You vs. Competition The Capture Plan: New Rules of Engagement

Develop a Game Plan

If you want to win, do the work.

Increased competition is the top business development challenge according to the 2016 Deltek Clarity Report, with 60% of firms selecting it as one of their top three challenges and 29% citing it as their #1 Challenge. While there are still firms that believe submitting more proposals is the way to grow their business, in fact the opposite is true. According to the Hinge 2016 High Growth Study, high growth firms are 45% more profitable than no growth firms, yet they spend less on marketing than their no growth peers and put 23% less effort into traditional marketing efforts. Most important, high growth firms are 2x more likely to conduct research, a fact that demonstrates the power of knowledge.

Proposals and presentations need to be 100% focused on the client and project.

This level of focus requires targeted relationship building and knowledge acquisition that requires months, and even years, of strategic pursuit planning.

If your firm relies on traditional business development activities that focus on building personal relationships with only high visibility decision-makers, you are limiting your ability to influence and build trust with the “invisible” decision-makers. Unfortunately, when the RFP is released you will probably discover that the sum total of your knowledge is based on a relationship with only one of multiple decision-makers, or on input from someone who isn't even a member of the selection committee.

In the complex B2B selection process, selection committees include people up, down, and even sideways on the client’s organizational chart. Some committees include individuals who aren’t even on the org chart. Peer reviewers, subject-matter experts, planners, program/construction managers, and even people from unrelated departments are often included to ensure a “fair and equitable” selection process.

On a proposal I recently worked on for a client, the high visibility leader who met with service providers was excluded from the selection process to ensure a completely non-biased decision. I have also recently been part of the proposal team for several comprehensive design-build proposals for projects in excess of $100 million. In each case the proposal team was prohibited from revealing their identity. Therefore, the quality and comprehensive nature of the knowledge obtained through business development and marketing activities, and not the relationship, is what enabled the team to develop a winning proposal.

If your marketing is not focused and you primarily develop strategies for proposals only after RFQ/RFP’s are released, you have a major disadvantage. In many situations, client contact is prohibited once the competitive process begins. Even if you are able to speak with the client after the proposal is released, your efforts at developing a relationship are clearly self-serving. You can't build trust when there is a clear monetary goal on the line, and trust is one of the most important considerations a prospect makes when selecting a service provider. It is critical to demonstrate that you care about the prospect’s problems and can solve them well before a project becomes public knowledge.

What is Capture Planning?

Capture planning is the process of identifying opportunities, assessing the environment, and implementing winning strategies oriented toward capturing a specific business opportunity.

The information your team accumulates provides the basis for developing a winning value proposition, or as I like to call it “the project story”. It is laser-focused on the client's goals, issues, and requirements. Working a strategic process over an extended period of time will enable your firm to use multiple marketing and business development tactics, “infiltrating” your client's organization at all levels. Periodically it is important for you to review the capture plan with your team, evaluating what you know about the project, and what you don't know. Filling in the blanks requires an extraordinary amount of research, creativity, collaboration, and customization. A capture plan helps you navigate this process.

The Effectively Executed Capture Plan

B2B selling is a combination of art, science and good luck. If you want to improve your odds of winning – make a plan. Your capture plan should include input from everyone in your firm with knowledge of the client/prospect and/or project. Don’t exclude employees outside the executive circle. Everyone in your firm has a network, personal and digital, that may include people you want on your side.

Phase 1 - Plan. Do. Check. Act.

Get together and brainstorm everything you know. Then figure out what you don't know. Define actions for various team members to take that will fill in your knowledge gaps. Stop wasting everyone’s time in unproductive marketing meetings. Instead, use your meetings to review and update progress relating to active capture plans and implement plans for new projects.

The Role of Business Developers: Orchestrate face-to-face encounters with targeted prospects. LinkedIn, Facebook, and google searches will shed light on the associations where they participate. Show up and get involved in these organizations.

The Role of Marketers: Create content and related inbound strategies that target your prospect personas. Publish articles on the topics they care about. Follow clients on LinkedIn and other social media sites and comment on their articles and updates. Work with your visible leaders to develop a presentation on a technical issue that can be delivered one-on-one or to groups that include your prospects.

Phase 2 - Plan. Do. Check. Act. Again.

Come back together and brainstorm new information. Update old information that is no longer relevant. Again, figure out what you still don't know and define actions to fill in the gaps.

Phase 3 - Plan. Do. Check. Act. Again. Once or Twice More

Periodically repeat the process to refine what you know and what you don't know. Figure out how to get the information you need. Assign actions to team members to obtain the information. You will never know everything; however, when the proposal is released you will hopefully know more than your competitors.

WARNING: Failure to Differentiate

The Commodity Trap

Do you wonder why your "good old" proposals and presentations are losing you more work than you are winning?

Here is a quick test to see if you need to up your game:

  • Open up the last proposal you submitted.
  • Look at your cover letter and/or the first page of your executive summary and each subsequent section.
  • Count the number of paragraphs and sentences that begin with I, we, or your firm’s name.

