Bob Lohfeld

COMMENTARY

Five passing grades you need to lead the pack

A focus on positioning means asking the right questions

Ever wonder why some companies appear to be the odds-on favorite to win a contract?

Positioning effectiveness score card

Positioning Objective

Assessment Criteria

Understand requirements and objectives.

Requirements and objectives discussed with multiple people at customer organization.

Establish company credibility and interest.

Company viewed as a leader with known corporate, technical and project management teams in addition to solid past performance and experience.

Preview preliminary solution with customer.

Well-developed solution with features linked to objectives and approach vetted with customer to get buy-in and solution validation.

Achieve acceptance of win strategy (technical, management, past performance, teaming, price) accepted by customer.

Win strategy well established, previewed and accepted by customer.

Influence the request for proposals.

Procurement strategy, proposal instructions, and evaluation criteria favorable.

A well-orchestrated, prerequest for proposals ritual goes on long before a procurement is released for bid. Company business development, technical and management professionals step up the frequency of visits to their customers to better understand customer objectives and to perfect their company’s solution. Those professionals also preview their solutions with government stakeholders to validate assumptions and build advocacy for their company’s offering. Their focus is simple: ensuring their proposed solution meets or exceeds government requirements and resonates with the customer.

Those industry professionals work to shape the agency’s procurement strategy, ensuring it is favorable to their firm and the solutions they will propose. Offering insights on procurement strategy; choice of contract vehicles; RFP instructions, evaluation factors, subfactors, and criteria; contract terms and conditions; and pricing approaches are the norm. Discussion topics in some procurements, such as the Air Force tanker contract, include single award versus multiple award. Other pursuits focus on full-and-open competition versus set-aside programs and which of the many set-aside types should be used. Should the government limit proposals to 50 pages or 500 pages? Should there be two or 20 key personnel résumés? Should the award be made on the basis of best value or does the technically acceptable lowest price win? All are important considerations, and the top contenders will have a voice in the outcome of each.

Throughout this positioning ritual, companies aim to be viewed by the customer as one of the small group of top contenders for award.

Positioning Is Important

Positioning is one of the fundamental steps in capture management. As a capture manager, you want to ensure the government knows your firm and its reputation for excellence, in addition to your management team, planned technical approach, past performance and ability to price competitively. You want to validate your understanding of the government’s requirements and objectives, test the features of your solution to ensure that they bring value to the customer, and present your teaming strategy and team members. Finally, you want to validate that your win strategy separates your firm from other top contenders.

A positioning score card is a useful tool to assess how well you are positioned. The sidebar figure shows a typical score card used to measure the effectiveness of your positioning campaign. It describes each positioning objective and the criteria used to assess how well you achieved each objective. Additional objectives, such as risk, past performance, teaming and so on, can be added based on your specific circumstances and the competitive field. If you cannot show that you have accomplished each positioning objective, you have work to do. If you run out of time to do the required positioning work, it is likely that others are better positioned in this race.

Your goal should be to position your firm as the top contender. Proper positioning lays the groundwork for a win well before the acquisition takes place and makes you a partner in the acquisition development. If you help define the battlefield, your odds of winning increase.

About the Author

Bob Lohfeld is the chief executive officer of the Lohfeld Consulting Group. E-mail is robert.lohfeld@lohfeldconsulting.com.

Reader Comments

Mon, Mar 22, 2010 Michael Lent Washington, DC

All sensible, proven advice for companies with the right capabilities and capacity to deliver, with one exception. There is some outdated advice in this column: "Those industry professionals work to shape the agency’s procurement strategy, ensuring it is favorable to their firm and the solutions they will propose." This "shaping" gives almost all stakeholders on the government side the shivers, except perhaps some bold end-customers. Contracting officers, eval panels, agency counsel, IGs, and the panoply of outside overseers are oriented, these days, to barring the kind of influence described. The column might have noted that firms that attempt that kind of positioning have been forced to do it furtively, as such influence pedaling is unfriendly to transparency, and vice versa. Government employees and contractors found to have connived to embed particular company advantage in an RFP are subject to a variety of sanctions, some of them severe. Yes, not too long ago, services and IT systems firms did not have to cloak their positioning activities. And smart clients-to-be still want to exploit the ideas of prospective sources. But the government, and especially the present administration, is arrayed to homogenize and publicize and broaden industry contacts with the government to bar such influence on RFPs. Clever folks still try it, but the risk is higher. Boeing certainly did it on a grand scale and is getting away with it. But the tanker buy, mentioned in passing in the column, is, in all its messiness, a poor example of positioning. Most companies, especially in services, do not have the brawn and the will to engage in brazen political rugby with the government and figurative knife fights with competitors. And for the government, especially the Dept. of the AF and the AF Staff, the tanker saga since inception has been a powerful example, in most respects, of what not to do in acquisition strategy and planning and contractor positioning.

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