Just say ‘no’


1 April 2005

There never seem to be enough good deals around, with the result that when an opportunity raises its head you automatically find yourself off and running, working hard to win the business — each and every time. It’s a knee-jerk reaction. But what if the target business isn’t suited to the profile of your company? What if you can’t possibly win the business? Or what if winning that business is going to have some negative ‘knock-on’ effect on existing valued clients or projects? What then?

Unless you make a formal bid/no-bid decision on every opportunity you uncover your standard practise, you will never have any reasonable way of controlling, and improving, the level of return you achieve on the investment you make in preparing and selling your business proposals. You must make a ‘bid no-bid’ decision every time, and not be afraid to ‘Just say no’ when circumstance demands it.

Why bother with a ‘bid/no-bid’ decision?

Every deal you chase, win or lose, costs you in a lot of obvious ways, but they also cost you in other ways which you may not previously have considered.




Financial costs

These are obvious: all of the costs associated with proposal preparation (man-hours cost, consumables costs etc.) are marketing costs, and are just as real as those associated with advertising, PR, brochure production, mailing and so on. Think of the time you spend before you commit to spending on any of these more obvious marketing expenses: shouldn’t you think carefully before jumping in and chasing every opportunity that comes your way?

Less obvious costs

What about the less obvious, less tangible costs of chasing unsuitable business:

Opportunity cost

What other, more profitable business might you have won and delivered if you weren’t wasting your time on patently unsuitable deal opportunities.

Confidence cost

How does the team feel if it loses deal after deal, even if it because the opportunity wasn’t really suitable? Unnecessary lost deals hurt team morale and drive. Avoid them.

Profile cost

How does it look to the market when you are seen to chase multiple opportunities and win only a small percentage? How does it look if you pursue every opportunity that comes your way — what positioning message does it send about the business you’re in?

How do you make the ‘Bid/No-Bid’ decision?

Analyse every opportunity using the following straightforward three-step procedure:

1.  Qualify every opportunity using a ‘bid/no-bid questionnaire’.

Produce a standard ‘bid/no-bid questionnaire’ to help you in qualifying opportunities. Be sure that you are satisfied that every opportunity tests well on every count before even considering investing in pursuing the business. Your questionnaire should include at least the following questions:

  • Where has the opportunity come from?
  • Are we technically capable of doing the work?
  • Will we need extra resources (people or equipment etc.) to complete this work and can we cost to cover this?
  • Is this our kind of work? Does it send the right message to existing and prospective clients?
  • Do we particularly want this work/client — would it help to put your company ‘on the map’?
  • Who is our competition on this deal and can we beat them?
  • If we do win, how will this affect current business commitments?
  • In landing this deal might we lose or upset an existing, valued client or some other prospective business?
  • Could we achieve a better return on our investment of time, effort and cost in preparing this proposal if we focused our energies on other opportunities?
  • Is the opportunity ‘rigged’ for some other supplier — are we just making up the numbers?
  • Is this a ‘decoy’ opportunity — an opportunity formulated by the client to get some free research/consultation, or to help build a specification for a project to be undertaken in-house?
  • Is there is a definite budget for this project?
  • What is the prospect’s payment/credit record — can we afford to business with them?

2.    Confirm that your likely proposed solution has a ‘unique selling proposition’ (USP) or two.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, a ‘unique selling proposition’ (USP) is some aspect of what you are offering which is absolutely unique to your proposal. If you don’t have at least one strong USP then save your efforts for those proposals where you do.

3.  Before making a ‘No-bid’ decision ensure that there are no extraordinary reasons to proceed with a bid.

There will be deals which you will decide to pursue even though the testing described above suggests they are unsuitable or unwinnable. You might decide to do so for a variety of good reasons. For example:

To ‘stay on the list’

Be careful, however, a poorly prepared proposal which obviously was not submitted to win, or which does not display your customary attention to detail, may be worse than no proposal at all.

Learning curve

You may feel that the opportunity to learn just how this client’s business ticks and how best to approach such a client may be of use to you in pursuing other players in the same sector.


Perhaps your strategic marketing positioning is such that you cannot be seen not to bid; or maybe you simply want to raise your profile in the target client organisation.

The bottom line

In the end the bid/no-bid decision making process can be distilled to four basic questions that you should use to test all opportunities:

  • Is this opportunity real?
  • Can we win the business?
  • If we do win, will it be worthwhile?
  • If we can’t win the business, is there some other very good reason to bid?

    Consider these questions every time you consider an opportunity and you are taking conscious control of your proposal hit rate. But when you the process tells you that an opportunity is just not right for you, then just say ‘No’ (thank you).


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