Linking Opportunity/Capture Plans to Proposal Content
Organizations can spend significant time and effort developing opportunity/capture plans for strategic pursuits. But these efforts are wasted if intelligence and strategies aren’t applied to a bid. An organized approach can help teams get the most out of the opportunity/capture plan and make sure winning strategies and compelling arguments are transferred into the bid.
Bid and proposal operations are maturing. Proposal creators are engaging more effectively with wider business development and operational staff to understand the nuances of individual proposals.
And bid teams often are responsible for producing large amounts of response documentation. Finding solutions to potential information overload among busy teams can be critical to increasing win probability.
However, teams face a real risk that valuable analysis and differentiation points may not flow into the final bid document. These insights could also become confused or watered down during a bid process.
In recent years, evaluators across most industries have started to assess submissions less on details and more on higher-level issues such as relevance to the requirement and added value.
This phenomenon may have two causes: first, since the economic downturn, more bidders have chosen to focus on higher-level issues, and second, scoring frameworks value strict adherence to requirements—often with smaller word counts—and assign severe penalties for weaknesses in content.
Proposal teams can effectively address these changing evaluation criteria—and use time and resources efficiently—by carefully linking knowledge gathered in an opportunity/capture plan into proposal documents.
1. Start with a robust opportunity/capture plan.
The opportunity/capture plan is developed during the opportunity/capture planning phase, typically before an RFP is released. This plan should be highly specific to the opportunity/capture, even if it’s based on a standard template. It should evolve over the course of the opportunity/capture development phase, continually identifying and tracking actions and strategies that need to be carried out to provide the best chance of a successful bid. It should contain notes on all meetings with customer stakeholders and provide a history of how the opportunity has evolved since the beginning.
In addition, the plan usually contains opportunity-specific customer and competitive information, analyses, and strategies.
Content normally includes:
- The customer’s approach
- The customer’s mission/vision
- The customer’s hot buttons
- A competitive assessment
- Win strategies
- Win themes
- Anticipated actions necessary to win
2. Extend your opportunity/capture plan into a user-friendly proposal plan.
How an opportunity/capture plan is developed and structured can significantly impact its usability and value throughout the bid process. In fact, opportunity/capture plans should evolve into proposal management plans. One well-established practice suggests that more than half of an opportunity/capture plan should become a proposal management plan—with the key additions of writers’ packages, a proposal preparation schedule, and an outline.
Larger bid teams typically find it challenging to manage the wider opportunity/capture plan through the evolution to proposal management plan, while also starting on and maintaining the quality of the proposal itself.
Many bid teams achieve this by transforming opportunity/capture plan elements into simple, easy-to-digest conclusions. They then turn these conclusions into proposal headings, complete sections, or section introductions. To track workflow, they use a simple checklist to ensure that information has been transferred, or they state why a particular transfer of content wasn’t appropriate.
Using consistent tools and templates throughout opportunity/capture plan development and the bid process is helpful in providing a consistent approach. In an ideal world, the opportunity/capture plan will identify at a minimum:
- Customer issues
- The customer’s perception of discriminators
- Strategic actions, with an emphasis on collecting and monitoring evidence that will be required to make a compelling argument to the customer
- Draft theme statements
- Draft value propositions
Using the same tools and templates, the bid team should refine these messages further and use them to kick-start the writing process.
The following factors can also help the best elements of the opportunity plan make their way into the final proposal:
- Ownership of this task by a single identified, empowered individual
- Process actions to support this task
- Monitoring of these actions
- Careful integration of compliance matrices that clearly provide a cross reference to where buyer requirements are covered in the proposal, section outlines, and drafting
- Planning proposal writing efforts in well-defined stages, with regular checks against the opportunity plan at each stage, beyond the use of structured reviews
3. Ensure careful maintenance and oversight of your opportunity/capture plan.
The opportunity/capture plan is more likely to be considered the central reference point for driving the content of the proposal if:
- Team leaders regularly and visibly reference it
- Updates are advised (in summary) by email and covered as an agenda item at key meetings during proposal production
Beyond self-checks by the proposal writing team against the opportunity/capture plan at each content development stage, all scheduled review teams should use the opportunity/capture plan as a reference.
Established practice sees functional team review models having discrete roles, with the opportunity/capture plan review team focusing most closely on strategy and updates to the opportunity plan. However, content plan review and final document review teams should also be familiar with the win strategy in the opportunity/capture plan and review the proposal content against the win strategy.
