Stop Asking About Win Rate!

You’re hiring a proposal manager for your staff. You review a stack of resumes and/or LinkedIn profiles, and you identify a subset of applicants worth further consideration. You invite those individuals in for interviews. At some point in each interview, you say something like this: “You have good experience—X years in the industry, including Y years supporting proposals. So tell me, what’s your Win Rate?”


That’s the wrong question!

“Why?” you ask. “We all use Win Rate as a metric for proposal professionals. What’s wrong with that?”

Yes, everyone in the proposal world uses this term all the time. We toss it around freely, as a kind of “shorthand” concept: assuming that everyone knows what it means, taking for granted its validity, giving it a kind of exalted status as a metric for organizations *and* individuals.

I’m going to stake out a contrarian position, however: In my judgment, “win rate” is often misunderstood, misleading, and misused—particularly when applied to individuals (such as proposal managers).

At its most basic, “win rate” is a simple mathematical expression: the ratio of bids won as a percentage of bids submitted. If you win every bid you submit, your win rate is 100%; if you win none of them, it’s 0%; and if you win half of them, it’s 50%. It seems straightforward enough—until we start to apply the concept. That’s where we can get into trouble.

This concept does have some validity and usefulness at the organizational level. It enables organizations to track how they’re doing, at a basic level. Yet even at this basic level, there’s a limit to how valuable this metric is—and danger is overestimating its utility.

Consider, for example, the following scenario:

Opportunity Company A Company B Value
1 Won Lost $1M
2 Won Lost $1M
3 Won Lost $1M
4 Won Lost $1M
5 Won Lost $1M
6 Won Lost $1M
7 Won Lost $1M
8 Won Lost $1M
9 Won Lost $1M
10 Lost Won $1B
Win Rate: 90% Win Rate: 10%  
Capture Rate: 0.09% Capture Rate: 99.1%  

Based on the win rates depicted in this table, it sure looks like Company A is doing a lot better than Company B, right? Well, yes, but…that’s obviously not the whole story.

When we look at the dollar values of the bids there’s another metric that applies: Capture Rate.  That’s another simple calculation: the ratio of dollars captured as a percentage of dollars pursued. Looking at this metric, our assessment of the two companies’ relative success would be very different: Company B is actually doing *much better* than Company A.

The point, of course, is merely to illustrate that although “Win Rate” is useful in some respects, it is not a “be-all, end-all” metric for assessing performance.

Win Rate is even less useful—and, indeed, misleading—as a metric to assess *individual* performance. In other words, it’s the wrong question to ask.

One reason is that no individual is solely responsible for a winning or losing proposal. Each proposal truly is a team effort, requiring contributions from executives, managers, strategists, subject matter experts, writers, pricers, reviewers, graphic artists, editors… the list goes on. Rarely, if ever, is a single one of these contributors responsible for the outcome. So attributing a “win” to any of them makes little sense.

In addition, the result of any particular capture/proposal effort—winning or losing—often is outside our control entirely. Another team might come up with a better solution, a better technology, a better price. The customer may simply have a preference for a competitor. Or there may be any number of other factors—any or all of which may be outside our control—that can lead to a “loss” that affects “win rate.”

What value does the metric we call Win Rate have, then, if it measures something that is not within my control? Well, that brings us back to where we started: Stop asking people about their “win rate,” and start asking questions that matter.

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