Opportunity/Capture Management Skills

The skills and tactics deployed during opportunity/capture management require an aligned team of individuals with the interface skills to listen actively, establish rapport, build trust, assess situations accurately, collaborate effectively, and communicate persuasively. If you invest your time and attention in helping customers meet their goals and objectives before the competition begins, they will be more likely to invest their time and money with you.

Introduction

Selling and opportunity/capture planning are similar disciplines. Both disciplines emphasize engaging customers early in the business development process by establishing productive working relationships to improve win probability.

Selling methodologies emphasize an individual selling to individuals or small groups; capture planning emphasizes teams selling to teams.

A familiar quote reinforces the importance of connecting with customers:

    This may seem simple, but you need to give customers what they want, not what you think they want. And if you do this, people will keep coming back. — John Ilhan

Few organizations offer services or products that sell themselves. Develop your opportunity/capture team members’ interface skills so they understand what each customer wants, and jointly create the preferred solution.

Best Practices

1. Recognize how customers buy, then exploit varied sales opportunities.

How private and public sector customers buy is affected internally by their vision, objectives, and immediate needs; externally by the economy, technology, laws, regulations, and customers; and by the personal issues, needs, and experiences of the individuals involved.

In general, the following statements are true:

  • Customers buy from people who are knowledgeable
  • Customers buy from people they trust
  • Customers want the best deal
  • Opportunity/capture team members who have the ability to listen and understand what customers want and need have the competitive edge
  • Opportunity/capture team members who know how to sell the way their customers prefer to buy have the competitive edge
  • Opportunity/capture team members who can demonstrate that they offer the best solution have the advantage

Learning to interface with customers based on these principles will advance the relationship and the sale. Consider how many of your opportunity/capture team members will be involved in these types of sales interactions with the customer:

  • Industry days are excellent opportunities to meet potential decision makers, stakeholders, and influencers. Your attendance and participation are important; equally important is establishing credibility, rapport, and trust.
  • Bidders’ conferences are opportunities to gather competitor information and details about customer issues, requirements, evaluation criteria, and restrictions or limitations. Potential one-to-one connections, when allowed, are invaluable if you’re prepared.
  • Trade shows offer a showcase for personnel, services, and products. Decision makers and influencers are often more accessible than at their base location. Trade shows also offer potential for meeting teaming partners, decision makers, program personnel, and competitors.
  • Emails are a frequently underestimated and overlooked opportunity to interact with customers. The frequency, tone, and content of your email messages say a lot about you, your selling style, and your organization. During opportunity/capture management, actively manage email traffic and develop strategies to maintain consistent content and tone.
  • Social media offers unguarded networking and communication opportunities. Use them, but do so with caution, and make sure you have a social media strategy for each opportunity. Be aware that your competitors are likely to see your posts.
  • Telephone conversations and conference calls advance the relationship. Leave detailed, concise, and relevant messages. Rambled, disorganized messages hurt the relationship.
  • Face-to-face meetings require active listeners. Probe for information that isn’t publicly available. Proposing your solution before customer needs and issues are clearly identified and a business case can be established is unproductive and could be seen as arrogant.
  • Site visits offer relatively unguarded opportunities for multiple one-on-one interactions among members of the buying and selling teams. Opportunity/capture team members must understand their role, listen carefully, and stay on message.

2. Help customers discover potential benefits.

Plan the actions and interactions required from the whole opportunity/capture team, and initiate and maintain the customer focus at each. Each interaction should have a specified objective to help the customer discover, analyze, and quantify, if possible, the potential benefits they’re seeking to achieve for their organization. Discover the benefits that the customer wants to achieve before you discuss the benefits that your solution might bring.

In complex sales with complex solutions, discover, explore, and analyze the breadth of customer issues and concerns. Undiscovered issues often turn into objections.

Foster a collaborative relationship in which you’re seeking to solve the customer’s problem. In most situations, your collaborative discussion will expose underlying issues and deepen your customer’s and your own understanding of the potential benefits derived from reducing or eliminating the customer’s problem.

Build a stakeholder matrix so you can monitor the depth and breadth of the contact the opportunity/capture team has with customer stakeholders, decision makers, and users.

Use a template such as the one in Figure 1:

Level of Support

Name Position Role Contact Support Hot Buttons

Role

Level of Contact

Level of Support

Ultimate Authority U High 3 High for Us 3
Capability C Medium 2 Medium for Us 2
Operational / End User O Low 1 Low for Us 1
Technical T None 0 Unsure ?
Financial F Low for a Competitor -1
Legal / Commercial L Medium for a Competitor -2
Administrative A High for a Competitor -3
Unsure ?

