Opportunity/Capture Plan Development

Opportunity/capture planning is the process of identifying opportunities, assessing the environment, and developing and managing the implementation of winning strategies orientated toward capturing a specific business opportunity. Consistently successful opportunity/capture management requires written, action-orientated opportunity/capture plans. These document the actions and capabilities required to meet the customer’s needs and win the bid.

Introduction

Long before the RFP is released, your customer is forming opinions of potential suppliers.

The aim of opportunity/capture planning is to position the customer to prefer your organization and your solution to the exclusion of competitors, or to at least prefer to do business with your organization prior to proposals being submitted.

An opportunity/capture planning best practice is to prepare a written, action-orientated plan. Although the length, complexity, and format may vary, a written plan offers reviewable evidence of the quality of thinking and the soundness of the plan.

The primary audience for an opportunity/capture plan are the people who will manage, approve, or execute the plan, the proposal, and the resulting contract.

A good opportunity/capture plan will be realistic and specific, detailing the objective, action, responsible individual, timing, and frequency of review. Organizations that use a formal opportunity/capture planning discipline are helped in the following ways:

  • More realistic understanding of each opportunity
  • Improved bid decision
  • Greater consensus and information transfer among individuals pursuing each opportunity
  • Saved time, reduced opportunity/capture cost, and improved win rates

Opportunity/capture planning is initiated following the pursuit decision process milestone and continues into program start-up.

Best Practices

1. Implement an opportunity/capture planning discipline to capture business more effectively.

Opportunity/capture planning offers benefits to everyone involved:

  • Executives gain early and regular visibility over business development opportunities
  • Sales and business development professionals win more opportunities by efficiently specifying and managing opportunity/capture activities
  • Senior Managers increase sales revenue by efficiently deploying limited business development resources
  • Participants are motivated by knowing their efforts are productive
  • Employees stay employed
  • Stockholders make money

Unlike the top-down management-driven corporate planning process, opportunity/capture planning is opportunity specific. Opportunity/capture plans are driven bottom-up by the opportunity and the customer. To meet the organization’s goals, sufficient specific business opportunities must be won. The discipline associated with best-in-class opportunity/capture planning aligns organizational objectives and investment with high-win probability opportunities within approved strategic business objectives.

Opportunity/capture planning nests efficiently within existing business development and planning processes. Strategic business plans contain data about markets, trends, buying history, and competitors. Some organizations will prepare a strategic plan and a separate annual business plan.

Account plans contain data about the customer’s strategic direction, management, history, financial performance, issues, buying plans and patterns, competition, and suppliers. Strategic business plans and account plans are rich sources of data for the opportunity/capture plan. Much of the information in one plan can be reused in subsequent plans, such as proposal or closure plans.

Business opportunity/capture efficiency and effectiveness are improved when all employees have consistent information and communicate consistent messages to customers. Business development professionals often question the emphasis on a written plan. Because an opportunity/capture plan is the product of a collaborative effort, contrast the before-and-after states, summarized in Figure 1.

PRE-PLAN STATE POST-PLAN STATE
Fuzzy concepts Clear concepts
Information known individually Information shared among entire team
Potential actions not aligned, assigned, or managed Potential actions are aligned, efficiently allocated, assigned, and manageable
Willingness to take action is not known Willingness to take action is still unknown but likely increased

Figure 1. Benefits of Written Plans. In the pre-plan state, each individual may have inconsistent information. When the plan is collaboratively written, individuals share information, every individual has more information, and potential actions can be agreed to and aligned. Both states require the willingness to take action, or your efforts are wasted.

2. Enhance opportunity/capture planning effectiveness by aligning activities and opportunity/capture plan elements.

In the overall context of moving from an unknown to a favored position with the customer, Figure 2 shows the types of activities and the focus of those activities aligned with opportunity/capture plan elements.

