Organizing for Capture

capture team searching for leads

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Here’s a guest post from one of TAPE’s “capture managers,” a member of our business development team.

A large number of my family and friends live outside the “beltway.” So when I tell them I’m a capture manager, they give me a blank look – and you might, too. Unlike medical and legal professions, capture management is a profession that doesn’t get a lot of attention outside of the beltway. But today, we’re going to break it down and understand what capture is and how small businesses can use it to grow.

What is capture? 

Selling to the Government is like a chess game with three phases:

  1. Opening – this is where businesses identify who they are, what they’re going to sell, and the clients they’re going to target. In essence, this is how businesses condition the marketplace to be successful.
  2. Middle – this is where businesses, focusing on specific accounts, manage the client relationship and develop opportunities. This middle game focuses on gathering information and then shaping the client’s perceptions. In essence, this stage of the game is all about conditioning the client.
  3. Endgame – this is where businesses write proposals, negotiate, and sign contracts. This endgame is where businesses condition the deal.

As in chess, when businesses wait until the end to try and win, they’re more likely to lose. Chess games and business contracts are won or lost a majority of the time in the middle game.

Capture is the middle game. It comes after making contact with a prospective client, and before an RFP is released. My colleagues and other industry veterans will tell you that a prospective client’s buying decision is typically 40-80% complete before proposals are even submitted. This means that the middle game constitutes as much as 70% of a company’s probability of win.

Considering these statistics, it is no wonder that large government contractors (LGCs) have dedicated capture teams. In addition to their capture personnel, though, LGCs have also developed a capture discipline, or set of processes, by which they organize, monitor, and evaluate their capture efforts.

Many small businesses cannot afford the cost of a dedicated capture team, but none can afford to neglect building a capture discipline. The question, then, is how can small businesses go about developing a capture discipline?

Developing a capture discipline

One way to begin developing a capture discipline is to define the activities and outcomes that reliably predict success. Since capture is all about conditioning the client to prefer your solution, at TAPE we use the following five characteristics to predict success:

  1. Strong client relationships
  2. Client-centered solutions
  3. Robust competitive intelligence
  4. Secure staffing
  5. Competitive pricing

When clients know you by name, when you’ve collaborated with them to develop their solution, when you’ve used your knowledge of the competition’s strengths and weaknesses to refine your solution, when you’ve identified staff in your solution that the client knows and trusts, and when you’ve priced it competitively you have effectively positioned yourself to win the contract.

Accomplishing all of these goals takes time and persistence. It also helps to have a shared understanding of the steps one takes to achieve these goals.

Building strong client relationships

Before I moved to the DC area, friends here told me that it’s not what you know, but who you know. While this is probably true everywhere, it is especially true for DC. Knowing the right people – and being known to the right people – is critical for success. To ensure that we’re building strong client relationships, we ask ourselves the following questions:

  1. Does the client know your name?
  2. Does the client understand your company’s capabilities?
  3. Has the client met with you to understand and/or develop their requirements?
  4. Does the client trust you?

If the answer to any of those questions is no, our team meets to devise a plan that changes those answers to yes. We assign tasks and record our progress so that our team operates from the same page. This data helps us measure our progress and make key decisions,

Developing client-centric solutions

This is the heart of capture, and doing it well requires that you know the customer’s needs, issues, and hot buttons. Client-centric solutions come down to four key steps:

  1. Meeting the needs of the customer
  2. Understanding the needs versus the wants
  3. Understanding the risks
  4. Developing a solution that meets the needs

Competitive intelligence

Knowledge is power, and what you don’t know can hurt you. My mantra for capture comes from industry titan Bob Lohfeld, whose book of collected articles is titled Best Informed Wins. The whole idea for capture is that we gain as much intelligence as possible to win bids.

That includes intelligence on the customer and customer intimacy, e.g., do we know who the program manager and contracting manager are, have we had conversations with them, are they comfortable calling us by name, do they know who we are, either as TAPE or individuals?

What are their problems, what do they see as possible solutions, and how do we help them solve those problems? Knowing all of that gives us customer intimacy, and the intelligence that comes along with that.

Then there’s market intelligence, e.g., who are our competitors, what have they done recently, and what are their significant strengths and weaknesses? Do we have everything it takes to provide solutions or do we need to team? Do we have the right people, who are of interest to the program office, that they know and trust? Are we able to get people quickly?

There’s also financial intelligence, i.e., knowing the costs, how much the government has to spend and wants to spend. Is cost their biggest priority or is it having the right people?

The more informed we are, the better proposal we are able to write, so capture management is a process of strategically uncovering all the information we need to make the win.

We’ll address the fourth and fifth characteristics of successful capture (secure staffing and competitive pricing) in a future post, along with some of the other elements that affect TAPE’s capture process.


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