In Business Development, Milestones Matter

When measuring business development success, it’s not about the process—it’s about winning. Winning means outscoring your opponent. How you get there is less important than getting there.

In sports, you win by scoring points. It could be a goal, a touchdown, points from judges, runs in baseball, baskets or free throws, or other measures.

In business development, you also must score points to win. But, how do you get there? Rarely does a baseball team win without having baserunners reach certain milestones (base hits). An American football team rarely wins without achieving first downs. In soccer, the ball is advanced strategically with each pass and each movement of teammates.

When competing for business, there are key milestones that matter to win. These milestones include decision gates and proposal reviews. The exact tasks or steps to reach these milestones vary based on your business, the customer’s needs, and the competitive landscape—no two pursuits are identical.

There are decision gates throughout all stages of business, from opportunity assessment to capture planning to proposal writing. Decision gates that conclude with a positive decision act as a team huddle. Experts from outside the team give their advice and perspective on performance so far. Where there is room to improve, they offer feasible ways to do so. Decision gates are a way to regroup and refocus your team on winning the game.

Decision gates are also evaluation times where you decide how good your odds are of winning a customer’s business. Unlike sports games, decision gates are opportunities for a business to determine whether they will continue playing the game or not, without penalty. If you are absolutely sure that you cannot win a customer’s business, do not spend effort on it.

Proposal reviews act much like a coach who pulls a player aside to give pointers during a game. They coach proposal writers along the way to help them score more points. Different proposal reviews measure different aspects. For example, a Pink Team reviews the storyboard and mockups to validate the proposal strategy. This is the opportunity to receive feedback that will help you win business.

In Shipley’s industry-tested business development lifecycle, four of the seven phases come BEFORE the proposal. Each phase culminates in achieving a milestone—it is like reaching a first down or making that pin-point pass—it advances the opportunity toward a win.

Organizations that understand how to manage business pursuits using key milestones have a much better probability of winning (Pwin). Organizations that operate in an ad hoc culture with little discipline around key milestones risk wasting money, energy, and valuable resources.

Milestones matter in business development. Whether you occasionally score a goal from a break-away single pass or advance the ball strategically with pin-point accurate passes (milestones), you must have a game plan. Evaluate your business development key milestones. Do you have a defined, disciplined approach to winning? Or, are you relying on that occasional Hail Mary pass to win?