What Col. Jessup Can Teach Us About Winning Proposals

I am not very good at impressions, but I love trying to emulate this famous line uttered by Jack Nicholson’s character, Col. Nathan Jessup, in A Few Good Men.

“You want the truth, you can’t handle the truth.”

Getting at the truth of how strong your chances are of winning any given proposal is one of the most important steps to improving your win rate. On average, only three out of 10 proposals result in work. If my math is correct, that’s about a 30% success rate. And, for many firms, unfortunately, their success rate is much lower. Many have grown to accept a success rate of around 10%.

Let’s take a moment to quantify that.

Proposals can cost, on average, between $10,000 to $25,000 to prepare and submit. For particularly complex proposals, like P3 or design-bid-build, the cost can run upwards of $100,000 per submission. For 10 relatively straightforward proposals, many firms are investing upwards of $250,000 to win maybe one or two projects. Ouch.

I don’t like those odds, and I think we can do better.


Are you ready for the truth?

So, what can Col. Nathan Jessup teach us about proposals and improving our win rate? Before you commit to the significant time and resources required to complete your next proposal, you should ask yourself a few tough questions.

For starters, you should be asking yourself the following:

  • Did we know about this RFP? Were we expecting it?
  • Do we have an existing relationship with this client?
  • Do we understand this project well from meeting with the client and discussing it?
  • Do we have the relevant experience and expertise for this project?
  • Do we know who the other proponents are? Can we compete?
  • Do we have the right team available for this project?
  • Are there other important criteria, like Wood First or Sustainability, that we meet and can help differentiate our submission?
  • Can we execute the project profitably?

By asking and answering these questions in an honest and structured process at the very beginning of the decision-making process, you will significantly improve the discussion and debate that should precede every decision to invest the firm’s time and money. And it should hopefully result in your firm chasing only those pursuits where your chances of success are greatest.

Too often, we get invested in potential projects for various reasons and ignore the reality of competition. Take some time, and ask yourself some tough questions before committing to your next pursuit. Many firms will take these questions and create a structured “checklist” as part of a formalized Go/No Go Process – a great best practice worth implementing.

Please visit our proposal writing services page to learn more about how we can help you win your next proposal.