In today’s economic climate, where margins are tighter than ever, contractor companies face a critical decision: building proposals with organic, in-house resources or partnering with external consultants. The quest for efficiency in a downturn has intensified the resulting debate. Let’s see if we can help with that decision.

In today’s cut throat environment, securing contracts is no longer optional, it’s survival. So, how do you build winning proposals – with your own team or hired guns? Over three decades, I’ve seen it all, from DIY ventures to full-blown consultant takeovers. But for most, the sweet spot lies somewhere in between. The golden question? What’s the ideal cocktail of internal resources and external expertise? Answer: it depends on two ingredients – your business ambitions and the granularity of your proposals.

Business Ambitions

Let’s say we want to conquer a $400 million new business goal this year. To do that, we need a clear battle plan. With a 35% win rate and two contract size classes ($50-$100m and $200-$300m), simple math tells us how many proposals to fire off. Past experience fuels our estimates for the skillsets and hours needed to make these bullets hit their mark. But the equation’s incomplete without considering our target market. Do we stick to familiar territory or venture into new frontiers? That choice shapes our ammunition and, ultimately, our victory.

Granularity of Proposals

Chasing $400 million requires an agile army. If it’s a barrage of smaller contracts, we can probably keep our troops in-house, spreading the workload. But for those colossal proposals, with lulls between them, an efficient mercenary contingent – consultants – can deliver victory without breaking the bank.

Making the Decision

RFPs are like waves cresting at random intervals. When they roll in gently, our in-house surfers handle them solo. But when the tide turns furious and waves stack up, we call in the consultant lifeguards to ensure everyone catches their bid and avoids wiping out.

After observing hundreds of companies tackle proposal prep over the past two decades, we’ve noticed some prevailing trends:

  • Growth Sprints: Companies aiming for a major business development leap often utilize consultant-heavy teams for proposal firepower. Using this approach, they are able to stabilize their proposal activities and make better determinations as to what the longer-term support structure should look like.
  • Steady Flow: Teams blessed with evenly spaced deadlines can often thrive with in-house resources alone. This strategy can be enhanced by using consultants with agency-specific or application specific knowledge that an organic staff might not have.
  • Trade Secrets: Companies guarding unique expertise may prefer in-house solutions to maintain confidentiality. A completely valid concern that can be reduced through the use of partner-level and individual-level non-disclosure agreements.
  • New Horizons: Ventures into uncharted markets typically involve a blend of internal staff and external consultants for added expertise. For something completely novel, a broader range of experiences can lead to those unique solutions that win work.
  • Consultant Skeptics: While some companies shy away from consultants, our observations suggest they may miss out on potential new business opportunities. This may be the toughest situation to deal with but, again, more inputs can usually lead to better solutions.

Anecdotal evidence from hundreds of our clients suggests that companies hesitant to utilize proposal consultants may be missing out. The data show a correlation between strategic consultant partnerships and increased win rates. While building internal expertise is always admirable, relying solely on it can lead to missed opportunities, especially when unforeseen circumstances disrupt project timelines or require niche skills. Of course, every company operates differently, and a one-size-fits-all approach is impractical. The key lies in objectively assessing your resources, workload, and goals.