Why the job of capture manager is impossible and how your fate is determined by what you do about it

Capture management requires an entire company and not just a person

Capture management requires organizational development and not just a lucky hire. Sure it's possible to hire someone who can herd the cats and win a pursuit. Maybe win some more. There are some great capture managers out there. But there's a reason that turnover for capture managers is so high. And why on average most companies' win rates are so low.

Winning consistently requires organizational development and not just relying on luck. When the luck runs out, most companies blame their capture managers and hire a new one. And then another. And another. Looking to get lucky hiring the "right person" instead of changing the organization. 

The fate of your company is determined by when you realize that your future growth requires more than just lucky hiring. It is determined by how well you develop your organization. And how well that organization can implement capture management as a function instead of a role someone plays.

It's impossible to find someone with all of the knowledge and skills required for capture management, and it's impossible for them to be successful in the long term in a company that hasn't done anything more than just hire someone to do the job. 

To do the job of capture management you have to have more skill, knowledge, and experience than any one person can have:

See also:
Capture Management
  1. The technical discipline(s) relevant to what you are trying to capture. You will lead the offering design effort. You have to know when the engineers are non-compliant or preparing an offering that won’t win. 
  2. Project management. It does no good to capture a project you can’t perform. And to capture it, you’ll need to offer approaches that are better than all alternatives. Your plans will have to be credible.
  3. Sales. Everything you do has to win in a competitive environment. You must know what matters to the customer and what it will take for them to consider your offering to be their best alternative. Oh, and you won’t just be selling to the customer. You’ll also have to sell inside your own company, just to get the resources, attention, and approvals you’ll need.
  4. Competitive assessment. When trying to be the best alternative, it helps to know what the other alternatives are and what it will take to beat them.
  5. Estimating and budgeting. You’ll not only be estimating for the resources you’ll need to capture opportunities, you’ll be estimating for the project you’re proposing. You’ll have a budget to live within. Hopefully you’ll have some input into that budget.
  6. Pricing. Price always matters. You not only have to know how to price, you have to know innovative pricing strategies and how to determine what the price to win will be.
  7. Contracts and acquisition policy. If you are capturing government procurements, you’ll need to know their procedures and policies so you can position within them and potentially influence them. You’ll need to understand not only what contract clauses mean, but how they are typically applied, and strategies related to them.
  8. Proposals. It’s not enough to know proposal procedures. You have to know how to drive your win strategies into the document and end up with a proposal that is better than any of your competitors. And do it on schedule.
  9. Risk assessment. What are the risks in bidding? What are the risks in performing? Which risks are greater than others? And what should you do about them all?

It's worse than you think. It's impossible.

Good luck finding someone fluent in all of those.

Worse, you really need experience in each of them. You need to know what works and what doesn't. You need to know how to combine them into winning strategies.

Even worse, you need to be at the top of the competitive range in each of them. What you accomplish in each of these areas must be the best. There is no good enough in capture management.

Even worse still, it has to come packaged in a personality that matches your corporate culture, gets things done, and interacts with your customers well. Skills are not enough.

On top of that and even worse still, capture management has to sell inside the company just to get it to do what it needs to do to win. Selling customers is easy. Overcoming corporate inertia is hard.

So it's impossible to find someone with all of the skills needed to do a job that your company will make impossible even if you somehow do. And if a capture manager loses after a long pursuit that probably should not have passed lead qualification at the beginning, your company will probably fire them. So they have that to look forward to.

Capture, Sales/Business Development, and Project Management are not the same thing

Sometimes companies try to cheat. I mean "compromise." They either have their sales/business development lead do double duty as a "capture manager" or they ask their current project manager to do the job. Your sales lead can't be dedicated to winning one pursuit and prospecting at the same time. If you give them the job of capture, they will no longer be doing the job of sales. Plus, they'll have serious gaps. If you give the job to one of your project managers, you'll have serious gaps that will weaken your competitiveness. 

What should you do if your capture manager has skill gaps?

You capture manager is going to have skill gaps. There is no “if.”

