In our series covering the Seven Deadly Proposal Sins, we have discussed the first five: Pride, Gluttony, Greed, Envy, and Sloth. These articles cover the common mistakes we come across throughout our work as business development consultants. Committing one or more of these sins is the surest way to waste resources on a losing bid.
The sixth proposal sin, Lust, is about teaming indiscriminately with anyone who has relevant capabilities and past performance, instead of hand-picking teammates who will raise your probability of winning (Pwin). Lustful companies will often qualify an opportunity and then leap directly to forming teams based on a general idea as to who would make a good teammate. The lustful prime ends up with large numbers of teammates who have overlapping capabilities and provide diminishing returns on the Pwin. Customers may perceive that team as risky, especially if the prime doesn’t have much experience managing similar size teams. Worse yet, when it’s time to brainstorm and write the proposal, this prime may discover gaps in capabilities.
By jumping straight to signing the teaming agreements, the lustful company’s leadership experiences instant gratification from seemingly completing a major part of the capture process. Lustful companies feel that more is better, and they tote their large teams as the focus of their solution. Unfortunately, falling prey to lust results in capture and proposal management nightmares. During the proposal effort, the lustful company struggles with tracking a multitude of data call responses, and strains to articulate the value that each teammate brings. More often than not, they squeeze in a line or two and a logo in a page-limited proposal, only paying lip service to each teammate. Moreover, to grapple with technical or past performance gaps discovered late in the proposal development, the lustful company adds even more partners at the eleventh hour. This “quantity over quality” approach short-circuits a coherent story and compelling value proposition.
We recently witnessed an example of lust with a prime who, on one proposal, had more than 20 teammates with largely redundant capabilities. Many of the teammates were already competing in that space, since the government was consolidating multiple contracts into one IDIQ. The company managed to attract exclusive teammates by keeping the rest of the team’s composition secret, which came to blows during the proposal. A key partner demanded to go nonexclusive after they signed an exclusive agreement, ultimately getting their way. Other partners decided to withhold substantive inputs. However, the prime counted on teammates’ support with heavy technical writing from their subject matter experts, which didn’t happen. This was primarily due to mixing up assignments and data calls early on, contributing to the overall sense of chaos. The prime had to settle for their own home-baked bland narrative.
Lust ultimately destroys trust and relationships. This can happen when the prime is overly secretive with their exclusive teammates, makes deals behind closed doors, or when teammates don’t get the work share they were promised after award because the team is now too large. The more passive team members settle for being on a team in name only, and the more aggressive team members engage in “scope wars,” creating an unhealthy environment that may impact performance.
Mitigating Lust: The key to preventing lust is to not skip the first four elements of capture—Customer Engagement, Intelligence Gathering, Win Strategy Development, and Competitive Analysis—that precede Teaming. Through Customer Engagement and Intelligence Gathering, you find out which companies have the best past performance and are respected within the customer’s organization. In other words, who are the all-star companies that you should target as teaming partners? In the Win Strategy phase, you determine whether to prime or sub, and what strategic action items you need to complete in order to secure those teaming partners. During competitive analysis, you determine who your competitors are, what companies their teams will likely comprise, and who should be your partners. Finally, in the Teaming stage, you carefully compose your team based on your own capabilities and past performance gaps, and then perform due diligence to vet your target list of partners. Don’t base your teaming decisions on superficial data—i.e. “oh, yeah, they do that type of work”—only to find out later that a teammate can’t write to that proposal section because you didn’t check on the company’s past performance and core competencies in enough detail.
Industry best practice to mitigating lust is creating a teaming matrix, then scoring your potential teammates against the technical and past performance requirements. This is also a good method to determine whether your company should prime or sub, or even bid on an opportunity. See an example of a teaming matrix below.
In the small community of government contracting, your reputation as a solid teaming partner matters for your long-term success. Avoid lust and use a measured approach to set the right expectations, make promises you can keep, and preserve relationships to build a reputation of being a great partner.