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Capabilities vs. Corporate Experience

What's the difference?

In certain service sectors, capabilities and corporate experience are talked about as if they are the same thing. While they are related, they are not the same. And they should not be written about in your proposals as if they are the same.

A company can have experience in an area, but not have any capability in it. How’s that?

Staffing. Resources. Infrastructure. A company may not have the other things necessary for experience to be a capability.

Experience is evidence of a capability, but not the capability itself. And it may not be enough evidence. It’s easy to overlook this when some RFPs fixate on experience as the primary means to evaluate capability. But understanding the subtle distinctions enables you to write a more credible proposal.

What makes your capabilities credible? In addition to experience, it might be also having:

  • Available staff with the right expertise
  • The resources required to perform
  • The infrastructure, equipment, or locations needed
  • Established and specialized policies, processes, methodologies, quality approaches, risk identification and mitigation techniques, escalation procedures, training, etc.

Likewise, you may have all these things, but if you don’t have experience, do you have a credible capability?

It is possible to establish a capability with no experience. It is possible to establish a capability with nothing more than experience. Sometimes you don’t need much more to establish a capability than a mere claim to it.

But credibility is another thing. And credibility depends on the customer. What does the customer think a credible capability requires? Does it say in the RFP? If it doesn’t, then what do you want to claim and how do you position that claim against your competitors? If the RFP doesn’t define what a credible capability is, you have an opportunity to teach the customer and ghost your competitors.

But first ask yourself if capabilities matter at all to the customer. In indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity (ID/IQ) bids, the customer may be interested in capabilities to meet undetermined future needs. But in other bids, it’s not your capabilities that matter, it’s your ability to credibly deliver the specifications provided in the RFP. Only. Companies like to brag about their capabilities, even when the customer didn’t ask for them and even when a formal evaluation might not consider them at all.

So let the RFP be your guide. What does the customer want you to talk about, what can you add to make that credible, and how do you position your response against other potential competitors? After all, this isn’t a brochure, it’s a proposal.

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