In barbecue contests, timing is everything. Each of your four entries (chicken, ribs, pork and brisket) have to be turned in within 5 minutes of a precisely defined time; late entries are disqualified. To meet this schedule – and to make sure the meat you offer the judges is at its tender, juicy, and flavorful best – requires careful planning and flawless execution at the contest itself. But it’s the preparatory work done before the contest that separates winners from losers. Losers buy their meats the day before they travel; winners order meat ahead of time so it can be properly aged (30 days or more for brisket!) and prepped. Losers wait until they arrive in the competition’s town and pick up consumer-grade charcoal from a big box store; winners buy specialized charcoal and wood to match their team’s desired flavor profile. Losers work without a plan; winners develop and test complex checklists, schedules, and procedures so that their work onsite is efficient. To put it simply, winning takes time, and teams that start too late are not likely to hear their name called during the awards ceremony. Effective competitive analysis and Price To Win efforts start early – well before formal solicitation requirements are known. They follow consistent processes for gathering and analyzing competitive information. They rely on proven models for projecting solution costs and prices. They provide actionable intelligence that you can use to shape the opportunity, moving the competition away from lowest cost. Start early, keep working until the final turn-in.
From an economic standpoint, competitive barbecue makes no sense. In a Kansas City Barbecue Society event, teams turn in six individual portions of four meats: 6 (chicken, ribs, pork, and brisket). A typical entry fee is $300; travel and transportation costs for pulling your big rig total $200 or more; charcoal, wood, ice, rubs, sauces, and incidentals add another $200. And meat – oh, the cost of meat: most teams cook 36 to 50 pounds of incredibly-expensive Wagyu brisket to turn in six perfect slices. Meat costs can easily top $500. When all is said and done, the cost of a typical contest easily tops $1,000. And sad to say, prize money when (if!) you win may not cover those costs. And we haven’t even talked about the costs of beer and other “adult beverages”… As a result, pitmasters limit the competitions they enter to those which will help them achieve their goals. In my case, I focus on competitions within driving distance of my home which have (a) decent prize money, (b) a relatively small number of competitors, (c) a high proportion of certified (vs amateur) judges, and (d) good public attendance (i.e., good marketing) potential. I’d love to compete in a contest near my daughter’s home in Nebraska, but that wouldn’t help me increase my catering business’ name recognition in the central Maryland area I can reasonably serve. In the business world, similar constraints apply. Winning companies pursue opportunities that will help them achieve business goals. Notice I did not say “perform profitably.” In today’s hyper-competitive world, businesses commonly pursue money-losing efforts because they achieve longer term objectives like improving name recognition or supporting growth into adjacent markets. They ruthlessly discard pursuits where they have limited customer intimacy, poor knowledge of potential competitors and solutions, or have no discriminating solution. Like winning pitmasters, they pick and choose their competitions – and believe that they will win every bid they submit.
Amateur chefs tend to have a pretty short attention span. They watch Bobby Flay toss something on a grill, say to themselves “Man, I could do that!”, then run to the store, assemble ingredients, light a fire, and make up a mess of something good. Their goal is to recreate a recipe; their objective is to make it edible. Their measure of success is, well, nobody barfs when they taste it. Backyard chefs like to cook. Pitmasters, on the other hand, have a much longer view of their world. They have more at stake; they compete against well-prepared competitors for significant prize money, or against restaurants (and other barbecue teams) for lucrative catering gigs. As a result, winning pitmasters set larger goals (“cook an award-winning whole hog”) and develop objectives to measure their path toward achieving those goals (for example, “Buy a big pit.” “Learn how to control temperature across the entire cooking surface.” “Find a reliable source of high quality butchered hogs.” “Learn how to dress and prep a raw hog.” “Build a winning rub and injection.”). Their measure of success is tangible: awards, prize money, and – thanks to the exposure barbecue enjoys on TV – lucrative deals for packing and selling their “secret” rubs and sauces. Pitmasters like to win. In the business world, far too many companies rely on the “mushroom theory of management.” They perform minimal planning; they operate in an ad-hoc environment that results in scarce resources being spread across many unsuccessful pursuits. Like backyard chefs, they are happy with a win, but shrug off losses, figuring “oh, better luck next time.” Winning companies take the time to develop corporate goals and objectives. They develop high-level strategies for achieving their goals within a defined window of time. They communicate these items across the company, so that business units – and business developers – can help the company win by putting together – and executing – their own sub-goals, objectives, strategies, tactics, and plans. They are ruthless in rejecting pursuits of opportunities that do not support corporate goals, reserving finite resources and funds for those which do. Like pitmasters, they love to win – and burn with the white-hot fires of hate when they lose. In business, be the Pitmaster.