Figure 1. As the Opportunity/Capture Phase Progresses, Update the Information in Your Stakeholder Matrix. At each gate decision, objectively review how the customer relationship has evolved since the last decision.

Establish rapport and build trust by becoming a trusted adviser during customer interaction. Plan how each meeting will build rapport and trust with each stakeholder and opportunity/capture team member. Today’s customers and customer team members exhibit these characteristics:

  • Demanding. They expect more, expect it faster, and expect it better. Customers demand better products, services, sales skill, and knowledge.
  • Sophisticated. They’re more aware of products, costs, and ways to negotiate terms. Most know how to investigate you, your organization, your products and services, and your competitor’s products and services.
  • Skeptical. They’re skeptical and suspicious of salespeople, and they instantly recognize and detest hype, hard selling, and trick selling. Clichéd phrases, jargon, and generic language signal muddled thinking, minimal benefit, and potential arrogance. Their trust is hard to gain and easy to lose.
  • Conditional. They’re less loyal than ever before. They’ll buy from you if they believe you have the best value to offer. Each sale is new and conditional.
  • Valuative. They’re more judgmental. They’re more likely to test and debate the value they think they’re receiving.
  • Open. They’re open to consider new vendors and other localities. This openness includes worldwide competition.
  • Pressured. They feel pressured to make the right decisions, be efficient, and be productive. Stressed-out customers say they have less time to do more.

Because most opportunity/capture team members interact with the customer in some manner, they must be aware of these environmental and customer issues to become a trusted adviser. Trust between a buyer and seller takes time to establish. However, customers will lose trust in a supplier or partner whenever they feel misled or misunderstood.

Alignment might be one of the most overlooked concepts in selling, persuasion, and customer-focused opportunity/capture. Trusted sellers keep their word. The same individual maintains the same position or story over time.

To maintain trust in a complex opportunity/capture environment, both the individual’s action and the actions of the opportunity/capture team members must be aligned over time. Consider some of the reasons stories become misaligned.

Opportunity/capture team members:

  • Forget what they said last time
  • Say what they think the customer wants to hear
  • Want to stay positive and therefore deny, shade, or avoid bad news
  • Are caught by surprise and want to appear knowledgeable
  • Have no idea what others might have said to the same person

While individuals struggle with alignment issues, you can see why salespeople have anxiety attacks over unskilled, unplanned contacts between the customer and members of their own organization.

Maintaining alignment might be the most important justification for preparing opportunity/capture plans to document your messages.

The opportunity/capture plan documents the customer stakeholders, their level of importance within the customer organization, who has had contact from the opportunity/capture team, and which messages were delivered and how they were received against the customer hot buttons. The Opportunity/Capture Manager is responsible for keeping the team focused and on message at every customer interface.

3. Develop a logical business case for buying.

Most customers seek improved bottom line results by improving their business approach and processes. As an opportunity/capture team member with customer interface actions, help customers establish a business case for your solution. Talk about more than just the features of your product or service.

A logical business case might range from a series of statements that describe the benefits and features of your solution to a fully developed value proposition based on collaboratively developed quantitative analysis.

Your opportunity/capture objective is to position your services and products as the solution to this customer’s needs and as a means to alleviate issues. Specifically address each issue. For example:

General positioning approach that doesn’t address customer issues directly

Seller
    Here is our understanding of your requirements. You need [summary of the customer’s issues and requirements].

    Our solution comprises [description of the solution].

Specific approach that addresses the customer’s issues effectively

Seller From what you’ve said, you’re concerned about the cost, you want to avoid service interruptions, and you need to reduce customer inquiry response time. Correct?
Customer Yes, that’s right.
Seller
    To minimize your cost, we’ll retain your current employee workstations, saving you $2,200 per customer service representative.

    To avoid service interruptions, we plan to install the new server and software and run preliminary tests in advance. Then we can cut over during a 3-day weekend when you said that inquiries would be minimal.

    The live tests that we ran last week showed that CRM cut representatives’ total response time by 28 percent.

If you can’t link a feature to a customer issue, don’t mention that feature. Customers buy benefits, not features. If they could get the benefit without a feature, they would.

Repeatedly cite benefits when discussing features of your solution throughout the opportunity/capture process, not just in your proposal. Benefit statements in discussions and correspondence repeatedly remind customers that you understand their needs and requirements.

The business case as a formal value proposition

Value propositions establish the quantified value basis for the business relationship. The best value propositions go beyond traditional theme statements. Executives, users, and technical buyers have different issues and values. Prepare a different value proposition for each type of buyer and work them into your presentations and meetings based on the customer participants.