Figure 2. Aligning the Opportunity/Capture Planning Process.
Figure 2. Aligning the Opportunity/Capture Planning Process to the Opportunity/Capture Plan. In the overarching opportunity/capture planning process, you seek to move from positions of “unknown” to “known,” and then to an “improved position.” Elements of the opportunity/capture plan are matched to this iterative process by phase. The specific content of your opportunity/capture plans will vary depending on the opportunity, your organization, and the value of the opportunity to your organization.

To move from an unknown to a known position with the customer, research, analyze, and validate your data with the customer. Validation is key because the only relevant view is the customer’s view. It’s not enough to know what requirements a customer may include in an RFP. You must also determine why those requirements are included.

Similarly, it’s not enough to know which competitors are planning to bid. You must also gain insight into what they’ll offer, at what price, and most importantly, what the customer thinks of them.

When you have completed this analysis, take the intelligence you’ve developed and complete a Bidder Comparison Matrix. This tool scores the strengths and weaknesses of all significant bidders against the “what” and “why” of the requirements. Try to reflect the customer’s perception in your scores. Otherwise, your evaluation may be skewed in your favor. Full honesty in this exercise is difficult, but it’s important for success.

The next step is to document the strengths and weaknesses of each potential bidder. The best-known way to do this is using a SWOT analysis, but other techniques, such as gap analysis and the chain of differentiation, can be useful in certain situations.

Many strengths and weaknesses will surface during the bidder comparison exercise to justify the scores selected for each team. Others are known characteristics that may not be directly related to this opportunity. Examples might include recent changes in company leadership, legal actions or judgments, or even rumors about merger and acquisition activity. Competitor weaknesses are viewed as opportunities. Their strengths are considered threats. When completed, this SWOT analysis will drive your win strategy.

The next step is to develop and define your solution, strategy, cost, and price-to-win from a known position. The listed opportunity/capture plan elements comprise tools and templates that help you develop and document your position. Next, implement your action plans to influence the customer and improve your position. Change requires action. Keep iterating to achieve and then maintain a favored position. With every action, factor newly gained information into your analysis. Fine-tune your solution, strategy, cost, and price-to-win. Update your action plans and implement.

3. Select a compatible medium to develop, review, share, and update opportunity/capture plans.

An opportunity/capture plan is a framework—a series of folders or buckets where you assemble and organize data by topic. Ask opportunity/capture team members to add, update, share, and purge data as relevant and permitted. The following types of collaboration tools are typically used to develop, collaborate, and share opportunity/capture plans:

Type of Opportunity/Capture Tool Template ADVANTAGES DISADVANTAGES
Text-based document Pre-prepared table of contents; Familiar format; Allows reading before gate decisions Long time to prepare; Hard to update; Often not current; Multiple outdated versions on laptops
Presentation-based plan Easy to prepare, review, and update collaboratively; Is web conference adaptable, offers ease of scheduling, reduces meeting costs, and secures input from geographically dispersed team members; Easily customized Customization can be problematic or not carried out fully; Lacks supporting detail (requires all contributors to provide links or references or attach supporting files and folders); Multiple outdated versions on laptops
Web browser collaboration tools Structure collaboratively; Share and document in one location; Latest data is always available; Help communication with a team in multiple geographic time zones; Senior Managers can track progress easily; Generally work well across operating systems and platforms Each team member has to be granted access to specific folders; Person controlling access is not always readily available for geographically dispersed team members
Database products Transparent and near-automatic data reuse from plan to plan saves time and preserves data; Data security and control are improved Might require additional software or training; May require specific operating systems and/or platform

Opportunity/capture plans evolve continuously as new content is added, but standard topics are helpful in guiding the process to develop an opportunity/capture plan regardless of whatever medium is used:

  • Opportunity overview—executive summary
  • External analysis (detailed descriptions of the opportunity and its requirements, customer analysis, and competitor analysis)
  • Internal analysis (the proposed solution; your experience and risk, including opportunity and pricing)
  • Strategy development (customer communication and intelligence gathering, win strategy, and risk management)
  • Action plans
  • Execution and monitoring

4. Keep the process dynamic, flexible, interactive, and current.

Keep the opportunity/capture planning process flexible to permit adjustments depending on the importance of the opportunity to your organization, the competitive situation, and the resources your organization can afford to commit. Avoid becoming a slave to your process. Adapt to the needs and acceptable norms of your organization.