How well you fill them determines your success. If you hire looking for a superman, you’re setting yourself up for failure. A professional is better than a hero

If you leave it up to individuals to figure out when to ask for help, they are likely to favor their strengths and hide their weaknesses. It’s human nature. And it will make you less competitive. What you really should do is institutionalize the capture management function so that support, collaboration, and handoffs are routine, expected, and smooth. This is the secret sauce.

The success of your capture management function determines your ability to grow. And growth is the only source of opportunities for people in your organization. So it’s kind of important.
How do you fill the gaps?

Assume there will be gaps and build in collaboration and quality validation. Account for all the topics that need to be addressed and identify experts inside your organization to involve. Make sure all your internal resources treat supporting capture with the same priority as their future pay raises, because growth depends on capture.

Then treat everything as risks. Gaps are just another kind of risk, as are:

See also:
Pursuit and Capture Program
  • Not knowing what to do
  • Having unanswered questions
  • Needing contributions from others
  • Dependencies of all types
  • Competitive positioning
  • Customer requirement fulfillment
  • Contractual compliance
  • Win probability
  • Etc. 

Identify, mitigate, track, assess, and report on all risks. A capture manager who doesn’t seek out help is a bad capture manager. An organization that doesn’t support their capture managers is one that isn’t prioritizing growth.

But it’s not really the capture manager that needs help. It’s the organization. The organization needs help supporting its capture function. The organization shouldn’t even think of it as “help” because that implies it’s an exception when it’s really part of the expected routine. Capture management requires continuous risk mitigation until the sale closes. So instead of treating it as help, treat it as risk mitigation. A potential problem or deficiency could become an issue that results in a lost opportunity and lower growth. Risks are ever present and new ones are constantly arising. 

How do you create an organization that functions like there are no gaps?

Think about everything that the capture function touches at a highly involved, strategic level:

  • Sales/business development
  • Proposals
  • Contracts
  • Pricing
  • Operations
  • Human Resources
  • Finance
  • Executive offices
  • Others?

Functioning like an organization that has no gaps related to pursuit capture means making changes to the entire organization to get them all involved and coordinated. Mostly small changes. But everyone needs to embrace them.

Implementing a capture function means not simply hiring someone to do the job, but going through the entire organization and defining the interfaces, the flow of information in and out, approvals, thresholds, communications, expectations, etc.

Creating an organization that functions like it has no gaps means making these exchanges continuously smooth. Making it up as people go along won’t cut it. Instead of waiting for gaps to emerge, the organization should anticipate the expertise required, supply it, and confirm that the results meet the need for quality and risk mitigation.

In our Pursuit and Capture Program, we deal with the issues one at a time and tailor our materials to match your environment. Each month we take on a new department or challenge. Each month we create tangible deliverables that institutionalize the interactions.  

Your fate will catch up to you

The difference between being a small startup and a mature growing firm is more than just the people you hire. At some point you must go from making it up as you go along and trying to win by working harder to putting in place the culture and processes that make people more effective. If you don't you will never reach your company's full potential. If you ignore having a low win rate, you doom your company to a future of declining profit margins, as you make up for your lack of competitiveness. 

Implementing a dedicated capture function is a key moment in a company's evolution. Maybe you're not ready for it. It requires change. It requires investment. But if you never get around to it, your growth will not be healthy and your future will be very high risk.

The good news is that you don't have to take a great leap and get it all right in one step. Maturing takes time. The challenges are predictable. And you can solve them as you grow. But if you just hire people, they'll be too busy fighting fires to transform your company. Transforming the company isn't normally part of the job description for a capture manager, and they are usually not empowered to do so. Our Pursuit and Capture Program maps out the challenges and provides a way to address the needs of all the stakeholders in an orderly way that gets everyone on the same page regarding how everyone should work together to achieve growth and bring opportunity to everyone at your company. We'll work together with your staff in a way that won't get in the way of them doing their jobs while as a team we methodically transform your company to achieve its full potential.

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Carl Dickson

Carl is the Founder and President of CapturePlanning.com and PropLIBRARY

Carl is an expert at winning in writing. The materials he has published have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is also a prolific author, frequent speaker, trainer, and consultant and can be reached at carl.dickson@captureplanning.com. To find out more about him, you can also connect with Carl on LinkedIn.

Click here to learn how to engage Carl as a consultant.

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