Six aspects of capture – pre-proposal preparation that makes a winning difference

Bidding on government opportunities without proper capture planning is like taking a pile of $100 bills and going to a pool hall to play against the local pool sharks. In government proposals, just like in the pool hall, there are those who know what they are doing, and those who don’t. Those who know what they are doing understand that the key to success is starting early by doing pre-proposal preparation work called capture. Those who don’t should read this article, because I am about to save you a lot of money.
There are six fundamental aspects of capture that are completely interconnected. Miss one, and your pre-proposal preparation effort becomes incomplete in EVERY aspect, lowering your probability of winning exponentially.
The first aspect is Customer Relationship.
It goes without saying that the sales process for the government is not that different from the commercial sales process – you have to have a relationship with the buyer. Companies that believe they can find an opportunity on FedBizOpps, submit proposal, and WIN – are wasting a lot of money and energy. Just because the government is required to publically post their procurements does not mean that you should go ahead and bid, and this is a level playing field. There is ALWAYS much more to the story than you see posted on FedBizOpps or some agency website; and there is ALMOST ALWAYS a human aspect to the equation, where people are much more likely to trust more someone they know than someone they don’t.
You have to know exactly with whom to build the relationship – how to approach them, and how to continue working with them until the door shuts and the RFP comes out.
From these relationships, you will gain the understanding of what keeps your customer up at night, and what are the influences on their buying process. In the process, you have to build an effective rapport so that the customer knows and likes you. You can even use this relationship to influence the requirements or pre-vet your solution.
The second aspect is Win Strategy.
Win Strategy is a comprehensive plan that prepares you to finish on top; it looks at all aspects of the opportunity, and leaves no stone unturned. It incorporates a priority-driven action plan with deadlines and belly buttons assigned to each task. Win strategy also incorporates the development of resulting win themes, and the best value story.
The third aspect is Competitive Analysis.
The point of a competitive analysis is to identify your main competitors’ likely strategies and shortfalls. Then, you develop a way to outdo them through strategic actions, and subtly exploit their flaws in your proposal. You have to remember, however, that everything is dynamic, and your competitors may be working just as hard as you to overcome their flaws in time for the RFP release, so take it into consideration.
The fourth aspect is Teaming.
This aspect includes the development of a teaming strategy, identification of partners and subcontractors, negotiation of teaming or subcontracting arrangements, and getting together a team of great companies before someone else snatches them up.
The fifth aspect is Intelligence Gathering.
I will forever quote Wendy Frieman, a ”main thrust” proposal manager from CSC, who says: “BEST INFORMED WINS!” You need to gather comprehensive intelligence from a variety of LEGAL sources (because this is an area where companies have been known to get in trouble). Then, you have to document this intelligence in a way that is useful for the proposal team. This intelligence fuels every aspect of your capture effort and your proposal response.
The sixth, and the final major aspect of capture is Solution Development (Pre- and Post- Draft RFP).
This stage includes the development of a Concept of Operations (CONOPS), postulating key requirements, solution architecture development, program/system concept refinement, and draft executive summary development – all in preparation for the handover to the proposal team. This stage is extremely important because as you start developing the solution, you will find out that you have more and more questions that you can then get answers to through all the other five aspects of capture.
Those who know what they are doing when bidding on government proposals stand to make a lot of money because the U.S. Government is the largest customer in the world. Mastering capture is your key to joining their ranks.

About the Author: Olessia Smotrova-Taylor is a capture and proposal management consultant and president of OST Global Solutions, Inc. For additional useful resources and links to help you grow business, go to her website at www.ostglobalsolutions.com.

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Mary Davie

Having spent 21 years in Gov acquisition on the federal side, I can also say that the Gov has to do a better job with the market research process to find and dialogue with industry partners who have solutions and experiences that will benefit us. All too often, the Gov short changes itself and industry during this phase. Industry needs time to not only develop the relationships but also fully understand the requirement and then decide if they want to/should expend bid and proposal dollars to pursue the opportunity. Many in Gov don’t understand that we are competing for B&P dollars and industry’s best solutions and people. The more we can share up front, the better off we all are. We have a great discussion going in the govloop Acquisition2.0 group sharing innovative acquisition practices – you might want to check it out.

Olessia Smotrova-Taylor

Excellent point from a very different perspective. Thank you! I will definitely check out the discussion in the Acquisition 2.0 group!

Jaime Gracia

I recently heard a very senior procurement professional state that government personnel should not be able to write RFPs unless they have themselves responded to RFPs. As part of my consulting efforts are to provide acquisition management support to federal clients, I often have an advisory role as a non-voting member of source selections. So I get to see the good, the bad, and the ugly of both sides of the process.

The customer relationship is critical to the process, and it should works both ways as Mary points out. The government hampers their efforts through insufficient communications with industry, and market research efforts that are insufficient to verify requirements and competition. I always encourage my clients to use as many of the tools available to them, which ultimately are resource dependent (i.e. Pre-RFP, Industry Day, one-on-one, etc.)

Part of the attention on acquisition reform should be further streamlining the RFP process, but needs to include a paradigm shift from leadership that industry is not a necessary evil, the enemy, or out to use the government as an ATM. Industry are and should be treated like strategic partners, who can help the government improve their processes, proposal efficiency, and ensure competition.