; we want to know the customer, the name of the deal, the projected value, when we think the RFP/Q is likely to drop, and the win probability (PWIN). But, perhaps, there is value in pegging the revenue stream for each opportunity. Maybe knowing the staff/FTE impact of a given deal is crucial? The challenge is balancing the ROI of data collection for the set of opportunities. One could collect every possible data point about an opportunity, but to what end?
- As opportunities likely filter into the company from numerous channels (Ops, BD, teaming partners, consultants, etc.), how can we make getting opportunities onto the pipeline easy? The opportunity pipeline should be a priority across the organization. But the truth is, besides Business Development and Finance, the pipeline is a secondary or even a tertiary priority for other parts of the organization, particularly those appropriately focused on client delivery. Knowing this, we’ve continually adjusted how we ask our PMs and account leads to get new opportunities onto the pipeline. It’s important to develop a communications rhythm that cues the organization to participate in adding opportunities to the pipeline.
- How do we continually ensure that the data on the pipeline is relevant? As important as getting opportunities onto the pipeline is, maintaining the accuracy and currency of deals once on the pipeline is equally important. Federal contractors know that “things slip to the right.” If the pipeline says an RFP was supposed to come out on May 15th and now it’s June 3rd, just like that, the pipeline isn’t accurate. Having a process to continually update the data on the pipeline is crucial, but it can become burdensome to “opportunity owners.” A PM who is running a client project or two and who also has five opportunities on the pipeline is managing a tremendous amount of changing data. Making sure that the pipeline refresh process is as easy as possible for that PM is paramount. Again, developing a rhythm around data calls for opportunity updates will be tremendously helpful.
Once you’ve done your best to answer these questions, it’s time to take a crack at putting the pipeline in place. It’s likely to be clunky at first. The quality of data will be all over the place. People in the organization you’d hope would engage simply won’t. There will be confusion. There will be resistance and whining. Accept it all and press forward knowing you are developing a critical building block of the business. Over time, the opportunity pipeline will become a key tool the organization uses to gauge overall company health, projected success and challenges, budget planning, operational planning, staff planning, IT/resource planning, and investment realities.
Keep a lookout for Part 2 of our Opportunity Pipeline series – Pipeline Stakeholders.