Developing an Opportunity/Capture Management Strategy

An opportunity/capture strategy is a plan for achieving a goal. Strategy and tactics are often confused. In the purest sense, the opportunity/capture strategy is your pre-engagement position; tactics are the actions you take to implement your strategy and to convey it persuasively. Both are required to win.

Introduction

Organizations that are most effective at winning business have aligned their strategies and processes throughout, including their approach to business development. Their business, market, opportunity/capture, sales, and proposal strategies and tactics are aligned, coordinated, and consistent.

Misaligned strategies result in inconsistent, confusing, and off-putting customer messages. This dissonance prompts customers to doubt your message.

Best Practices

1. Distinguish strategy at different phases of the business development process.

To craft and present an aligned message, all members of the selling team must agree to use a common process and common definitions:

  • Business strategy is an organization’s plan to achieve overall business objectives.
  • Market strategy is an organization’s plan to achieve specific market objectives, typically involving multiple sales.
  • Opportunity/capture strategy is the plan to win a specific defined opportunity.
  • Sales strategy should be identical to an opportunity/capture strategy—that is, it should be opportunity specific.
  • Proposal strategy is a plan to write a persuasive, winning proposal. The proposal strategy is a subset of the opportunity/capture strategy. The message is the same; only the tactical aspects of the implementation differ.
  • win strategy is often used to describe the overarching actions required to win an opportunity. In reality, opportunity/capture strategy and win strategy are identical.

In opportunity/capture planning, you plan and take actions to convey information that persuades each customer to prefer—or, at a minimum, to favorably regard—your organization and solution. You might convey that information in white papers, presentations, meetings, site visits, demonstrations, or media buy-ins or events. In the proposal, you should include identical, aligned information in words, text, and graphics.

2. Analyze your current position using standard, universally understood, integrated, and accepted tools.

Strategy drives tactics. You always have a position in any sales situation, whether you understand it or not. Developing an effective strategy requires:

  • Determining your current position
  • Improving it versus the competitors’ positions

Using standard tools and templates to develop your strategy improves the quality of the strategy and implementation and saves time. When strategy development is improvised, implementation is haphazard, uncoordinated, and inconsistent. Standard templates not only reduce time, but the embedded discipline improves the quality of information developed and enhances understanding among opportunity/capture team members.

Organizations that use common tools to develop strategy spend less time clarifying the terms and process and have more time to focus on substance and implementation. Integrate the tools used by sales, sales support, management, engineering, and product management. Integrated tools save time by reducing the time spent copying or reinventing information at subsequent process phases.

No single tool or suite of tools is ideal. Select tools that are useful and acceptable to most participants. If you are following a particular sales discipline, extend and augment accepted, useful, proven, and familiar elements.

Replacing your current tool suite with a new one invokes resistance because your action suggests that the prior suite was defective and that you’re compelling users to learn an entirely new system. Enhance, amend, and augment your standard tool set whenever possible.

3. Define and agree to use common terms and definitions.

Effective communication requires common terms and definitions. Three of the most universally used and misunderstood terms relating to strategy are issues, motivators, and hot buttons or hot button issues. The relationship of these three terms is illustrated in Figure 1 below:

Figure 1. The Relationship Between Customer Issues, Motivators, and Hot Buttons.
Figure 1. The Relationship Between Customer Issues, Motivators, and Hot Buttons. Hot buttons are combination of issues and motivators and reflect the objectives that the customer decision makers are trying to achieve.

Issues are customer concerns and “worry items” that keep them awake at night.
Motivators are the objectives that the customer is trying to achieve. These could include:

  • Improved profits
  • Increased sales
  • Reduced costs
  • Improved safety
  • Reduced risk
  • Improved quality

Hot buttons are a consolidated set of the highest priority issues and motivators for a specific opportunity. This will usually be a list of no more than five. Record hot buttons during opportunity/capture activities using the customer’s exact words. Then align your solution to the customer’s hot buttons.

4. Define a specific opportunity/capture objective after the pursuit decision to better focus on a single opportunity.

As soon as possible after your pursuit decision, draft a brief opportunity/capture objective that meets the following criteria:

  • Specific. States the products and services that the customer might purchase from your organization, the purchase entity/location, and the person who will make the purchase decision, if known.
  • Measurable. States the budget for the purchase.
  • Timed. States the timing of the purchase.
  • Result. States quantitatively, if possible, the benefits and process change the customer seeks.

Often, you pursue multiple purchases from the same organization. If you find yourself trying to describe multiple buyers or purchase times, you’re likely facing multiple opportunities that are better dressed individually. Although you might employ common strategies and tactics, each opportunity is unique and is better addressed individually before you merge tactics.

5. Identify economic buyers, users, and technical buyers and their individual issues.

Economic buyers are the individuals who give final approval to purchase. They sign the check and retain veto power. Economic buyers tend to be concerned about the tradeoff between price and performance. They focus on bottom-line impact. Although many people may offer input and recommendations, only economic buyers can give final approval.