Q&A with Randy Richter of Richter & Company. Randy answers the questions “When should I perform a Price to Win?”
From early market research to Price to Win positioning, Richter & Company’s goal is to help you win business. Here are five of our top recommendations for consistently winning federal dollars: Plan your work; work your plan. Get involved in the program early. If you’re an incumbent contractor, even earlier than that. Preparation for the re-bid begins on day 1 of the contract. Build relationships with the buying and end user customers. Influence the RFP, so that discriminators rule in your favor. Prove the benefit of your solution. Build a value added team, build a plan, and then follow the plan, making necessary changes as you go. Proofread. Don’t finish your proposal two hours before it’s due; there’s just no time to proofread if you’re making changes last minute. Make sure pricing in your proposal matches pricing in your cost volume. Don’t leave internal comments in your final document. Obvious, but it happens all the time. You don’t want your outbrief to be a rundown of your glaring mistakes. Examine and assess your own company. Many companies don’t examine their own structures to target cost reductions. Look at your salary percentiles: consider the labor needed in the contract against the labor you’re offering. Build cost pools to bill direct costs to your customer, and leave out those unnecessary to the contract. Reduce cost. And be aware of where the costs you do have are coming from. Build a compliant solution. (Read: Don’t sell your existing solution.) Build a notional bottoms-up solution based solely on the requirements of the RFP: where does this solution leave your Total Evaluated Price? Be sure all your additional capabilities are ones that matter to the government. Prove the benefit of your solution. Make sure the value you’re adding outweighs higher price. Know your customer, and cater your solution to their needs. Even “COTS based” solutions should be tailored to the needs of your customer. Don’t go status quo. Today’s current hypercompetitive environment is not what it was five years ago. Ten percent fee and gold plated benefits packages won’t pass muster before evaluation committees. Make sure your bid is both reasonable and realistic. Know what your competition looks like before the final stages of capture, and position accordingly. Employ consultants like Richter & Company to help you find your position to win!
Often times, clients want to hire us to perform a Price to Win analysis late in the game. You know… when the RFP is out, the proposal is due in 28 days and their hair is on fire. They tell us they don’t need a Competitive Analysis, but are looking for Price to Win support for the program. And while we’re happy to help our customers in any way we can, this is not an ideal situation. Competitive Analysis and Price to Win Analysis go together like peanut butter and jelly. We don’t want to separate them! Competitive Analysis defines the solutions and strategies your competitors are likely to employ in approaching an opportunity. At Richter & Company, we define Price to Win as Cost + Strategy, so it’s pretty difficult to come up with a Price to Win number with only half of an equation. The ideal time to hire consultants (and start your own internal efforts) is early on in the procurement process. Your Competitive Analysis should first cast a wide net, before targeting specific competitors and identifying specific solutions. The Price to Win should also go through multiple iterations for best possible results. Contact Richter & Company today for more on our winning services!
As I said before, the other most common mistake that deprives SWOT analyses of their value is the failure to take the essential next step, after it has been completed. “What is that next step?” you may ask. The answer lies in the fundamental intent behind the SWOT analysis. The purpose of a SWOT is to help analyze and assess the competition. And what is analysis, other than simply deriving meaning from data? There is a big difference between observation and analysis. Simply put, observation provides the “what,” while analysis provides the “so what.” Herein lies the reason why many deride and dismiss the SWOT chart as useless. In its standard form, it is data with no analysis. It includes nothing more than four lists of characteristics or factors about the company, none of which articulate any kind of strategy or action on the part of the company. Therefore in the eyes of the savvy decision-maker, it fails to answer the critical “so what?” question. You can imagine your executives saying “So… the company is strong in these areas, and weak in these areas … so what? And… the company is affected by these external opportunities and threats… so what??” It is my assertion, therefore, that the true value of any SWOT analysis appears only after completely (and correctly) populating all four quadrants, and THEN developing key strategic implications based on those factors. Competitive analysis of any company must include a predictive element, which attempts to answer the question “What is the company most likely to do next?” The four elements of a SWOT chart, if accurate, can be extremely useful in developing these predictions – but they do not explicitly provide the answers in and of themselves. So how does one take this next step? There are several different ways of deriving implications from a traditional SWOT chart – one of the more effective (albeit labor intensive) methodologies I have come across involves examining the intersections of the various factors two by two, in an attempt to discern the most likely action on the part of the company. For example: if the company has [Strength #1] and [Opportunity #1], therefore they would most likely do [Implication #1]; if the company has [Weakness #1] and [Opportunity #1], therefore they would most likely do [Implication #2], etc. There are two downsides to adopting this “extra step.” First, it adds a layer of complexity to a process that is otherwise very simple and user-friendly (which I would argue is one of the reasons SWOT is so popular). Second, prediction is a dangerous game. Those who attempt to predict the future invariably expose themselves to personal risk – risk to their reputations. Success will earn them great respect and even reverence – but failure may cost them the trust of their customers. But analysis is not for the faint of heart! In my judgment, the benefits far outweigh the costs. So be bold. Be fearless. Be ruthless in your zeal to add real value in the form of that elusive treasure – the life-blood of our profession: actionable intelligence.