If your count was more than five, then you fail the test. You are selling to yourself, focusing on what you think is important. You are utterly failing to differentiate your firm.

Notice the trend here – you, you, you. It is not about you!

Your client only cares about how you are going to make his project a success and the proof you provide that demonstrates your capabilities. Rainmakers in B2B selling know that to win you have to make your focus 100% on your client.

  • What does your client care about?
  • Why is it important for your client’s project to be a success?

Your client has a vision. Your client has friends who work with your competitors. Your client has concerns about your ability to deliver. Your client does not care about how long you have been in business or all the wonderful projects you have completed for others.

Capture Plans Reveal Your Value Proposition

Let's talk about boilerplate.

In his book, Secrets of the Selection Committee, author Gary Coover cautions firms about using boilerplate "BS". He states that selection committees are looking for specific details. So if your standard text still includes claims like “we are leaders in the field of….” without providing any proof, your lose credibility fast. Most firms claim to be a leader of something, but SO WHAT? Leadership isn't an area of specialized expertise, an innovative solution to a client's problem, or proof of an ability. Therefore, it is a statement that fits into the meaningless platitude category and should be left out of your proposal. Unless, of course, the RFP asks the question "Are you a leader in your industry?"

"Over-the-top claims, mindless clichés, meaningless platitudes that give no real information are all a major turn-off for any reviewer. Makes you look like you’re all hot air and no substance." - Gary Coover, Author of Secrets of the Selection Committee

What Successful Firms Do that is Different

The top three initiatives of high performers reported in the Deltek Clarity Report include:

1. Strategic networking to expand teaming options.

2. Earlier identification of opportunities and requirements.

3. Better opportunity identification.

Additionally, high growth firms are 75% more likely to be highly specialized. They succinctly state their value proposition and have clearly defined differentiators. They have active communications/social media plans in place, use a CRM to track prospects and clients, and allocate resources to inbound marketing strategies.

With marketing staff and design team members also involved in business development in a sizable number of firms, even small firms can benefit from more sophisticated, systematic procedures that “institutionalize” business development. - Deltek Clarity Report

Why Your Firm Needs a Go/No-Go Process

Having executed a pursuit plan is not an excuse for foregoing a go/no analysis. However, only 38% of the Deltek study respondents claim that they use a formal go/no go process for all opportunities, while 19% say they don’t have one at all. The fact is while comprehensive due diligence will improve your ability to win projects, it may also reveal significant factors that lower your probability of success. For instance, you discover that one of your competitors has a clear advantage, you find out that your client's "must have" project manager isn’t available for the project, or the project requires a high percentage local firm participation that exceeds what you can commit to and still make money on the project.

This is why a structured go/no go process is critical, even for projects that have comprehensive Capture Plans. While it is hard to pull the plug after a significant investment in research and business development, it is important to avoid spending even more money on a lost cause. In microeconomic theory this is referred to as “opportunity cost”, a concept that plays a crucial part in attempts to ensure that scarce resources are used efficiently. My mom would say it is throwing good money after bad.

Firms with the highest hit rates understand the commitment and resources required from both marketing and technical staff to submit a responsive and differentiated proposal. Scott Butcher, FSMPS, CPSM, SMPS Foundation Past-President and Vice President of JDB Engineering, reported that “the percent of time that technical staff members spend developing business has increased significantly”. In his research for a hit rate benchmarking study, he found that most firms track hit rates based on the number of proposals won vs. the number submitted. He recommends that firms instead calculate hit rate based upon dollars proposed verses dollars won. This way you can measure hit rate in terms of revenue - how well dollars proposed convert to actual bookings.

Key Take-Aways

Instead of submitting proposals for projects that you have very little chance of winning, allocate more resources to implementing strategies used by today’s high growth firms.

  • Implement inbound activities that will attract prospects and convert them to clients.
  • Use a Capture Planning process to inform your proposal content.
  • Always conduct a go/no-go analysis prior to submitting any proposal.

Slow down, focus, be strategic, and win the right work for your firm.

Want to learn more about how your firm can win more work without increasing your marketing budget?

DB Creative Communications specializes in developing positioning and differentiating strategies for A/E/C firms that enable them stand out in a sea of same. Deborah Briers, CPSM, MBA, Chief Content Creator and Storyteller, knows how to elevate proposals from whatever to WOW. She can transform ho-hum text into stories that make meaningful impressions. She has developed an extensive collection of marketing and business development tools that have been proven to improve proposal hit rates and promote visible leadership.


2016 High Growth Study, Research Summary, Hinge Marketing

2016 Deltek Clarity Report, Produced by Deltek in a collaboration that includes ACEC (American Council of Engineering Companies), ACEC Canada (Association of Consulting Engineering Companies), and SMPS (Society for Marketing Professional Services).

Secrets of the Selection Committee: Create Proposals and Presentations that Win, Gary Coover

Marketing Metrics: Hit Rates, Blogs, 8/4/2015, Scott Butcher, FSMPS, CPSM

Created By
Deborah Briers

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