Users are the people who judge the potential impact on their job performance. Their personal success is impacted by the sale, so their concerns are often emotional and subjective. Users’ issues are reliability, support, ease of operation, maintenance, safety, potential impact on morale, and potential impact on their personal success. Because they use or supervise the use of your product or service, they can stop a sale.

Technical buyers are gatekeepers. They can’t give final approval, but they can give a final “no.” Technical buyers often determine the short list. They tend to focus on the features of a product or service as measured against objective specifications established to screen offers.

Technical buyers may not be technical in the scientific sense. Purchasing agents, lawyers, contracts people, and licensing or regulatory authorities are technical buyers. They are primarily focused on how well you meet their screening tests; the better you understand their criteria, the better your chances of getting their recommendations.

Another way to examine buyers is according to their power and/or influence. Power and/or influence could be economic, control (typically users), or technical. Or it could be the level of management, such as executive management, middle management, or operations.

After identifying all the different types of buyers, list the issues of each individual buyer. The diagram below shows how you can plot the impact of the issue and the power or influence of the buyer to understand whether the issue should be considered as a hot button or is likely to become a requirement listed in the RFP.

6. Prepare a Bidder Comparison Matrix (BCM).

The Bidder Comparison Matrix (BCM) or Strengths, Weaknesses, opportunities, and Threats (SWOT; see Strategy and Themes) should focus on customer issues, both stated and unstated, and on developing strategies and tactics to improve your competitive position. Using the BCM or SWOT as a consistent approach and tool when developing strategy will considerably enhance understanding within the team and the organization.

Use the BCM or SWOT to analyze how the customer’s current perception of your solution and your organization compares to their perception of your various competitors. Use it repeatedly throughout the opportunity/capture process to measure the effectiveness of your positioning actions.

Customer Issues

Weight

Us (Score)

Company A

Company B

Discriminator

Specific experience

20

15

15

15

This is core business for us.

Low price

30

25

20

20

Both competitors are higher priced.

Familiarity with manager named

10

5

10

5

We haven’t identified the Program Manager.

Ability to meet schedule

40

25

10

20

Schedule is very aggressive; need to get it extended.

Total score

100

70

55

60

Figure 2. Completed Bidder Comparison Matrix. First list the customer’s issues, then the relative weight of each issue as perceived by the customer. Complete each row horizontally, indicating your estimate of the customer’s perception of each competitor’s ability to satisfy that issue. Complete the last column with the rationale you used for scoring. Both the scoring and the rationale are likely to change during the opportunity/capture process, so it’s important to continuously revisit the BCM.

Establish the weight of each issue in one of three ways:

  • Use the customer’s evaluation criteria when known
  • Assign a weight, forcing the total score to equal 100
  • Assign an arbitrary weight and score and check with the customer

The BCM and SWOT are excellent collaborative tools to use with your customer to prompt further discussion and information gathering. Don’t be afraid to develop questions from the outputs or, best case, review them with your customer if appropriate.

7. Draft specific strategy statements that define what you need to do and the actions to implement them.

Strategy statements are key opportunity/capture plan elements. Collaboratively develop, review, and share opportunity/capture strategy statements across the opportunity/capture team. Extend and embellish each opportunity/capture strategy statement as you prepare the series of action plans for the opportunity/capture plan. Note that a single strategy statement might be supported and implemented in multiple action plans.

The opportunity/capture strategy can be implemented in four fundamental ways:

  • Emphasize your strengths
  • Mitigate your weaknesses
  • Highlight your competitors’ weaknesses
  • Downplay your competitors’ strengths

Effective strategy statements incorporate both strategic and tactical aspects. The strategic aspect establishes your position; the tactical aspect defines how you will implement the strategy and action steps. Use a template, such as the one below, to develop effective strategy statements.

Opportunity/Capture Management Strategy Template

What

By (actions to take)

We will emphasize our strength to complete the design-build of a distribution center on time

  • Taking the customer on a plant tour of the xyz distribution center on time
  • Citing three other distribution centers completed on schedule during the past 5 years
  • Providing contact names and numbers and quotes verifying our on-time completion of three similar projects
  • Figure 3. Strategy Statements Apply at the Opportunity/Capture, Proposal, and Proposal Section Levels. Opportunity/capture strategy statements identify and drive some of the actions that should be monitored in the opportunity/capture action plan.

    As the owner of the opportunity/capture strategy, the Opportunity/Capture Manager must ensure that the proposal strategy is aligned with the opportunity/capture strategy. If it is not, the customer will be confused.

    Asking a Bid Manager to develop a proposal strategy without guiding opportunity/capture statements is a mistake, is inefficient, and will reduce your win probability.

    Whenever possible, the Opportunity/Capture Manager should ask the Bid Manager to review the opportunity/capture strategy and draft aligned proposal strategy statements. It is then the responsibility of the Opportunity/Capture Manager to review and approve the proposal strategy statements that are distributed to the whole bid team at the kickoff meeting.

