Use PWin as Your North Star for Winning?

With apologies to Robert Browning, maybe it’s time to think about a way to use PWin (probability of win) not only to communicate our optimism (or lack thereof!) but also to guide us on our win journey.

A few jobs ago, my company’s Chief Growth Officer counseled me that the only right value for PWin on a competitive takeaway is 40% because “30% is too low and 50% is too high.” The message I took away from that guidance is that they didn’t care about communicating our actual prospects for winning; they just wanted approval to get the funding and submit the bid.

I had some problems with that. As I started thinking about what PWin really means, I realized I didn’t know the answer to some questions:

  • Our historical win rate1 should tell us something about our likelihood of winning going forward, but how does PWin take that into account?
  • When we say at a Capture Gate, “Our PWin is 40%,” does that mean our PWin is 40% only if all of our assumptions for the capture come true? If yes, how do we account for those captures where we fall short of our capture goals? Or exceed them?
  • Why can’t PWin be a tool that guides our customer journey?

As I worked through these questions, I realized that PWin could be our north star for a winning customer journey.

Historical Win Rate

Our estimate of PWin at proposal submission should be a leading indicator of and highly correlated with win rate.

After all, just as PWin is our measure for the likelihood of winning that future bid, the win rate tells us the past reality. We can go back and compare PWin at bid submission with historical win rates for similar bids across our pipeline. By looking for places where our PWin is giving us a misleading estimate of our prospects for winning, we will learn where our own enthusiasm is leading us to make questionable bid decisions.

It’s critical that PWin values be seen across your enterprise as valid estimators of win rate since your finance organization is typically charged with forecasting growth in revenue and profit using such estimators. If the finance team isn’t using the growth organization’s PWin estimates to forecast sales, then the PWin estimates aren’t good predictors.

Provide Decision Makers with Meaningful Information

When a capture manager tells us the PWin is 40%, but historically we have only won 20% of similar bids, why should we believe them?

If that 40% assumes we will be successful in our customer journey—building great rapport, positive feedback on our capabilities and demonstration, and terrific body language in meetings with our prospective Key Personnel—then how do we communicate the effect on PWin for our position today and as we progress through our capture journey, as some capture objectives are met, and others are not?

Here’s a suggestion: use customer feedback on the quality and depth of our engagements to calibrate the PWin for a given opportunity, adjusting the PWin over time. Start with the industry benchmarks for win rate (e.g., for single award bids, use ~35% for takeaways, ~80% for recompetes); derate your PWin at capture start from these benchmarks (e.g., set PWin to 20% for takeaways, 50% for recompetes); and then use the quality of customer engagements and meeting capture plan objectives to adjust PWin as the capture progresses.

I’m an advocate for quality and depth of customer engagement as the best predictor of the likelihood of winning. There can be a hundred competitors, but rarely more than a handful will invest the time and money to really shape the acquisition and obtain essential customer insight. In my experience, the feedback we get from the prospective customer as they vet our solution strips away our own bias, leaving us with the most meaningful basis for deciding whether to continue.

PWin as a Guiding Star on your Capture Journey

You can define progress on your capture journey through the customer feedback that drives PWin. A crawl-walk-run-fly analogy can help us:

  • Crawl: We are organized and have the information needed to form a robust win strategy and capture plan.
  • Walk: We have spoken to several customers about our capabilities and received positive feedback, including requests for return visits with white papers and demonstrations. Introductions are being made to other parts of the customer organization.
  • Run: We have shown the customer the core elements of our technical and management solution, potential pricing models, and past performance, and we have received meaningful, positive feedback.
  • Fly: We have reviewed the (draft or final) solicitation and see areas where the customer has accepted our suggestions in the actual language of the solicitation.

Now imagine that as you progress through each of these crawl-walk-run-fly stages, you add ~5% from your starting PWin to your estimate of PWin at each stage. If you do this, at submission, you can have a measure of confidence that your PWin is a reasonable predictor of your win rate.

Else What’s a PWin For?

We can make PWin a meaningful predictor of our likelihood of winning by showing it as a measure of progress on our capture journey. Let’s shed the “40% is the right number” mentality and instead let PWin guide us to the win!

[1] Win rate here is defined as the percentage of the number of winning competitive bids divided by the number of competitive bids submitted. Some companies measure win rate based on value capture, but that is not recommended as the statistic for win rate since one very large bid can distort the outcome. Win rate based on the number of competitive submissions indicates whether your enterprise is submitting high-quality bids consistently.

By Bruce Feldman, Principal Consultant at Lohfeld Consulting Group, providing strategy, capture and business development training for the federal market.

Lohfeld Consulting Group has proven results specializing in helping companies create winning captures and proposals. As the premier capture and proposal services consulting firm focused exclusively on government markets, we provide expert assistance to government contractors in Capture Planning and Strategy, Proposal Management and Writing, Capture and Proposal Process and Infrastructure, and Training. In the last 3 years, we’ve supported over 550 proposals winning more than $170B for our clients—including the Top 10 government contractors. Lohfeld Consulting Group is your “go-to” capture and proposal source! Start winning by contacting us at and join us on LinkedInFacebook, and Twitter.