Government Proposal Writing: The Strategic Capture Process
Updated: Aug 12, 2020
Writing a winning government proposal is not the product of luck, but rather careful planning, writing, and review. In this four-part series of blogs, we will be discussing the capture, strategic planning, execution, and evaluation processes. Each of these elements is key to create not only a compliant proposal but a competitive proposal that can win contracts.
It is not uncommon for one of our government contracting clients to ask why they see one or two of their competitors winning the majority of contracts in their market. My response is that winning is not the product of things falling into place after the Request for Proposal (RFP) is released. The foundation of a winning proposal is a strategic capture process that guides proposal planning and content development.
When the government releases an RFP they will include their requirements, tasks, and evaluation criteria. If your company simply responds to the requests on the page, you may generate a compliant proposal, but it will probably not be competitive or stand apart from any of your competitors. Bottom line, you will most likely lose. Your proposal needs to reflect that you understand what a government organization really does, how they operate, the reason for the request, how the organization’s mission is, or might, change during the course of the contract, what the real funding picture is, and many more subtle elements. This is where the capture process comes into play.
Capture has become a large umbrella term that encompasses several aspects of business, but we will focus on capture for an upcoming contract opportunity that you already have penciled on your pipeline. The capture process is designed to gain an in-depth understanding of a customer, their needs, issues, and thought processes. You will then turn that information into win strategies for each section of the proposal and for the development of the final, overall solution.
Though the capture process may seem fairly straight forward, it is often a stumbling block for many companies. Some companies don’t have a true capture process, instead they build a pipeline based on published contract expiration dates. Others have a partial capture process, where they collect some information about a customer from convenient sources, perhaps a program manager that visits the site periodically or existing contract staff. Then there are companies that have a mature capture process but suffer from poor execution. They may send a program manager or business development expert to the site for a visit to speak with the customer. If they don’t choose the right representative for this visit, it may be a waste of resources. They need to choose someone with the right training, background knowledge, and communication skill set to effectively represent the company and gain the information they need to begin proposal development.
1. Understand the Customer
It is imperative that you gain all the information you can about a target customer. The best way to do this is to plan a site visit. Plan to speak with leaders and decision-makers. Make sure that you are prepared and participate in active listening. Most importantly, make sure you know the right questions to identify the customers’ needs and issues. Your primary objective is to identify issues including:
Gaps in capabilities
Level of support required
Current processes and functionality
To make the most out of your visit, prepare customer-specific briefing sheets highlighting your services and the advantages of your company. Additionally, if you have an idea of on-the-ground issues ahead of time, you may want to prepare a white paper. An example of a white paper could be a proposed solution to a known software issue. You could detail your understanding of the issue, the impact to the customer, and how your solution will resolve the issues.
These efforts and initiatives to show your understanding the client’s needswill have an impact when it comes to evaluating your RFP proposal.
2. Understand your Competition
Identify the incumbent and main competitors. Collect their vulnerabilities, specific contract execution issues, and specific strengths that you will offset in your proposal. Build a picture of the current contract situation so you can tie in your strengths to specific items. For example, if there has been an issue finding personnel to place in hard-to-fill positions, you can highlight your track record of filling positions promptly, use statistics, past performance, and specifics of your process.
3. Understand your Strengths and Weaknesses
If you are the incumbent, make sure to gathered as much information as possible from your personnel on the ground. Identify the processes that are working and existing issues that you will need to address with improvements or innovations.
If you are not the incumbent, compile the strategic intel you have gathered into a list of the customer’s requirements along with your company’s capabilities. Make sure to include your strengths, how you will offset weaknesses or gaps, and any unique solutions you can offer.
You can develop a traditional SWOT analysis or a more informal table to help focus your proposal themes and leverage your strengths in order to put your best approach forward.
4. Understand your Gaps and if Teaming is a Solution
The last step is to determine whether you are going to bid once the RFP is released.
If your assessment shows that your company’s capabilities align with the customer’s requirements, then you are ready to BID.
If your analysis shows that your company is fairly well positioned but has a couple of gaps in capabilities, teaming maybe a good solution. Carefully identify your gaps and find companies that can offsets these. Review their past performance, CPARS scores, and their reputation and experience partnering with other companies. Selecting the wrong teaming partner can have catastrophic consequences. Even if your proposal is competitive and compelling.
Simply planning to write a compliant proposal will not result in a winning proposal. Every company plans on submitting a compliant proposal, so how will you set yourself apart? The capture process turns your compliant proposal into a competitive solution that will win contracts.
If you found this material helpful and want to learn more, check out our podcast, The Inside Scoop with Novelle, at www.novelleonline.com/podcasts, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Breaker, Google Podcasts, or Overcast.
Rita Simmons, Ph.D., is the founder and lead consultant of Novelle, where she provides business and research consulting to companies across a variety of industries. Dr. Simmons leverages her drive for innovation and excellence along with her extensive executive and military experience to help companies grow their business, drive revenue, and achieve strategic goals. When you’re ready to take your business to the next level, contact Dr. Simmons at firstname.lastname@example.org or connect with her on LinkedIn.