Whether you love them or hate them, SWOT Analyses have been around for many decades, and they continue to pervade the realm of business development and strategic decision-making, most commonly in competitive assessment. I could talk at length about why these simple quad charts have garnered so much attention (both positive and negative) over the years, but I won’t. I continue to see value in SWOT analyses, but only if they are done properly and completely. What I want to talk about is what almost everyone does WRONG with SWOT analyses. In my experience, the two most common mistakes that rob a SWOT analysis of real value are: (1) failure to understand what an “opportunity” is, and (2) failure to take the essential next step after a SWOT analysis has been completed.
- Opportunities misunderstood.
Price to Win is always an ongoing process, which undergoes many iterations before an actual proposal is ever delivered. Richter & Company’s training courses are designed to give you the tools and templates you need to maximize the benefit of your competitive intelligence and price to win efforts. Actionable intelligence is derived from following the process, while trusting the skills of your analysts to deliver quality results to your capture team. But it’s more than simply checking a list: the process is designed to lay the foundation of your winning proposal. Plan work based on requirements. Designate resources. Can you deliver on the work proposed? Although it sounds obvious, make sure you’re bidding on work you can and should win. Baseline the opportunity and customer. Spend some time getting to know your customer, and what they’re actually looking to buy. Get to know the contracting shop as well as the end user, and understand that you’re going to need to address all customers in proposing your solution. Identify and analyze the overall competitive field. Identify who else is going to bid, and their relationship with the customer. What does their solution look like? The competitive field will change as time goes on: who has left the competition, and why? Who has joined the competition, and why? Identify any teammates and suppliers, and determine how their addition to the team will affect solutions, and pricing. Develop and test RFP-based models. Forget the gold plating, and the standard set by the competition. Build a bottoms-up model, based strictly around RFP requirements. How will your solution add value? Rank your solution based on the requirements set forth in Sections L & M. Prepare analysis of key competitors. Once the RFP is imminent, look again at your key competitors. Identify strengths and weaknesses of their solution. Mitigate their strengths by offering value to the customer. Speak to the things they care about, and emphasize your own strong, low-risk solution. Ghost weaknesses by highlighting your own strengths. Be aware of how competitors will leverage their solutions and ghost your company. Evaluate and rank key competitors. Build out solutions for your competitors. What is their offering likely to include? How will it be received by the customer? Be sure to do due diligence in looking at past successes; what stories will they tell? How will they game their solutions? Identify and analyze pWin enhancers. Once your analysis is complete, it’s time to finalize your story. Identify any final solution gaps, and address them: team as necessary. Close in on any gaming opportunities. And decide on your key messages and discriminators that really differentiate your solution from your competitors. For more information regarding Competitive Analysis and Price to Win, contact Richter & Company. Since 2006, our proven processes have helped clients win over $30B in new business.
Over the course of the past several years, “best value” has reigned supreme in the federal contracting world. But with the economic downturn, we’ve seen an increase in Lowest Price-Technically Acceptable (LPTA) contracts. Despite the general aversion for LPTA awards, they’re here to stay. Last summer, Washington Technology did a survey among contractors regarding LPTA contracts. 68% of the survey’s respondents said the LPTA has negatively or mostly negatively impacted their businesses; pointing to suffering profits, lowered salaries, and an influx of junior staffers as results of increasing LPTA awards. And 66% of respondents said the LPTA has negatively or mostly negatively impacted the customer. Comments included the government’s surprise in receiving junior staff when experience was needed, and an inability to win task orders under BPAs due to lack of experienced personnel at proposed prices. Work has been done on both sides of contracting business to assure that the government’s needs are met, while educating government customers about the risk of an LPTA award. But with ongoing political power plays and uncertain budgets, the LPTA award isn’t going away any time soon. Nearly half of contractors surveyed think the number of LPTA awards will increase in the next few years. At Richter & Company, we agree. With many agencies having troubles in their contracting shop, and plenty of commoditized items on the purchasing docket, the LPTA is a convenient way to purchase. Unfortunately, the convenience outweighs the risk. The LPTA award isn’t going away any time soon.