Bob Lohfeld


20 BD habits to kill off in 2015

Instead of writing about all the things companies should do to be more successful in their business acquisition efforts, I thought I would lead off the year by writing about the things companies should stop doing.

Too many companies are stuck in the past with obsolete and ineffective practices that make their captures non-productive and proposals unnecessarily expensive. If you think this might apply to your company, then the first step for 2015 should be to drive out all the bad practices in order to make way for all the new practices you’ll need to win.

Here’s my list of some of the more egregious habits we’ve seen in companies. I hope that none of these apply to your firm, but just in case they do, make sure you put them on your kill list for 2015.

Capture management bad habits

1. Helter-skelter capture process

Don’t go another year without defining your capture process, making it repeatable across all deals you pursue, managing every deal using your process without exception, and measuring how well you execute each step. The more consistently you execute the process, the better you will get at planning and executing winning capture campaigns.

2. No customer knowledge

Never underestimate the importance of customer knowledge and understanding. The bidder who understands the customer the best is most likely to win. Customer knowledge is so important that we make capture teams repeat daily the phrase, “Best informed wins.” If you don’t have any customer knowledge, then be realistic about your chance of winning, and make a good management decision and don’t bid.

3. Lopsided call plan

Most call plans focus on the technical or program side of a government agency, but forget to include the contracting officer (CO) in the call plan. For many deals, you will want to visit the CO to shape the procurement in your favor, if possible, and always remember this may be the person who is the source selection authority.

4. Delaying solution development

How many times have you heard the technical team say, “There is no RFP out, so how can we develop a solution?” This is just a way of dodging the need to do real solutioning work during capture. Doing it now lets you find out what you don’t know and gives you time to validate your solution with the customer. If you don’t start developing your solution during capture, you are running behind your competition.

5. Forgetting competitive analysis

Ignoring your competition leads you right into the trap where what you don’t know gets you every time. Obsess about your competition—what you are going to do and how you are going to neutralize their strengths.

6. No price to win analysis

There is nothing more distressing than to realize you’ve worked for months pursuing a program and have made no progress in determining how to get to a winning price or even if you can. Don’t ignore price to win. It has to be integral to your capture effort, and you need to base your analysis on real market data, not just management intuition.

7. Unvetted subcontractors

Ever have a subcontractor bring you a deal and then after you bid with them, you discover the customer hates them? It happens more often than you might think. I’ve never seen a subcontractor yet who doesn’t say the customer loves them. Trust, but verify, is a good teaming practice to follow.

8. Waffling on resource commitments

Be in it to win, and pour on the resources when needed. Starving a capture effort resource-wise is a sure way to finish in second place or even further back in the loser list. Don’t under-resource your capture efforts.

9. Bad bid decisions

Every technical team that reads an RFP and thinks they can do the work if awarded the contract wants to bid the job. The question to ask is not can we do the work, it is always, can we win. I still see companies bidding jobs because they want to do the work without a clue about what it takes to win. Will they ever learn that this is a losing practice?

10. No capture tools

Gone are the days when the only capture tool was a pad of paper. We now have capture tools that help automate the planning and execution of your capture campaign and integrate these activities with proposal development. If you are going to play in the major league of capture, you need to use these tools to their fullest.

Proposal bad habits

1. Late bid decisions

If you wait until the RFP has been out for 2 weeks to make your bid decision, then you are way behind the competition. Serious bidders have already done the capture work and are well along on their proposals. I know you are good, but most companies are not good enough to overcome this kind of competitive slow start.

2. Shifting proposal outlines

It seems so straightforward to build your proposal outline based on the information in the RFP, yet companies continue to change the outline with every review. Let’s stop this practice of a meandering outline and, instead, assign experienced people to build and validate the proposal outline before you get started.

3. Writing without a solution

Inexperienced proposal teams often start writing without a solution, hoping that if they lay down enough text, a solution will emerge. Instead, most of this writing ends up in the shred box. Understand the solution before you write. It’s the same in software development—design before you code.

4. Setting expectations for writers

More is not better. If you have three pages available to write your text and you come back with six, you haven’t helped the effort. Similarly, handing in bullet charts instead of prose does not constitute a first draft. Be clear about expectations, and don’t give anyone more time than they need to compose their first draft.

5. Skipping the editing process

If you think it’s embarrassing to discover that the proposal you just submitted referred to your customer as the Navy when they are NASA, imagine how this affects the government evaluators. It certainly undermines all the statements you made in your proposal about how important this bid is to your company and how you understand the customer. A good editing pass across every proposal is essential if your goal is to present a professional bid.

6. Kill the storyboards

Storyboards seem to take on a life of their own and become speed bumps in the path of making good progress on proposals. Very few technical professionals can write effective proposal prose from storyboards. Kill the storyboards and replace them with annotated outlines, and quickly move from outlines to text. You will be much better off without the storyboards.

7. Color reviews that miss the mark

Most color reviews follow the proposal instructions with large groups of people sitting around the table wordsmithing the text. While no one doubts that the proposal must be compliant with the instructions, we must always remember that evaluators score proposals using the evaluation criteria. Always review your proposal from the point of view of the evaluation criteria, and see how many strengths you can find. You’ll be amazed at how few strengths are actually observed in proposals and how poorly they will score without doing a strengths review.

8. Inadequate proposal training

With so much riding on how well you write proposals, you would think that everyone who is drafted to work on a proposal has gone through some training. More often than not, this is not the case. It’s time to stop assigning inadequately trained people to write proposals and start insisting on some level of training and competency as a prerequisite to participating on a proposal team.

9. Misallocating proposal effort

Not all parts of a proposal are equally important, so allocate effort to the parts that evaluators will closely read and score. Allocate your effort and talent where the points are, and stop spending countless hours on sections of the proposal that aren’t as important (while remembering to submit a compliant proposal).

10. Underutilized lessons learned

Follow every proposal submission with a lessons-learned exercise that involves everyone who participated in the capture and proposal efforts. If you are going to learn from each proposal experience, you will need to discover what worked well and what didn’t. Make the review a learning experience, and stop relearning the same thing after each proposal.

Hopefully, you haven’t seen any of these wayward practices in your company, but just in case you have, make note that you will need to drive these out of your culture if you are going to up your capture and proposal game in 2015.

Reader Comments

Thu, Jan 15, 2015 Bart Malthusa

After grappling w the jargon and realizing the substance, I daresay that almost all of the suggestions should be routine, commonsensical, heads-up management. No special training or education for a good manager to plan and execute. One more reason why "BD" professionals often get no respect from colleagues and clients alike for appearing rather like empty suits. I have good friends in this function, but they move around a lot because it is hard to justify their salaries and work week (short side) compared with real traceable results.

Fri, Jan 9, 2015 matthew

BD - Business Development, great article, good advice - thanks.

Fri, Jan 9, 2015

Robert, what you are recommending as tips is the way Business Development and Capture was done in the "Past" aka obsolete era. What you are currently describing is of course, the more recent Past. No one wants experienced people in their employ any longer for god forbid you might have to pay for the experience. And OH Lord, they must be over 50 and we can't have that now, can we ?

Thu, Jan 8, 2015 Leesburg, VA

How do you define the start and end to the Capture Process?

Thu, Jan 8, 2015

Could someone define "BD" for me? I don't know quite why I received a pointer to this page, and I don't know if I'm interested in "BD habits" since I don't know what they are....

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