Build the plan interactively to support a fast start with reasonable effort and to encourage regular updates. Opportunity/capture plans are living documents that are repeatedly updated as you gain information. Information will change and become more specific as the opportunity matures.

Figure 3. Iteratively Develop Your Opportunity/Capture Plan.
Figure 3. Iteratively Develop Your Opportunity/Capture Plan. Keep opportunity/capture planning current and correct by repeatedly updating the content. Populate: complete what you think you know; validate: check and confirm; update: add and correct data; and implement.

Work collaboratively with the customer to craft a solution addressing explicit requirements and hot buttons.

The opportunity/capture planning process should be dynamic, flexible, current, and collaborative. At this stage, your solution is notional, but it should reflect the intelligence developed to date and position your offer positively with the customer. Using all the elements of your opportunity/capture plan, including internal and external intelligence, craft a proactive solution outline. Create a clear customer contact plan and agree on the messaging you want to present to the customer.

Present your notional solution to the customer to obtain feedback on how to strengthen your solution and even to shape the requirements to favor your offer.

As you continue to refine and improve your intelligence, the specifics of the customer’s concerns, requirements, issues, and hot buttons will surface. In response, your solution must evolve to gain even greater traction with the buyer and reflect customer-focused writing. Execution of your win strategies improves your solution, so focus on developing differentiation beyond the reach of your competitors (i.e., discriminators).

The period before the RFP drops is also the time to develop pricing, gather past performance data, and select relevant case studies and metrics to use as proof points.

5. Keep a good balance between planning and execution.

Changing perceptions requires action. Detailed plans without action are a waste of time because they fail to influence the customers’ perceptions. Limit your plans to the resources available. If more resources are needed than your organization will commit to win, reconsider your pursuit decision.

Effective opportunity/capture planning requires a balance between planning and carrying out actions.

6. Carry out customer, competitor, and capability analysis using consistent tools, even when time is short.

Use consistent analysis tools and apply them throughout the opportunity/capture process. Early in the process, use it to focus collaboratively with the customer to define the issues and influence the requirements.

If you discover an opportunity after requirements are defined, use it to define the underlying issues driving the customer’s requirements.

Next, extend your analysis to outline your solution, outline your competitors’ solutions, and identify discriminators, and then develop your strategy and actions to better position your solution with the customer.

The Bidder Comparison Matrix or SWOT is used to analyze the customer’s current perception of how your solution compares to those of various competitors. Use it repeatedly throughout the opportunity/capture process to measure the strength and effectiveness of your positioning.

7. Gain and maintain senior management approval and support.

Top management must endorse and help communicate the plan to everyone managing and executing the plan, as well as those impacted by the reassignment of individuals to support the plan.

Management support must begin with the pursuit decision and continue through to the signed contract. If the opportunity remains worth winning, keep management sold by emphasizing the value to organizations. If contingent items change your assumptions, revisit your pursuit or bid decision.

Recognize and avoid the bias toward “comfortable information.” Opportunity/Capture Managers should be able to reveal negative information to senior management. Similarly, senior management should never punish an Opportunity/Capture Manager for honestly revealing new information that might suggest a no-pursuit or no-bid decision.

8. Commit the right people to the opportunity/capture team.

Organizations pursuing competitive business should assign their best people to opportunity/capture teams. Organizations that assign only the people they can spare from other activities usually lose the sale.

Opportunity/Capture Manager is normally a role rather than a position. This role requires a person with customer and market knowledge, sales savvy, proposal experience, leadership skills, broad technical understanding, knowledge of the organization, and positive enthusiasm. The Opportunity/Capture Manager advocates the customer’s position while focusing on winning the opportunity. The Opportunity/Capture Manager is concerned by the customer’s budget, the program cost, risk, competitive analysis, opportunity/capture strategy, price-to-win, the customer’s view of best value, and implementing the opportunity/capture strategy.

