For our fourth post in the Perfecting the Proposal series, we spoke with John Coe, Capture Specialist at Trident Proposals about the capture process. Coe has a unique job function. He acts as a mediator between his Government contractor clients and their customers (the Government). By keeping communication open and proactive both ways, he helps his clients to shape the RFP before it’s released and win the bid. He also helps the Government customer get what they want or need from industry in the best way possible.
“My clients and their Government customers all basically want the same thing—to achieve their mission. I try to help both sides think about how they are going to do that by diffusing and demystifying the entire process.” John Coe
Shaping the Government RFP Through Education
At Capture2, we can’t talk enough about the importance of knowing your customers not only so you can anticipate their wants and needs, but also so you can shape the Government’s RFP to your advantage. Coe seconds that and offers advice about your approach: Help customers solve their problems by educating them. This is better than offering unsolicited advice. It’s a lot more open and authentic.
Coe calls this a “less-is-more approach.” Don’t overprescribe things to your customer as this gives off a “salesy” and opportunistic vibe. His advice, “All of your conversations with the customer need to be about the customer. The less you suggest and the more you listen and educate, the better they feel. Otherwise, you come across as too vested and you lose their trust.”
In addition to shaping the contract vehicles during the RFI or Pre-RFP time zone, you might be able to talk with the customer about the structure of their requirements. Do they articulate those in a prescriptive way or do they state their objectives, allowing more freedom for the industry side? Shaping the structure of the Government RFP is not just about winning. It’s so you and your customer can have a contract for the next five years (or whatever the period of performance is) actually worth having. As Coe says, “It’s a real shame when the contract gets in the way of the mission. It hinders the industry’s ability to help the Government customer and prevents the Government from taking full advantage of the services that industry offers.”
Starting Early in the Capture Process
If shaping is a fundamental part of winning, capture is the whole process of getting ready. The key to getting ready is to start early. Most contractors think preparing for the response is an isolated activity they do on their own since it typically involves teaming or staffing. What they don’t know is that an amenable customer would prefer to be engaged with the industry side throughout that process, because it gives the customer an opportunity to share their wants and needs.
Coe says, “Your customer will want to put off the procurement process as long as they can. The longer things get put off, the more likely the whole mission will lead to sloppy, less desirable, boilerplate output that doesn’t yield optimal end results. The sooner you and your customer get started; the better for everyone.”
A common adage in the Government contracting industry is: You don’t want your client to learn something about you for the first time in your proposal. That means you haven’t been educating them and sharing your good ideas. If for some reason your proposal is redacted, you want your customer to still be able to associate your novel solution with your organization.
Another reason to start communicating with your customer early: you can sense when things aren’t going right and can use your backup plan. Here’s a scenario: You might have thought that if you were friendly enough with the customer, they would do whatever you suggested. What if the RFP doesn’t come out on the contract vehicle you recommended? What if it changes to a small business set aside and you’re a large business? Bottom line: If you started talking early enough, you’d allow yourself time to decide: prime, partner, or pass. The worst-case scenario would be to find yourself in a “no-win” position after exhausting your B&P budget chasing a dead-end.
Contract Management Best Practices
You only have a finite amount of time and funds to bid on a contract. Coe recommends as a best practice, that contractors first look at the tasks that will be the hardest to respond to and get those done first. These are what he calls the Highest Risk Focus. Ask yourself:
- How could a competitor beat you?
- What will take the most time to secure?
- What is the most important thing, from your customer’s perspective, that you get right?
All of the above answers take time to address and the last thing you want to do is address them during the RFP’s 30-day (on average) ticking clock.
Coe advises his clients to ask themselves what the Government would do if it were left to its own devices? The answer is their process, whatever that happens to be, would keep moving forward and the RFP would take its own course, which you don’t want.
If you do nothing with your customer—no engagement, no education, no pre-planning—how much harder will that make your life and theirs? At the core of every RFP is a mission and there are either good/easy ways to achieve it; or bad/cumbersome ways. It’s up to you how much help you want to be to yourself and to your customer.
For our fifth post of the series, High Impact Proposal Writing, we’re going to really focus in on some great tips for not only making sure your proposal is compliant but also tells a great story about your organization.