Bill Scheessele


Time to move BD efforts to the left

Today's market dictates that the earlier you spot opportunities the better the results

Sequestration or not, the government contracting market has changed.

We all heard the message when National Defense quoted Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter saying, “The era we enjoyed for 10 years is over. … What it means for managers is that you can’t fix [problems] with money. You need other management tools.”

With fewer government contracts to pursue, you can wax nostalgic about the gush of post-9/11 opportunities later; now’s the time to retool your business development processes.

Government contracting executives are discovering serious flaws in their companies’ traditional business development thinking and processes. The consensus from interviews with experienced professionals is this: if an organization starts a business pursuit at the capture stage, the endeavor is very likely doomed.

In this new normal business environment, anything tried and true is likely obsolete and outdated. You need other management tools.

Business development executives who lack a robust front-end methodology should start by developing a customer-facing roadmap for their BD teams to follow. They should incorporate a client engagement process into their front-end, way ahead of the capture stage. It’s working upstream or “left of capture.”

Real BD work begins far left of capture with early shaping during the opportunity identification and qualification phase. Business development professionals who have already shaped the battlefield well before the traditional capture folks have stepped onto the field have done so by building a trust factor into their BD cycles. This trust factor makes the difference between winning business or not in the transformed government contracting environment.

To repeat a mantra we often share, agencies and departments don’t buy, people buy. Customers purchase from individuals and their organizations that have proven their worth and won their confidence well in advance of any capture activities.

Backtracking and attempting to build trust and confidence retroactively via customary capture, no longer works. Trust is the smart capture result of a client engagement process (CEP) married with a timely opportunity identification and qualification phase, where human intelligence on the opportunity is obtained well in advance of any draft request for proposals.

For those of you who protest that retooling your BD processes takes time and money, let’s think about the cost of losing a must win contract. We all know that losses are more costly than ever given escalating bid and proposal investments.

With a nod to readers worrying about possible layoffs in the business development ranks, remember that individuals with a track record of knowing how to target opportunities early on for new business and engage prospects on the front end will always find potential career options. On the other hand, sticking to traditional capture pursuits with little or no early engagement will most likely land you with an occasion to “pursue other career opportunities” as the saying goes. You’re particularly vulnerable, if you are still locked into a non-diversified customer portfolio with an overexposure to the same dwindling customer base and little or no new business options.

Is it time you seriously consider other management tools?

We’ve learned from clients that if you haven’t nurtured and shaped the relationship beforehand or if you’re not positioned early on in obtaining valuable intelligence from those in a decision-making position using opportunity identification and qualification processes,… it’s nearly impossible to engage people and develop relationships in a timely manner later on in the capture phase.

Building trust and credibility takes time, and, as a consequence, it takes time to positively impact the decision making process. The opportunity identification and qualification phase requires time to gather first-hand, validated information to qualify (or disqualify) opportunities when executed correctly. In fact, from the verified experience shared by one of our clients, the higher up in the value chain you want to impact, the earlier you have to be engaged with the customer.

With no early engagement, the usual result is the business development/capture team has a very short timeline to accomplish a lot of work surrounding the opportunity. If you must schedule many information gathering calls with scores of people, you’ve left room for mistakes, assumptions and critical omissions in the rush to meet key capture and proposal deadlines. If you require customers to offer deference on your behalf to get the information you need to make your best proposal effort, they won’t be compelled to answer your calls to calendar appointments if you haven’t already developed rapport.

Conducting business pursuit post-mortems, we hear often that the opportunity needed stronger qualification (or disqualification) in advance before any capture activity ensued. Deciding early on whether an opportunity is qualified or disqualified is smart because not all contracts are worth the investment of your firm’s precious bid and proposal resources. From our experience and that of our clients, opportunity identification and qualification, anchored on gathering valid human intelligence in the early phases of your client engagement process, makes decision making efficient and cost-effective.

There’s a new normal environment to tackle in government contracting. Attempting to win business and grow revenue with old, outdated tools and processes that worked under previous and very different conditions is a recipe for disaster. What works now is engaging your customer early on, building a trust-based relationship, and shaping a win/win environment.

Resolve to work left of capture. Proactively seek the help you need to understand and execute new methodology. Use the new tools of client engagement and opportunity identification to build trust and drive the revenue growth results you require.

About the Author

Bill Scheessele is the CEO of MBDi, a global business development services firm providing expertise in Business Development best practices in the national security, defense, scientific, energy and engineering industries. The firm offers BD consulting services in addition to education workshops to help BD professionals and teams identify hidden strengths, barriers to progress and opportunities for improvement. Learn more about MBDi, their revenue growth resources and their new virtual training options at or 704.553.0000.

Reader Comments

Mon, Mar 4, 2013 Susan Musgrave Albuquerque, NM

Connections with the customer are critical. Before, during and after an opportunity, a good business developer will maintain and follow through across an entire career. To this day I maintain connections with the first customer to the last. It's what I enjoy and what needs to be done as trust is developed and friendship built. It's about being consistent and reliable at all times.

Mon, Mar 4, 2013

Mr. Scheessele seems to be out of touch with what is happening today. Customers can't tell you if an acquisition will have in 90 days or 2 years if they speak openly and frankly with you. Lately, using the best capture techniques for a define procurement often results in a team that is over powered, over costly in terms of pricing, and too much B&P and time allocated than necesaary; given limited resources this becomes distractors from winning. Retooling BD/Capture is necessary in this new business environment, but for executives with trusted professional friends (customers and partners) in their roledex, strong IT and management skills, and for generating trust that they will win and be fair to subs and great to the customer.

Fri, Mar 1, 2013 evan scott DC

Terrific article.The question is how many executives have these trusted relationships along with a track record of closing deals?How do companies compete for this talent? The answer is to retain an executive search firm who specializes in our market.The truth in this article is why our business was up 30% last year.

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