Program Manager is likely to be a position as well as a role. The Program Manager advocates for the selling organization, focusing on profit, the seller’s risk, schedule, personnel, resources, assumptions, terms and conditions, and the shape of the delivery organization.

The Bid Manager role, while not mutually exclusive to the Opportunity/Capture Manager role, requires different skills to integrate the concerns of the opportunity/capture team and Opportunity/Capture Managers. The Program Manager focuses on compliance, responsiveness, keeping the proposal strategy aligned with the opportunity/capture strategy, proposal strategy implementation, and managing a team of solution experts to produce a persuasive document with set deadlines.

In addition to leadership, opportunity/capture team members’ skills must be suited to their assigned action, whether direct customer contact, internal development, or assisting the proposal team.

Figure 4. Powerful Leadership of the Business Opportunity.
Figure 4. Powerful Leadership of the Business Opportunity. Win rates improve when the Opportunity/Capture, Program, and Proposal Managers’ relationships are balanced and integrated.

When you understand what it will take to move from an improved position to a favored one, establish the resources and budget required. The strategic importance of the opportunity will affect the level of resources and budget committed to the effort.

If the opportunity is significant enough and your organization is able to provide the necessary resources, the Opportunity/Capture Manager can continue to focus on improving the win probability. If not, it may be a good idea to no-bid, or consider switching to a subcontractor position with another firm acting as the prime contractor.

Initiate teaming and make/buy decisions

Teaming partners are a key means of achieving capabilities not available within your own organization. Teaming is also important in public sector bidding to achieve small business or other set-aside goals. A third benefit of teaming is the ability to keep discriminating capabilities from your competition. You can improve your competitive position by cementing good partnerships early.

Teaming can also facilitate make/buy decisions. As its name suggests, a make/buy decision occurs when an organization must choose between producing a product in-house or purchasing it from a vendor. Teammates may offer strategic opportunities if they have a brand favored by your customer. Consider your legal options (joint venture, prime/subcontractor relationship, or supplier) and get a confidentiality agreement and/or memorandum of understanding in place early.

Making make/buy decisions early can avoid distractions later and preserve vital resources for when you need them most. For maximum effectiveness, teammates should be involved in strategy development, competitor reviews, kickoff meetings, and other important activities.

9. Assign specific, measurable objectives, schedules, and completion dates to actions and individuals.

Most opportunity/capture team action assignments are part-time and for a limited duration. Only the managers of the assigned individuals can ensure task completion.

Many opportunity/capture efforts fail because the individuals assigned to the task are expected to complete the task in their spare time.

The Opportunity/Capture Manager is responsible for finding a way to get each critical task listed in the plan completed. This often involves negotiating with the Senior Managers responsible for the right amount of resources both in time and effort. If the right resources are not forthcoming, the Opportunity/Capture Manager must consider whether the task can be eliminated or explain to senior stakeholders the consequences of not having the right resources available for the task. Another option is for the Opportunity/Capture Manager to recommend a no-bid due to lack of resources; this often focuses the minds of the senior stakeholders on how important the opportunity actually is to the company. The single biggest reason for losing competitive business is the failure to adequately influence the customer prior to the proposal submittal. Set and schedule specific measurable action objectives to simplify task management.

Figure 5. Typical Role Involvement During Opportunity/Capture.
Figure 5. Typical Role Involvement During Opportunity/Capture. Time commitments of individuals in different types of roles vary throughout the business development process. A Business Development Manager leads the process, then hands over responsibility to an Opportunity/Capture Manager. The Opportunity/Capture Manager’s involvement declines as the Technical Lead and Bid Manager become more involved in proposal development.

10. Establish regular gate decision points.

Decision gate reviews are milestones between business development process phases.

