I was waiting for a flight at the airport last week and overheard a group of business executives speaking about the projects that their firm undertakes and how their team is compensated. "Jim keeps bringing in deals that are $30,000, but our target project is over $400,000. It costs us $30,000 in labor just to manage those little projects." Each business defines "small" or "large" differently. In their case, it seems like they are "winning" projects that they may not want to win.
As an outside observer, it sounds like their business is not setup to effectively handle projects they would consider small in comparison to their ideally-sized projects. Sadly, few businesses exhibit the discipline to define when they should walk away from business. Many companies have a wish list of what makes for a great opportunity. It is equally important to create a list of conditions that make something a bad pursuit. Here are a few of the most overlooked conditions that might indicate a good reason for you to walk away.
If you decide to walk away, you do not need to be rude. You might say something like, "In our most successful projects, we work side-by-side with our customer. We get the sense that we may have done something to make this situation adversarial, and we'd hate to start something on the wrong foot. So, I think we need to respectfully decline to participate. I hope we can figure out a way to work in true partnership in the future."
The Blind Bid
In movies, before someone gets executed, they give them a cigarette, a blindfold, and ask for a last request. If the other party puts you in a situation where you feel like you are blindfolded, a pack of cigarettes might not be far away. Flying blind does not allow you to work in your best interest, or in the best interest of your client. Invest the time you would have wasted on those unlikely deals in getting to other projects early. Unless you are a bottle of wine, you should not agree to be left in the dark.
Poorly Defined Goals or Objectives
Work with your contact to ensure that you can agree on whether this is a good use of your time, or if you should walk away. You can say something like, "I fear that unless you and I can determine the critical need and desired outcome, we might invest time together and fail to get it approved. Since we don't have a good business case, should we just wait until there is a greater need?" At that point, they'll either make their case for continuing, or agree the timing is not right.