Government contractors engage in capture wars on invisible battlefields, playing the games of strategy, endurance, and focus. The stakes are high, and some do a better job than others. Here is a real life example:
Team A is an incumbent, and they know the whole world wants to take their sizeable contract away from them. They have done a decent job, but having learned many a lesson over the past 10 years, they know their staff could be leaner. They are uncertain whether they could propose a different solution, however, out of fear that it could backfire since the customer might say, “Why haven’t you done it this way all along?” Team A knows not to rest on their laurels and starts a capture effort. Several months before the RFP issuance, they implement strategic actions. They tell the customer that they have launched a new quality initiative and invited an “efficiency expert” consultant at no additional cost to the customer, to take a look at the way the work is conducted and recommend improvements. They then work with the customer to initiate cuts and rearrange personnel in a way that fits their understanding of what needed to be done all along. They also keep some recommendations up their sleeves as further efficiencies to showcase in the proposal. They then proceed to “help” the customer detail out the statement of work for the RFP to make it pithier, so that to anyone who is not an insider, it would seem like more effort is required to do the work. Additionally, they engage a general who is a good acquaintance of the source selection authority, to put in a “good word” for them with specific customer messages.
Team B has been working on capturing this opportunity for a more than 2 years. They study exactly what the incumbent has been doing. They launch an organized capture effort. The capture manager collects every crumb of information, hires a superstar program manager as a consultant, and introduces him to the customer. The program manager asks the customer what could be done better, more efficiently, and then plants the seeds of doubt in the customer’s mind. This happens right before the incumbent is going through their efficiency exercise – which now becomes more of a double-edged sword than the incumbent had originally intended. Team B works hard on developing a solution, runs a Black Hat capture strategy, and initiates a price-to-win exercise to figure out exactly where they need to come in. The capture manager also brings in a teammate with experience in the same agency, who is currently working in the same building. They help identify the incumbent “superstar” personnel, get resumes, and secure the personnel’s promise to come onboard in case the incumbent loses. They decide to bid only the current “must-keep,” most desired staff, and bring in all new staff with lower salaries for the rest of the positions. Then, they create a management solution with integrated project teams that include both incumbent and new personnel to ensure service continuity. They sharpen their proverbial pencils and scrub-scrub-scrub the staffing plan. They also end up calling in the favors from the mighty. They ask their state’s senator – a famous figure much respected by the source selection authority, to put in a “good word” for them.
Both teams write a decent proposal, but Team B bids a lower price and a credible solution. After much deliberation, Team B is deemed to provide the best value.
It is no surprise that Team B uses more rigor in their capture effort. Team A over-relies on their incumbent status, as many incumbent firms typically do. After the loss, they feel they have done everything they could, but many professional capture managers would tell you that they could have done so much more. They never really believed they would lose, so they didn’t conduct their capture effort with the same zeal and rigor as the Team B. Both teams knew that pre-proposal preparation is key to winning, but the team that prepared in the most systematic way prevailed.