COMMENTARY

When to do a Black Hat review and when not to

“When should we do a Black Hat review?” This is a question that we receive very often. It is a smart question with a simple answer.

Remember the Goldilocks principle.

The simple wisdom captured in the children’s story “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” has been applied in a number of fields of study. The underlying idea can be simply captured as “Not too hot… not too cold… just right!” The same principle applies to the timing around a Black Hat review. 

Why does the timing matter? Think about the purpose of the Black Hat review and what comes afterwards.

Purpose: Gain insight into strategies and tactics likely to be utilized by competitors to win business.

Outcome: Insight leads to actions for the capture team to execute in order to enhance their likelihood of a win.

Timing is critical. This addresses the “when” of a Black Hat review. Check out other blogs on the topic such as “Optimizing Your Black Hat Review” for more guidance on how to conduct a Black Hat review effectively. 

Timing is important in terms of two major factors.

  • Do you have a mature enough capture to understand the fundamentals of the customer and competitive environment? If not, this may mean it is too early for the Black Hat.
  • Do you have time before the final request for proposals is released to actually take actions based on the Black Hat review? If not, this may mean it is too late for the Black Hat to bring meaningful value.

Factor #1 is connected to the maturity of your capture effort. Ask yourself these questions to determine your measure of capture readiness.

  • Do I have first-hand knowledge of core customer needs, wants and fears specific to the opportunity?
  • Can I confidentially narrow down an array of competitors to under half a dozen? Note this is an arbitrary number, but “we’re competing against everyone on GSA Alliant” is far from a credible list to execute a Black Hat review without significant intermediate steps. 
  • Do I have even a draft solution to address customer needs, wants and fears? Note this is NOT your boilerplate response with best-of-breed, award-winning, industry leading, synergistic, cross-platformed, holistic ideas. This is some draft solution that wouldn’t yield epic eye rolls in true teenager style. 

Factor #1 ensures that you have more than just a vague clue of how you can address customer needs and who you are likely up against.

Factor #2 is simply a practical sense of timing. Do you have time left to utilize the outcome of a good Black Hat review? 

Don’t waste your time “checking the box.” Seriously, don’t do it! If you realize “Oh no! The RFP is imminent! I need to do a Black Hat review.” Trying to rush a good Black Hat review right before the RFP is akin to doing a tummy tuck on a patient in cardiac arrest. You have more significant problems. 

Consider the time and energy it takes to do a good Black Hat review. There is preparation (competitor analysis and gaining meaningful participants), execution, and post-session analysis. Then there is acting on what you learned. If a Black Hat review forces you to seriously adjust your solution (teaming, technical, customer interaction, etc.) and you have days or a few weeks at most before the final RFP is released, you are better off getting ready for the RFP or simply NOT BIDDING.

There are many instances when Factor #2 is utterly ignored which often leads nowhere. This can lead to a lot of investment with a proverbial roll of the dice in terms of impact. We had a recent occurrence in which a client was a fundamentally unorthodox competitor. This competitive position was further understood with more detail through the Black Hat review. However, the timing was not favorable for actions and communicating the value of that unorthodox approach. The outsider went from a potentially appealing and unconventional competitor to dead on arrival in part due to an inability to execute meaningful actions developed through the Black Hat review. 

What can you take away from this?

  • “Not too cold and not too hot” applies to Black Hat timing.
  • We generally target Black Hat reviews for 4-8 months before a final RFP in complex federal contract captures.
  • Provide enough time for preparation otherwise you will end up “checking the box” without meaningful results.
  • Ensure enough time afterwards for action; we’re not doing this for fun…this is to WIN!

Sometimes it is difficult to have narrowed down a credible range of competitors. Our competitive landscape is far from static. If you don’t have enough insight into a competitive landscape, that may benefit from a competitor scan to narrow down an array of competitors.

Check out our blog on competitor scans for more details.

About the Author

Brian Lindholm is the owner and managing principal of FedSavvy Strategies, a professional services company focused on market and competitive intelligence in the U.S. government market.

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