Without necessarily knowing what it is, customer organisations appreciate sellers that practice capture planning because, to them, it means that potential suppliers are taking the time to interact with them to understand their needs.
From the perspective of the organisation that is trying to sell its goods and services, capture planning is the process of identifying appropriate business opportunities, assessing the competitive environment, then developing and managing the implementation of winning strategies orientated towards capturing a specific business opportunity.
Identifying appropriate business opportunities
Capture planning is essential when you are seeking to win complex business from complex customers, in complex competitive situations. The more complex the situation, the more capture planning is appropriate. If you have a prospective customer that knows exactly what they want to buy and what you have to sell is an “off-the-shelf” product or service, then capture planning is less appropriate.
Complex business is rarely won by a single individual although sometimes this can be the case. Mostly, complex business is won by a multi-disciplined team of people working together towards the common goal of winning the business. A typical capture team will comprise of a person in the sales role and relevant solutions developers – with commercial, technical and programme competence, as appropriate.
The decision to pursue a piece of business should not be taken lightly. If you are going to spend time and money trying to win some business, the least you can do is work out why, and how, you are going to win.
Assessing the competitive environment
The first stage of the capture planning process is to assess the competitive environment. This must always be undertaken in an ethical manner. It involves gaining a thorough understanding of the prospective customer, their needs and expectations. At the same time, it is necessary to ensure that you understand the competitive situation. The earlier that you undertake this activity, the more likely it is to be successful.
The easiest way to gain an understanding of the customer is to interact with them. This involves meeting with people at all levels of the prospective customer organisation, from users to decision makers. During this activity it is really important to listen to them and confirm your understanding of what they are looking to buy. If what you are offering is not likely to meet their expectations and/or you cannot adapt your offerings to be compliant, now is the time to make the difficult decision to not pursue the opportunity any further.
Achieving an understanding of the competition can be more demanding. It is really important that you understand the prospective customer’s perception of any competing solutions to your offerings. During the rest of the sales process, as well as in any bid documents or presentations, your winning strategies will rely on this knowledge.
Developing and managing the implementation of winning strategies
Successful capture planning requires written, action-orientated capture plans. A capture plan is a description of a “project” that takes place before the contract is won. The desired outcome of the project is winning the contract and then delivering it successfully for the customer. The project manager for the capture plan is the capture manager.
In some organisations the role of the capture manager is customer facing and in some they are not. Where they are not, there is a person in a sales role. Both seem to work well, as long as the responsibilities of the people in each of the roles is clear. It is the capture manager’s responsibility to make sure that the team involved in the sale is supported and does not lose sight of the goal.
A capture plan should contain a detailed assessment of the competitive environment and clearly documented strategy and tactics – in the form of real SMART actions. A capture plan is a dynamic document. The impacts of the actions must be assessed and adapted if necessary. Finally, it must be reviewed regularly, by appropriately knowledgeable people.
CAPTURE PLANNING IS NOTHING NEW. SUCCESSFUL SALES ORGANISATIONS HAVE BEEN DOING IT FOR YEARS.
This article was written by Tony Birch.
Tony Birch is the founder and current Chairman of Shipley Limited in the UK. Tony served on the main board of the APMP for four years and was elected a Fellow of the organisation in 2006, for his work in developing and launching the APMP’s Certification Programme. Since founding Shipley, Tony has trained thousands of sales and bid professionals around the world.