If you concentrate on Better, More will come. The opposite is not usually true. Clients often ask Go Beyond to help them with “business development.” In the federal contracting world, business development (BD) is part of selling goods and services to the federal government. It includes a combination of marketing a company’s capabilities to potential customers and other businesses. BD also involves relationship building, along with gathering and analyzing information on federal spending, agency requirements, upcoming procurements, and the capabilities and intentions of potential competitors and teaming partners. “Capture management,” a sister discipline to BD, is how a company positions itself to win a particular piece of business with the federal government.
Over the years, we have seen business leaders apply two different approaches to BD and capture: they either invest their energies into attracting customers or they expend their efforts chasing opportunities. One approach is strategic, the other is mostly tactical. The first way stems from a desire to do business better, to continually move the company toward best-in-class, and to develop a culture of doing the right things, at the right time, for the right reasons. Customers become attracted by this approach because of the quality and reliability it produces. The second way springs from a hunger for more: more revenue, higher profits, and larger market share. The first is a long-term approach that builds value into the business, the second is a short-term mindset that focuses on current income. If you focus on Better, more will eventually come. If you focus on More, you may enjoy short-term success, but ultimately the business will be indistinguishable from the crowd and it likely will be unsaleable at the end.
BD under the More approach consists largely of chasing after opportunities as they pop up. The Law of Averages suggests that the dice will occasionally roll in your favor. If you are not too picky about the projects you go after and submit enough proposals, you can have a viable business and a nice life style. I once heard a BD manager at one federal contractor quip, “We’ll walk your dogs for you, if you’ll pay our rate.” He said it jokingly, but it wasn’t far from the truth. At an internal conference for that same company, I heard a senior executive push against the corporate culture by admonishing the assembled executives and managers that the word “strategy” is not spelled O-P-P-O-R-T-U-N-I-T-Y.
On the other hand, seeking to become Better produces rewards that far exceed those of chasing after More. In Great by Choice – a study of companies that thrive despite uncertainty, chaos, and random chance – Jim Collins found that companies that practiced fanatical discipline, data-led creativity, and developed contingency plans for unforeseen events tended to beat their industry index by at least 10 times over a period of at least 15 years. However, this approach is not easy. In his earlier book, Good to Great, Collins observed, “Much of the answer to the question of “good to great” lies in the discipline to do whatever it takes to become the best within carefully selected arenas and then to seek continual improvement from there. It is really that simple. And it is really just that difficult.”
The writings of authors such as Collins and Bo Burlingham (Small Giants: Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big; and Finish Big: How Great Entrepreneurs Exit Their Companies on Top) are replete with the words discipline and patience. As Collins discovered, the companies that made the leap from good to great had developed cultures of discipline. Employees consistently chose the harder right over the easier wrong. Budgeting was an exercise of deciding which projects would be fully funded and which would be killed off rather than partially funding all projects. Metrics mattered, and leaders stuck to their programs and hit their marks regardless of circumstances. Burlingham found business owners who had done a lot of soul searching, rejected a lot of well-intentioned advice, charted their own course, and built the kind of business they wanted to live in, rather than accommodating themselves to a business shaped by outside forces. They were all utterly determined to be the best at what they did AND they chose not to focus on revenue growth or geographical expansion, pursuing instead other goals that they consider more important than getting as big as possible, as fast as possible. Burlingham also found that those owners who continually sought to do business better were able to exit their businesses at a time of their own choosing and reaped significant returns on their investment of blood, sweat, tears, and treasure.
Go beyond what the world expects by separating your business from the pack that chases after more and more. Instead, build value into your business, enjoy better results, and finish big. Learn about becoming better.