4. Test your solution with the customer early and often.

It’s important during opportunity/capture to develop skills and define actions that will help your customer buy rather than to “just” sell. Customers buy in a series of steps, and your opportunity/capture plan should help them advance step by step.

As you step through this process, test potential solutions or variants to get feedback about what you’ll finally propose. Traditional sales methodologies call this a “trial close.” A trial close both tests your solution and prompts customers to develop the solution collaboratively. You determine if you’re in sync with the customer’s expectations. A collaboratively developed solution is more difficult to reject.

Use discussions, white papers, site visit presentations, documentation reviews, and other means to test your solution with the customer. Assess the customer’s readiness to buy and how well your solution aligns with the customer’s needs. Trial closes are especially important when pursuing a sole-source, noncompetitive contract.

Test potential solutions using one of the approaches in Figure 2:

Approach

Characteristics

Exploratory

  • Ask customers what they want to do next.
  • Help customers buy instead of trying to convince them to buy.

Clarification

  • Confirm what you’ve heard or sensed from customers’ words or body language.

Recommendation

  • Suggest or advise your customer on the next steps. Manage a recommendation to measure the result to quantify the improved outcome.

Figure 2. In Any Market Sector, a Trial Close Can’t Appear to Be a Gimmick. Use the trial close to gain approval to advance the sale to confirm that you’re moving in the right direction.

5. Anticipate and handle objections throughout the opportunity/capture process.

Objections are a normal part of every sale. Anticipate objections, but don’t treat it like a ping-pong match where you supply a brilliant response to every objection. You’re unlikely to convince the customer to buy no matter how rational your argument.

Customers will raise one objection after another if they’re not completely comfortable with your solution and organization. Humans tend to decide emotionally and then justify the decision rationally. Seeking to overcome objections creates a rift and undermines trust.

Treat objections positively. Objections show that the customer is still considering your solution—not yet ready to buy, but also not ready to end the process.

Differentiate objections and conditions. Objections are temporary reasons for not buying, often because the customer is skeptical or unclear about some aspect of your solution. Some objections stem from the human tendency to avoid making a commitment. You can work with objections.

Conditions are something that exists. You can’t control or influence conditions. Potential conditions include the following: there’s no funding, someone else makes the decision, the customer is just gathering information for a future decision or to prepare a budget request, or senior management has decided to go in an entirely different direction at this time.

You can’t fight conditions. Accept the condition—perhaps acknowledging that you might have detected that condition earlier—and position yourself for when the condition changes. Keep communication open, network within the organization or industry, maintain your visibility, and continue to look for gaps in the services delivered internally or by existing vendors.

Interpret objections as requests, but not necessarily at face value. Objections as stated often conceal an underlying issue. Look beyond the words. Figure 3 shows some common objections and how you might treat the objection as a request.

Objection

Underlying customer issue

Response

Your price is too high.

Skeptical that perceived benefits justify the cost

Substantiate the value, supported by credible references

We’d like to think about it.

Afraid to make a bad decision or a decision that others could question

Create comfort by citing a relevant success story. Articulate the opportunity cost of delay.

I’d like to talk to my manager, partner, or trusted adviser.

Worried about owning and justifying the decision

Seek ways to reduce the perceived risk

I need to get additional quotes.

Unsure if you’re meeting their needs, concerned that they haven’t considered alternatives, or concerned that the high benefits might permit you to earn inordinately high profit margins

Emphasize your customized, targeted solution. Review or introduce your trade analysis. Some government buyers will require you to disclose your costs and margins

We’re all set with our current vendor.

Unconvinced that your solution is sufficiently better to justify making the switch

Review your discrimination. Offer to offset selected transition costs.

We had a poor experience with your organization or a similar organization.

See minimal difference between your proposed solution and prior familiar solutions

Offer specific proof of performance linked to specific personnel proposed. Highlight the lessons learned and improvements made compared to your solution or other solutions that the customer cited.

Figure 3. Handling Objections Is a Process; Listen, Acknowledge, and Empathize. Ask questions in your conversations with customers to demonstrate that you are interested, want to understand, and are fully engaged.

Summary

  • Recognize how customers buy, then exploit varied sales opportunities.
  • Help customers discover potential benefits.
  • Ask questions frequently in opportunity/capture. Never assume, but ask and actively listen during every customer interaction.
  • Establish rapport and build trust by becoming a trusted adviser.
  • Interact effectively with groups and facilitate your meetings.
  • Anticipate and handle objections throughout the capture process.
  • Test your potential solution with the customer early and often.
  • Develop a logical business case for buying.
  • Seek agreement rather than to close the sale.
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