Focus on four key questions:

  • Is the opportunity winnable?
  • Do the potential returns justify the expenditure?
  • Is the opportunity/capture team prepared for the next phase?
  • What additional resources are required to win?

Keep the reviews short and effective, focus on reviewing the actions taken, analyzing the results of those actions, and then adjusting future actions.

Base every decision gate review on the current opportunity/capture plan. Keep your plans updated, eliminating the need to prepare for each review.

Establish organizational standards for each review. Set clear expectations by specifying review inputs and outputs linked to the value of the opportunity, selling the environment and strategic importance to your organization and the customer.

Progressively add content and detail as the opportunity matures and you advance through successive gates. Your initial interest decision gate will likely be short and have information at a basic level, but successive bid and bid validation reviews should expect to review how the plan has changed and what information has been added. Each gate decision or bid validation review should expect to see additional information as evidence that the opportunity/capture phase is progressing to the plan.

Recheck the underlying data, assumptions, and analysis only when objectives are not met or new data is uncovered. Reviewers that over-focus on the data and analysis usually under-focus on future actions. Changing a customer’s perceptions requires action, not analysis.

Maintain a positive, constructive tone. Avoid penalizing contributors who raise unfavorable information that might lead to no-pursuit or no-bid decisions. Remember that the most successful organizations eventually pursue less than 30 percent of their pipeline and achieve win rates of more than 70 percent.

Early warning signs for a no-bid decision are limited information or limited opportunity/capture team or senior management commitment. Winning competitive business requires laser focus on winnable opportunities.

Losing bid are the most costly bid. No-bid decisions free you to shift limited resources to winnable opportunities.

11. Conduct opportunity/capture plan and competitor simulation reviews.

The essential quality-improvement principle is to review for the right things at the right time. Use reviews to get constructive recommendations for opportunity/capture plan improvements. Focus reviews during opportunity/capture on quality improvement; focus Senior Managers at decision gates on whether to advance, defer, or end the pursuit.

Make sure the reviewers can offer different perspectives on the customer, competitor, and solution. Constructive recommendations on the opportunity/capture plan and independent assessments of the competitor solutions and discriminators allow the Opportunity Manager to build improvements on a broad perspective.

The following reviews should be carried out during the opportunity/capture process, and could be carried out many times as information is refined and things change:

  • win strategy Review
  • Competitor Strategy Review (Black Hat)

Use the opportunity/capture plan to help the proposal planning process; see Linking Opportunity/Capture Plans to Proposal Content and Executive Summaries.

Common Pitfalls and Misconceptions

Focusing on the plan rather than the customer. Opportunity/capture plans can be time-consuming to create, and teams may be eager to complete an opportunity/capture plan before focusing on other tasks. Keep in mind, however, that an opportunity/capture plan must be developed collaboratively with a customer. Spending time with your customer can improve your position (or reveal that you are unlikely to achieve a favorable position). Interacting with the customer during opportunity/capture plan development benefits your company in the long run.

Believing it’s enough to complete an initial opportunity/capture plan and have it reviewed. Opportunity/capture plans should evolve; if no new information has been added since the last gate review, question whether any progress has been made. If no progress has been made, is it time to make a no-bid decision?

Summary

  • Use opportunity/capture plans to document your work, inform your organization, and facilitate reviews.
  • Tailor and scale opportunity/capture plans to match the opportunity.
  • Endeavor to gather information collaboratively with the customer.
  • Endeavor to gather information on your competitors and their likely solutions and to monitor what changes.
  • An early draft of the executive summary is a key element of a good capture plan because it serves as a valuable aid in the transition between opportunity/capture planning to proposal planning and should be used to brief the proposal kickoff team.
  • Start early; front-loading proposal planning can give you more time to develop a winning proposal.
  • Remember to do the work, not just “fill out” the opportunity/capture plan. This means working closely with customers to understand their needs.
  • Keep completed opportunity/capture plans for reference and reuse on future deals.

Terms to Know

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