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Identifying Your Competitors: How Wide Should You Cast Your Net?

Winning government contracts requires a lot of preparation. Would-be contractors spend hundreds of hours developing capture strategies and crafting compelling proposals, as well as (hopefully) assessing the competition. A successful competitive intelligence effort will identify the overall approach, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of each credible competitor, but this requires early identification of who those competitors are likely to be. An overly narrow focus risks missing one or more key competitors (surprises are bad), but an overly wide focus drains resources (like trying to boil the ocean).

So how wide is too wide to cast your net?

A textbook capture effort begins very early, well in advance of the customer releasing a Request for Proposal (RFP) and preferably even before word of the opportunity has hit the streets. This requires strong customer intimacy and keen market insights, but that’s a topic for another day.

Regardless of how your organization learns of an opportunity, your competitive intelligence effort should begin immediately and continue in sync with the capture effort. At this early phase, competitive intelligence begins with the critical step of identifying who the companies are that will likely bid against you.

There’s an obvious trade-off in starting this process so early; the less you know, the more you must assume. Alternatively, if you wait to assess the competition until you know who they are, it may be too late to make any needed course corrections. Therefore, the competitive intelligence effort is charged with making early predictions about who the competitors will be. But how?

An early prediction of which companies are likely to bid against you is based almost entirely on capabilities. Who in the industry has the capabilities required to submit a credible bid on the opportunity in question? Answering this question will require some research, but not as deep a dive as you will need to do later as the field narrows. For now, look at the websites and other marketing literature of would-be competitors. Read their capabilities statements. Review their list of past contract awards and compare that against their claims to assess their credibility.

It’s important to note that the government’s procurement strategy nearly always changes and evolves, making its requirements clear. As they become more specific, some competitors will drop out. This is the time to dig deeper into the contenders. Look at their strategies, unique strengths and weaknesses, and present and past clients. After you’ve done that, you can narrow your assessment down even further by reaching out directly to those companies to discuss any interest they might have in the bid. Look into their key personnel and find out what kinds of things they have historically shown interest in pursuing.

Be prepared for the evolution of the bid to involve huge jumps. What starts as a full and open competition may morph into a small business set aside, completely changing everything about the process.

Keep in mind that securing a government contract is an iterative process. As the government’s requirements become clearer, you can re-focus your lens based on those things to get a better idea of who your competitors are and the strategy you need to employ to win the contract.