The process of setting out to win a new contract is generally divided into phases. The larger the opportunity and the more sophisticated the competition, the more detailed you’ll want to be about the steps in this process.
As you might imagine, large companies have enormously intricate systems for managing this, and the King of these systems is the Business Development Lifecycle from a company called Shipley that produces a methodology with hundreds of steps and all sorts of defining documentation for every step.
For our purposes as small businesses, we merely have to understand that there is a process, and those hundreds of steps can be summarized into a few key small phases that we have to pay attention to.
Step One – Identifying and Qualifying the Lead
At the very beginning of the capture management process, you have a lead. It could be something that you’ve downloaded from one of the information services like GovWin, it could be an announcement through FedBizOps, or it could be a piece of information that you’ve gotten from a current customer about potential future needs.
You may also see Sources Soughts or Requests for Information (RFIs), processes agencies use to determine if there are two or more qualified businesses in a particular set-aside category that would be interested in bidding on a contract. If so, the agency may set aside the contract for that set-aside category.
Whatever the source of the lead, your company must answer three fundamental questions:
- Does this customer have money?
- Does this customer have a problem that we can solve?
- Does the customer know that our company can solve their problem?
The process of answering these questions is called qualifying the lead, and typically involves some customer contact and on-site exploration, as well as researching your predecessor’s contract (the incumbent who had been doing the work up until now). Once that is done, you’ll need to have an internal meeting to decide whether this lead is worthy of pursuit.
Step Two – The Capture Phase
Once you decide to go for it, the capture phase is when you work out all the details. This is when we really get to know the customer, understand their hot buttons, their problems, and their visions for how this function is going to work in the future. What new innovations are they looking for? What’s not working for them today? By the end of this phase you want to have built a technical solution that will specifically address those things.
In an ideal world, we actually help the customer to shape and understand their own requirement, in a way that we can clearly support with a positive result for everybody involved. You’ve found a customer and you’ve got the answer, now hopefully you can help them see that you have the answer.
In this phase you will also need to talk to the agency’s small business office so they know you’re out there, as well as the contracting folks. Plus, get a clear understanding of what NAICS code this thing is going to come out in, so you can make sure you’re eligible as a small business for the work.
When the agency releases their RFP (Request for Proposal), you have to meet internally again to decide whether you’re going to bid or not. You may choose not to if the RFP seems to favor the incumbent contractor.
Step Three – The Bid and Proposal Stage
If you go for it, you enter the third and hopefully final stage, the bid and proposal stage. Now you’ll need to line up everything you know about what the customer needs, along with what your company does well, and see how those match up.
This is getting into what’s called “answering the mail,” named for two crucial sections of an RFP – Section L, which lays out the requirements for supplying the quote, and Section M, the portion that defines the evaluation criteria. You must demonstrate that your company is compliant with the requirements established in the RFP.
Again, in a large business there would be hundreds of steps to follow here in the proposal stage. Fundamentally, you’ll take Section L, use that to create an outline, fill in that outline with everything you know about the project and your technical approach, and then prepare a compliant proposal. There’s usually a separate section for technical and pricing information, and those may sometimes be divided up into sub-sections.
Here’s one example of a capture management process outline by the folks at OCI – Organization Communications Inc.: http://www.ociwins.com/Capture-Management/business-capture-management.html.
Capture management is a long process that doesn’t always lead to winning the contract, but it always gives you experience and learning you can use in future successful bids.