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Learning How to Win Business Is a Huge Problem

To win you need to know more than just certain facts, like “what does the customer want?” You also need to know about certain subjects and how to do certain things.

A Capture Leader also has to know a little about a lot of different subjects. A normal career path does not prepare people to be a Capture Leader. This means most people start off in the role with areas of weakness. Bids are lost as a result.

And there isn’t a single training course anywhere that covers everything a Capture Leader needs to know. Most people just stumble their way through, some better than others. But without a career path to follow, you can actually be the assigned Capture Leader for numerous bids and still have holes in your knowledge and capabilities that weaken your bids.

What people need is a roadmap that they can use to figure out where they need training, where they need to get experience, where they need guidance, and what they need to research in order to do the job.

A Capture Leader’s job is to figure out how to win the bid and then prepare the winning proposal. To do this, they need to know about pricing, win strategies, customer relationships, contracting, proposal development, the nature of the offering, and the competitive environment. Hardly anyone is an expert in all of those subjects. While you can delegate a lot of the details and production, you still need to have the understanding required to provide guidance and oversight, and to make the right decisions.

The question, is how much do you need to know and much can you delegate? You have to know something about each subject, but how much?

  • You need to know enough about the customer’s procedures and preferences to make decisions about the offering and win strategies. You don’t have to be the one who has contact with the customer, but it helps. Your ability to think like the customer and understand how they will make their selection may be the most important predictor of whether you win.
  • You need to understand enough about relationship marketing to use it to develop an information advantage
  • You need to understand enough about what it will take to win to conceive the right win strategies and to be able to articulate the criteria that will define proposal quality. If you can’t do this, the proposal will be written based on guesswork instead of aiming right at the customer.
  • You need to be able to anticipate the questions that will arise when developing win strategies and proposal content so you can have the answers when you get there. If you will be working with a proposal manager, you don’t need to be able to implement the proposal process and manage it on your own, but you do need to understand why each step is there and how information flows through it. You can’t just ignore it or delegate it away.
  • You need to understand enough about what it takes to write a proposal so that you can anticipate the amount of resources that will be required. While you might expect to rely on the proposal manager for that, budget decisions at a lot of companies are made before the proposal manager even gets involved.
  • You need to understand enough about proposal writing to conceive the messages and articulate them in enough detail for others to elaborate on. You don’t have to write the final copy or even be one of the proposal writers. You just have to be able to describe what needs to be written.
  • You need to know enough about the competitive environment to position the company accordingly. You don’t have to do the research yourself, but it helps to be able to tell friend from foe.
  • If teaming will be involved, you need to understand the process, issues, and participants well enough to incorporate them into your win strategies and guide negotiations. If your company employs a Contracts Manager, they can help you with non-disclosure and teaming agreements, but you have to understand the process well enough to know when they are needed and some of what should be in them.
  • You need to know enough about how your own company works to get the resources needed for the pursuit, to assess how the opportunity fits the strategic plan, and to assess the company’s strengths and weaknesses.
  • You need to know enough about pricing models to factor it into win strategy development. You don’t have to do the calculations or even the research into what things cost. But it helps to understand the build-up and trade-offs between different approaches so you can select the one that will be the most advantageous in this bid.
  • You need to know enough about contracting and the rules and regulations that pertain to your business to delegate, coordinate, or oversee the terms and conditions of the sale. You need to know about things like licensing, certification, insurance, or bonding requirements. If you are a Federal Government Contractor, you don’t have to be able to quote the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) chapter and verse, but it helps to know things like whether an evaluation notice counts as entering discussions prior to an award or not. Or at least to know enough to recognize it as a potential issue and either look it up or ask someone who does know.
A common theme running through these is that you have to understand the issues and not necessarily know the details. You can’t delegate them completely because someone has to recognize an issue in order to delegate or research it. There needs to be one person involved with the offering, the customer, the proposal, the pricing, and the contractual issues to provide this kind of coordination. That person is the Capture Leader.

If you are the designated Capture Leader, you are probably not prepared for the job. Nobody is. Does it strike anyone as odd that things are structured to make this role critical, and yet there is no designated educational or career path to prepare people for the wide range of skills, knowledge, and experience needed to do the job successfully? You can get training in things like:

  • Pricing. But it’s typically oriented to accounting and finance specialists.
  • Contracts management. But it’s typically aimed at legal and contracts specialists.
  • Proposal writing and management. But it will likely be aimed at specialists and go into detail on things you don’t need to know, while glossing over the strategic areas that you really need to focus on.
The worst part is that if your career path is project management, then training in these areas might not be offered to you. If your career path is sales, then most sales training won’t go into these areas at all.

If you stack up all the training you should have, it would take weeks and costs tens of thousands of dollars. It’s more than just a class. It’s also more than most companies are willing to approve.

Capture Leaders are typically rewarded for their efforts by making them the:

  • Project manager if the bid wins
  • A business unit executive if they win enough
  • Capture Leader for the next bid
What’s missing is a promotion path that brings with it the training and experience in all these different areas. That is why most Capture Leaders aren’t prepared. They don’t get the broad range of training and experience before they start, and after they complete the bid they usually move on. The best Capture Leaders are typically senior project managers who are in between gigs and have been around the block enough times to have picked up expertise in the broad range of areas needed. They are people who’ve worked in a lot of different areas instead of people who have worked on a single project for a long time.

What none of this tells you is what to do if you are a relatively inexperienced Capture Leader stuckee. You’re unprepared and don’t know what to do about it. I wish I had a complete answer for you, because you are a key part of our audience. Our materials are written with you in mind. We guide you through what you need to know and focus on what’s important for winning. We don’t obsess over things like accounting and contracts, but we talk about why they matter. Our materials and training are all designed to help you get unstuck at the moment of need.

But writing this article has shown us that we’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg. In our process documentation, we touch on every one of the bullets above. But while we cover all of the steps, we may need to expand the training we offer, to go beyond describing what to do and teach people more about the other areas they should know something about. That way we can go beyond simply being one of the best tools you will find to being everything you need. It’s a bit of a grandiose vision, but I like to think big.



Lean more about CapturePlanning.com's solution:

Our Off-the-Shelf Process Documentation
provides step-by-step guidance to help you:

  • Get ready for RFP release
  • Develop win strategies
  • Produce a winning proposal
  • Achieve quality assurance
  • Comes with online training!

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By Carl Dickson, Founder of CapturePlanning.com



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