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Three Things a Black Hat Aren’t

The term “Black Hat” has become a well-known term in business development circles, particularly in the federal contracting world. Many capture and proposal teams regard these exercises as an important – if not crucial – tool in developing an effective capture strategy. Most of us know and agree – at least at a high level – that a Black Hat is an activity wherein participants role-play your competition with the goal of improving your own strategy and win.

Beyond that basic definition, variations abound, there are a few common mistakes to avoid. Here are three things a Black Hat is not:

First, a Black Hat is not a capture strategy session. This may seem counter-intuitive since the ultimate goal is to enhance the capture strategy. However, taking time during the Black Hat to strategize completely undermines the main focus of the exercise, which is to understand the competition – something that is woefully under-emphasized in many capture efforts. When facilitating Black Hats, I urge participants to avoid delving into too much discussion about how “we” are going to win. This is also why we caution against using members of the capture team in the Black Hat. A best practice to help avoid capture “rabbit holes” is to keep a running list of recommendations where you can quickly pin an idea, then come back to the list at the end of the day to flesh out those ideas.

Second, a Black Hat is not a box. Templates that are carefully vetted beforehand with various stakeholders can be very helpful for guiding the discussion and capturing important data and analysis during Black Hats. However, participants can sometimes slip into the mindset of just “filling the blanks.” If there is something important that needs to be discussed with regard to the competition, and there isn’t a slide or space where it seems to fit, then for goodness sake, make one! Never let a template imprison the discussion and limit the value of the activity.

Finally, a Black Hat is not a War Game (competition). Black Hats are often populated by BD folks, and we all know BD folks tend to be a rather competitive bunch. A common best practice for Black Hats is to split the group into separate teams, each focusing on one of the primary competitors – so naturally, these competitor teams (made up of BD folks) start to think their aim is to out-do the other teams. The problem with this is that it can lead to unrealistic competitor solutions. Sure, your competitor may want to cut their fee down to zero, but will their executives really approve of that? Or, they may want to take all the other competitors off the street by convincing them to sub, but how likely is that? Remember, the goal of the Black Hat is not to determine the worst-case scenario, but to determine the approaches and solutions competitors are most likely to employ.

For more information about Black Hats, or if you have any questions about our Competitive Intelligence or Price To Win services, please contact us at Info@RichterAndCompany.com.

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Organizational Change Management

How to keep your business moving in the face of organizational change and uncertainty

Whether it’s a Government shutdown, company re-structuring or consolidation through M&A, change can have a negative impact on your organization if the accompanying periods of uncertainty and downtime are not properly managed.

In business development, an environment filled with uncertainty can create a breeding ground for lost talent, new business and even a company’s core work – recompetes.  Employees haunted by the thought of layoffs, loss of productivity due to unknown budget allocations and operational stand stills resulting from a lack of direction are just a few examples of how change can have an adverse effect on your business if not addressed.

Here are a few guidelines and tips to consider when managing change within Business Development:

Understand the past

It takes both time and money to prepare a proposal, which is why every bid – win or loss – deserves a thorough post-award analysis and lessons learned to carry forward.

To ensure maximum utility of B&P dollars spent, it is important to understand the who, what, when, where, why and how behind every award. A comprehensive look at the past will help build this story.

1. Prepare win/loss analysis for every competitive bid awarded over past three years

  • Collect and document:
    • Contract details (type, primary NAICS and major elements of cost)
    • Basis of award (from Section M of the RFP to the customer award debrief)
    • Customer (from the highest level of budget authority down to the end user)
    • Competitors (from pre-submission assumptions to post-award knowns)
  • Analyze:
    • Technical (non-cost) scores vs awardee
    • Bid price vs award price
    • Proposal strengths and weaknesses identified on customer award debrief
  • Ask:
    • Was the actual award outcome consistent with Section M of RFP?
    • Did the customer award to the lowest price offer, highest technical rated offer or both – lowest price and highest technical offer?
    • Did we win/lose on price, technical or both?
    • How accurate was our pre-submission assessment of the competitive landscape? Did we model the competitors accurately? How competitive was our bid price?

Keep moving at present

Regardless of the circumstances, business development should never reach a dormant state. There is always work to be done.

To ensure maximum utility of future B&P spending, it is important to ensure that lessons learned from the past do not become lost in translation as an organization undergoes change. Understanding your past will help you thrive at present.

2. Complete deep dive assessment on past wins/losses

  • Collect and document:
    • All prior solicitation packages
    • Technical and pricing requirements
  • Analyze
    • For losses, reverse price engineer average bid rates
    • For wins, compare bid vs current FTE, personnel qualifications and salary
  • Ask:
    • For new business, can we compete against prior average bid rates?
    • For recompetes, to what extent have we deviated from our prior bid? Does the customer intend to adopt this deviation on recompete solicitation?

Prepare for the future

In business development, your opportunity pipeline is your lifeline. While some aspects may become hazy in times of change, there should never be complete lack of certainty with regards to what opportunities your organization will pursue.

Protecting your core work is critical and recompete efforts should be considered automatic to your pipeline and preparation should never cease to exist.

Use present momentum to refine and shape your pipeline around opportunities with the highest pwin.

3. Solidify new business opportunity pipeline using past and present takeaways

  • Use win/loss analysis to identify key customers, competitors, contract types and basis of award that proved most/least successful on past bids
  • Use deep dive assessments to determine if position has improved or worsened since the last bid to determine classification on pipeline

Conclusion

While there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to the specific actions an organization can take to effectively manage change, there is one overarching guideline that applies to all – keep moving.

“He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.”

– George Orwell, 1984

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Richter & Co. To Host Webinar on Gathering Trade Show Intelligence

competitive intelligence webinar On September 19th, 2018, Richter & Company will be hosting a webinar focusing on proper ways to gather competitive intelligence at trade shows/conferences. Led by our very own Brandon Conroy (pictured) and Chris Richter, we will be discussing how to identify information about your competitors that will help increase your probability of win on a given opportunity. If you are looking for ways to strengthen your strategy and approach, this webinar is for you. We will be discussing the art of conversing with others to obtain information – without alarming them that you are a competitor. Ethical and legal boundaries will also be addressed, as well as what to ask, who to ask, and how to ask! So, how do you put a plan and a team together to accomplish all of this? Join us on September 19th at 1pm to find out! If you would like more information, please feel free to give us a call at 301-845-7300!