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The Go-No/Go Challenge

April 19, 2011

“Voice from the Trenches” is written by Alex Moore. Alex Moore is a freelance writer and the Marketing & Communications Manager at Prellwitz Chilinski Associates (PCA Inc.).

Salespeople don’t take “no” for an answer. Maybe that’s why they’re natural allies of marketing people. Marketing people rarely GIVE no as an answer.

Need a brochure by noon? Sure. And a couple new project sheets? You bet. RFP that we’re marginally qualified for, due in a week? We’re thinking “NOOOOO” but we often say yes.

The “yes” instinct makes us good at our jobs—it helps us get along with people, embrace new thinking, and adapt quickly to changing times and technologies. But the more I learn about marketing, the more I learn the value of no, and the power of the Go/No-Go process, particularly on time-consuming efforts like proposals and award submissions.A formal Go/No-Go process saves organizations a bundle in labor and hard costs, reinforces awareness of the company’s strengths and differentiators, and keeps marketers focused on efforts that yield real results. It’s uncomplicated and doesn’t take much time. Yet we still often skip the process. Why? Because marketers like to say yes, and business development leaders often fall back on a lottery jackpot mindset: You can’t win if you don’t play.

The truth is, chasing the wrong opportunities costs time and energy, morale and momentum on more productive efforts. So, even deep in the marketing trenches we owe it to ourselves, and our firms, to question long-shot opportunities. The trick is to do so constructively. Here are a few techniques I’ve discovered that work:

1) Pick your spots

Your voice is most powerful in those rare moments when firm leaders are there in the trenches with you: Immediately after a proposal of award submission goes out the door, for example, or in the proposal debrief. In these moments, the stress of the looming deadline is gone, but principals and business development leaders remain closely aware of both the opportunity they’re chasing and the marketers they’ve relied on to get sales material out the door.

Take advantage of these opportunities for “face time.” If you had difficulty compiling the materials needed to address the criteria, say so. If it took a week to prepare a lengthy response for an opportunity you felt wasn’t an idea fit for your firm, mention that too.

Leadership sometimes needs to be reminded of the true costs of going after work.

2) Introduce a checklist

Checklists are the ideal tool for Go/No-Go decision making because they strip away personal feelings about an opportunity and reduce decision making to practical considerations: the cost and benefit of the opportunity and its alignment with the firm’s strategic marketing plans. The SMPS Handbook offers a few good examples that can be customized and simplified to fit the culture of your firm.

I’ve discovered that many companies have rigidly-defined protocols for their project work with clients, but not for their marketing efforts. These firms are ideal candidates for Go/No-Go checklists. Bring one to proposal kick-off meetings. Technical staff will take to them right away.

3) Widen the context

Checklists are great tools for assessing and analyzing short-term efforts, but part of our job as marketers is to keep our co-workers aware of bigger-picture objectives. Often, big picture considerations are forgotten in the face of a short-term opportunity.

Marketers can bridge that gap, even from the trenches, by simply making our marketing plans more public and updating our offices on progress throughout the year. For example, taking 5 minutes at an office meeting or a check-in with someone in a leadership role to examine where the firm stands in its marketing calendar can be profound: improving internal communications, and advancing the Go/No-Go process by reminding business development leaders what the firm is working towards, and, just as importantly, what it’s not.

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