White-line Fever: The great affliction of professional services firms?

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There is a well-known affliction in Rugby called “White-line Fever.”

It occurs when a player senses glory and finds himself getting so close to the goal line that he simply has to try and go for it.

Unfortunately, White-line Fever also affects many professional services firms.

Here’s what happens in the Rugby player’s mind:

“The goal line is so close you can smell it. At the very last minute you have been given the ball. You put your head down, shut your eyes and charge…

Your experience reminds you not to go for the goal line because you’ve lost it from this position before…

Your principles of patience, good judgement and common sense disappear out of the window…

Your teammates don’t really want you to go for it, you have little mutual support around you and you have not really communicated what your plan is to your teammates but your instinct is overruling you. Just keep going for the line……for the GLORY

Your instinct says that passing would almost certainly be the right option, but in your heart you are sure nothing can stop you this time…

You are absolutely convinced that you will make it over the line. You will be the hero. You will win and everyone will rightly acclaim your efforts. You have the scent of glory in your nostrils…

You go for the line…..

And then, seemingly from nowhere, someone stops you.

You lose.

What were you thinking? How did this happen again? All of that effort for nothing.

Everyone is rightly unhappy with your decision.

It’s easy to see now that passing would have been the best option.”

So how does ‘White-line Fever’ relate to professional services?

Using the scenario above, simply:

  • Substitute ‘Rugby player’ for Partner/Senior Manager/Business Development Manager; and
  • Replace ‘scoring a try/goal line’ with ‘winning a tender/proposal’

How many times working in professional services should you have passed on a tender opportunity but instead you went for it and lost?

How many times have you gone against your better judgement and that of your team, only to lose out to a competitor?

How many times have you insisted that this time we will win and then used valuable time and efforts to submit a tender document and prepare a presentation only to lose again?

The Go/No-Go (or Stop-Go) Decision

One of the key behaviours that those working in professional services need to master is the Go/No-Go (or Stop-Go) decision.

The reason that the Go/No-Go decision is so hard to control is because it is hard to say ‘No’, particularly when it is someone more senior telling you to submit the proposal.

What should you consider in the Go/No-Go decision?

Q. What are our odds of winning this proposal?

Q. Would we make sufficient levels of profit from this piece of work based on our fees and budgets

Q. Do we have an existing relationship with the potential client? How well do we know the needs and preferences of the potential client?

Q. Are our competitors better placed, connected or prepared to win this piece of work?

Q. How likely is the client to move from the incumbent firm?

Q. What would other partners/managers say if they could make an objective judgement based on our chances of winning the proposal?

Q. Is the cost (time and resources) to develop the proposal acceptable, relative to our chances of winning the project?

Q. Have we been given sufficient time to do a good tender submission? Do we have the resources to put the proposal together in the given time frame?

Q. Has the potential client allowed us to visit them to ask detailed questions beyond the Request for Proposal (RFP) document?

Q. What are the buyer’s motivations? Is this simply a pricing exercise for the buyer? Is the buyer simply looking for a stick to beat the incumbent? Is the buyer just ‘looking to see what’s out there’?

Q. Do we have the expertise and available resources to service this contract without impacting on our existing clients?

Q. Do we really want to work for this client based on our previous experiences with them or their industry reputation?

Q. Would winning this work greatly enhance our reputation, our market and our expertise?

Q. Could there be a future ‘conflict of interest’ if we win this work? Could we lock ourselves out from larger contracts in the future?

Q. Will we upset any existing clients if we win this contract – particularly larger/more profitable clients?

The decision to pursue an opportunity is highly complex. There are many dynamics, both internally and externally, that need to be carefully considered before progressing with a proposal.

Of course there are also times when you should absolutely seize the opportunity but all too often in professional services, those with the authority to make the Go/No-Go decision get ‘White-line Fever’ and go for it anyway against all better judgement, even when ‘passing’ would have been the better option.

Being able to withhold this urge to say “Yes/Go” is a key business development behaviour. Those firms who are able to demonstrate restraint are more productive, more profitable and do not risk wasting valuable time, money and resources.

Beware “White-line Fever.”

Image by Phil_Heck used under creative commons license.