Bid teams can ensure key strategy and theme information is appropriately used in the proposal in a several different ways, including:
- Having a well-defined initial approach to the solution
- Creating and reviewing a draft executive summary before the kickoff meeting
- Creating and using proposal strategy statements to evidence strong experience and proof points and to support the win strategies and themes
- Mapping the proposal strategy evidence and themes to the chosen response planning framework (content plans, etc.)
- Highlighting major proposal-wide themes and identifying how they will flow down to lower-level, section-specific themes, with reuse library text supporting this only at a more detailed level
- Tailoring templates early to meet the specific opportunity response requirements
- Involving management in early-stage reviews to build knowledge and buy-in
- Developing key overarching graphics to reflect themes and strategies, and using these as guideposts at appropriate stages of the proposal
4. Create a summary sheet of key information.
A key information summary sheet (sometimes called a virtual war room summary sheet) keeps complex bid on track by matching information from the opportunity/capture plan to the subsequent proposal management plan.
A classic physical bid war room typically contains key information about various categories on flip charts and whiteboards. The summary sheet reduces this technique to a single page. It can easily be updated and serve as a constant reminder of big-picture issues.
Some writers of smaller proposals have used a simpler version of this idea (i.e., an index card stuck to the monitor) as a memory aid for key buyer challenges and bidder solutions.
Beyond keeping bid-writing staff, who often must delve into details, focused on the big picture, a summary sheet has several benefits. It can help overcome virtual team issues. It can aid focus. And it can help all team members spot connections more readily than a larger-scale war room.
Typical elements to include in a summary sheet are:
- The buyer’s top wants
- Win themes/unique selling points (USPs)
- Competitor USPs
- Counter USPs (responses to competitor USPs)
- Key weaknesses
- Top evidence points
- Added value
- Key innovations
- Horizon scans (what the customer may need in the future)
- Market context factors
- Risks/wild cards
To get the most out of your summary sheet, you should:
- Use a simple design
- Use concise text
- Disseminate it effectively
- Ensure wide ownership and regular use
The table below is a summary sheet for a hypothetical major sports tournament. It shows key information under topic headings in line with the preceding principles. Here, the ideas of the panels are lined up horizontally to illustrate central issues and responses.
It may be hard to believe that, in a world of ever-lengthening proposals and proposal techniques, a major bid could win based on a one-page set of ideas. However, factors like those shown below are often decision points in bid selection.
|BUYER WANTS||COMPETITOR OFFERS||OUR WIN THEMES||RISKS/BUYER WORRIES||TOP PROOF POINTS||OUR INNOVATIONS|
|Iconic buildings to regenerate poor areas||World-leading architects (assumed)||Leading architect in regeneration signed||Challenging construction schedule||Past major event schedules||Solar-powered bicycle rentals|
|Multicultural integration||Recent government policy successes in the area||Success with multicultural events||Recent intercommunity tension||Past major event participation figures||“World cafés” at every venue|
|Serious, yet fun||Carnival-type feel (spies tell us)||Mascots, bands, street theater (a tapestry)||Balance of serious/fun is hard to achieve||Worldwide success of many artists involved||Teenage sports champions|
|Support and participation from all age groups||Many predictable partners (assumed)||Partners focused on youth and seniors||Token efforts?||Prior mobilization successes||Sports heroes to try new sports|
|Build on best practice from prior events||Minor practice evolution (assumed)||Research of past events (apply 10 themes)||The predictable?||New practice examples from our key partners||Retro theme throughout|
Common Pitfalls and Misconceptions
“The bid team knows best”
A bid team may think it understands and knows how to follow an opportunity/capture plan better than anyone else. However, in many cases, bid team staff may be too close to the work to see if—and, more importantly, how well—they’re applying key points from the opportunity/capture plan. This is why functional reviews are critical.
Bid teams should not be too resistant to change, either. A great bid team (and an effective environment around it) should be able to re-angle a proposal at a late stage due to new knowledge or changing customer requirements.
- To best apply opportunity/capture plans to proposal content, develop key intelligence and analysis using consistent and reusable tools, templates and formats, such as a key information summary sheet
- Appoint a key proposal team member to take responsibility for updating the opportunity/capture plan and ensuring that its contents are applied to the proposal
- Ensure that functional reviews support the higher-level aim of expressing key ideas, rather than focusing on detail