This is Part 1 of a two-part blog post written based on a presentation I have given frequently, most recently as a webinar (available for viewing here). It outlines the things organization should be doing to improve their capture methods. My years in the industry have led me to witness some very bad habits that occur all too often but are easily correctable. Part 2 includes points 5 – 8 and is available here.
Right now we're seeing three major trends in the market:
There is a lot of uncertainty right now in government contracting because of four things:
These all make for instability in the federal government. This uncertainty is causing many organizations to fill their pipelines as much as possible. Yet this is the opposite of what executives should be doing right now, a point we will get back to later.
Interestingly, the uncertainty has not caused a significant decrease in professional services spending because there is still a need for the services that consultants can perform. We're seeing this trend because agencies do not have the budget to add personnel, but they still have work that must be done. It's more cost effective to hire professional services, since organizations can pay them for the short period of time that they are needed.
A sound capture process is the key to winning any opportunity. There are three basic steps to the process:
The biggest issue most organizations face is that they either a) don't have a sound capture process or b) they don't follow the capture process in a consistent manner. That is why I advocate a process that is guaranteed to succeed. These steps are straightforward, but proposal teams often forget to follow them.
1. Optimize Your Pipeline
I was speaking recently to a CEO about sequestration and he mentioned that he was filling up his pipeline with as many opportunities as possible. My only response to him was “Why?” That is the opposite of what you should be doing! You should focus solely on the realistic opportunities, ones you think you have a real chance of winning. You can waste a lot of time and money on capture when the decision should have been a no-go from the start. An executive should review the pipeline on a regular basis and challenge everything in it. It's not easy but is important and will pay off in the long run.
Keep in mind that padding your pipeline with opportunities you know you can't win makes it harder to be realistic about other aspects of the organization. It will skew your budget, your sales team, and your allocation of resources. Of course it’s fine to have some stretch goals as these help the organization grow by forcing your team to innovate.
2. Establish a Relationship Between IT & BD
When I meet with a customer, one of the first things I ask is whether or not their proposal teams have a service level agreement (SLA) with the IT department. In the past three years, I have not met a proposal manager who answered “yes”. Proposal teams must have a relationship with IT that has established terms. This is especially important when it comes to task orders, which can have turn-around times as short as seven days. If there is ever an outage in any system, IT is going to be the department that addresses and meets the needs of the BD team. With the compressed time constraints of a proposal, you want to make sure that your IT organization is ready and positioned to support your team.
The goals of IT and BD are diametrically opposed and this can pose a problem. IT wants to centralize everything it can in order to improve efficiencies and lower costs. BD wants to generate revenue, which can be hindered by IT's desire to lower costs. It's actually in IT's best interest to give BD the tools and support they need to win, because higher revenue translates into bigger budgets for every department in the organization.
3. Define Roles of Capture and Proposal Managers
I've seen organizations establish roles in a variety of ways. Sometimes the proposal manager reports to the capture manager, and sometimes they are peers who share responsibilities. Generally the structure is based on the experience and skills of each person. It's important to establish who is in charge of what and whom. A lack of clear definition of responsibilities leads to confusion and uncertainty; other members of the team start asking, "Who owns what? Who's in control?" Your organization might have more than one answer to the capture v. proposal manager question but no matter what, make sure there is an answer and everyone knows what it is.
4. Proposal Manager or Coordinator?
Proposal managers and coordinators are different roles and it's important to decide which one you need. The role of a proposal manager is to be involved in every step of the process and really manage the writing, editing, and production. They have the power to approve or decline volumes and they micromanage everyone else on the team. The role of a proposal coordinator, in contrast, is mostly to coordinate scheduling and production. They step in to make sure everyone is doing their job on time and that everything gets put together properly. The important thing for an organization to do is decide who they want in charge and what role they want them to take.
A really good proposal manager will be costly but worth the money; you get what you pay for in this case. A proposal manager is not an area where an organization should be trying to cut costs as this role can be the difference between a win and a loss.
If you decide to bring in a proposal manager from the outside you need to let them manage the process. By "you" I mean members of the executive team and the proposal team. An independent proposal manager comes in to oversee the process; they are not there to make friends with the team. There is a reason you chose this person to come in and manage your proposal effort, so follow their process and listen to what they have to say. It will pay off in the end.