    8. Select the best solution approach and develop specific value propositions for each customer.

    After targeting an opportunity and analyzing your position, freezing your solution may seem obvious. Even so, many organizations delay selecting a solution, continue to modify their solution, or carry too many solutions, alternates, or options through the sales cycle. The result hurts in several ways:

    • Members of the selling team present generic, vague, and unconvincing solutions to the customer in both presentations and proposals
    • Product and service specialists are compelled to prepare multiple solutions, so the quality of each solution and presentation declines
    • Customers are confused by the options, made uncomfortable with the seller’s vacillation, and generally not persuaded to select your solutions

    Value propositions are a fundamental aspect of how your solution is packaged and presented to the customer. The relatively judgmental and softer concept of best value is cited as an evaluation factor in many government and commercial bid requirements. Rather than being forced to adhere to specific and potentially incomplete quantitative criteria, best value reserves room for judgment.

    Value propositions are a disciplined and quantitative way to present your solution and are used by some organizations in B2B selling environments. Sales professionals’ presentations and proposals typically link solution features to customer benefits.

    Having determined your solution, prepare draft value propositions for each type of buyer. Value propositions flow directly from the sales objective, but the better ones are detailed, specific, and quantified.

    Value propositions establish the value basis for the business relationship. They describe how your solution will improve the customer’s business and how the improvement will be measured. Tailor value propositions to each type of buying influence within the customer.

    Develop value propositions collaboratively with your customer. Collaboration increases the probability that the customer’s organization will accept your quantitative analysis.

    Comprehensive value propositions include the following elements:

    • Quantified business improvement
    • Timing
    • Solution
    • Investment cost
    • Payback
    • Results measurement and tracking

    The overarching value proposition is typically stated in the Executive Summary.

    9. Create a price-to-win strategy to drive your solution.

    Historically, costing and pricing have been approached as separate confidential or proprietary issues. Numerous conflicts are implicit:

    • Sales and marketing seek the lowest possible price
    • Technical people seek a technically safe price, knowing that technology is uncertain and requirements creep
    • Program Managers seek a price that they can deliver, knowing that some task will be omitted or under-scoped
    • Pricers seek a price based on known prior costs
    • Management seeks a strong profit margin, low risk, and low investment
    • Customers seek a low but realistic price that’s within their budget

    With streamlined acquisitions and best-value procurements, customers alternate between seeking a collaborative integrated approach and insisting that bidders keep the technical/management solution entirely separate from the costing and pricing. Embed cost and price-to-win considerations throughout your business development process, on par with solution development.

    Price-to-win is a strategic management issue, not just a pricing issue. The winning price is not the sum of your costs plus acceptable profit. If your cost plus acceptable profit exceeds your estimated price-to-win, you need to change your solution or not bid.

    10. Use tradeoffs to validate your approach and ghost the competition.

    Tradeoffs show you have considered alternatives and selected the best solution for the customer. Instead of selecting the first item available or your usual approach, discussing tradeoffs demonstrates that you considered the customer’s needs, risks, and budget and offered a solution that offers the best value at acceptable risk.

    Ghosting is simply offering a tradeoff when one of the alternatives that you rejected is offered by the competition. You ghost the competition when you raise the possibility of the competitors’ weaknesses.

    The primary way to downplay the competitors’ strengths and highlight their weaknesses is through ghosting. Never mention competitors’ names. Instead argue against their approaches. One of the advantages of ghosting is that you do not have to fully justify your position. You only need to create doubt. However, do not overuse ghosting techniques and risk annoying the customer. So, plan your ghosting approaches carefully during opportunity/capture. Determine what ghosting technique will be introduced and where and to whom it will be raised during the opportunity/capture process. Tradeoff analysis is appropriate in every opportunity/capture presentation and proposal section where realistic alternatives from the competition are available.

    11. Implement your action plan.

    A limited strategy that is implemented is superior to an excellent but unimplemented strategy. Like other planning tasks, maintain a balance between strategy development and implementation. Action is required to persuade the customer to select your solution. The table below lists some of the reasons that strategies typically aren’t implemented and suggests improved approaches.

    Why Strategies Are Not Implemented

    Improved Strategy Approach

    Capture actions are not assigned to a single, responsible individual

    Assign one person with resources and completion dates.

    There is no consequence for failure to complete

    Establish regular opportunity/capture plan reviews.

    Strategy is regarded as confidential

    Communicate the strategy to all team members.

    Strategy is developed too late

    Develop and review the opportunity/capture strategy after the pursuit decision. Extend the opportunity/capture strategy to proposal strategy and distribute at proposal kickoff.

    Proposal strategy is not evident in drafts

    Use content plans to flow the strategy into sections. Always review drafts with the approved content plans present.

    Writers include unsubstantiated claims

    Insist that all claims have objective proof to substantiate.

    Figure 4. Improve Strategy Implementation. Follow these recommendations to better implement your strategy throughout the sales cycle. Balance the time spent planning versus implementing.

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