Capture Is an Attitude

Putting People Before Process

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“We don’t need to know our competitors. We’re good enough without worrying about them.”

The conversation carried on during this capture session, but I stayed silent. That comment set the team’s tone, and from that moment, I knew the opportunity was lost.

We talk about the capture process so often, it’s easy to forget what drives it.

Great capture is all about behaviors. It’s about transparent conversations that foster insight into clients, competitors and niche capabilities. It’s about providing an inclusive approach to discussing challenges that brings the right people into the room early. A blinkered, belligerent and disengaged attitude — indicated by a comment like the one above — damages our ability to succeed at capture stage.

Challenges to Capture

Capture doesn’t fall over because we fail to stick to the process. It fails because we haven’t engaged the right behaviors to start with. A lack of leadership, engagement and empowerment to reach the common goal all hinder capture, and it’s the bid manager’s role to drive that. A colleague recently described a “great” process because diary invites were sent early, yet every single meeting was postponed. People don’t follow a process for the process itself; they need to truly understand why they’re being asked to follow it — and when they do, they will invest their time.

Believing Our Own Myths Instills Blind Hope

Bidders can become so immersed in the idea of what an opportunity could be, they forget what it really is. They feel beholden to respond to clients they’ve never even met. They get swept away in the positive emotions a client approach generates. So, by the time we begin capture, we’re greeted with comments such as, “This is a trophy project,” or “The client has told us it’s ours,” and one we can all relate to, “It’s a must win.” It very rarely is.

This blind excitement is damaging on many levels, not least because people act without thought and discuss without preparing. Everyone is overloaded with information (not all of it relevant), and nobody has time to focus on the end goal and ask important questions such as: Can we win it? Is it worth it? Do we really want it? And if so, what do we need to do collectively to get there?

People are forced to focus their attention on the bare facts because they simply don’t have time to analyze all the information at hand. No one has the space to consider what their client is thinking and feeling, which takes their attention away from any relationships they hold with the key decision makers.

On a recent bid, the ferocity of emotion during capture snowballed to a point where we lost all ability to be objective about whether we were right for the project. When we failed to get through the first round of procurement, the client simply said: “We were waiting for you to deselect yourselves.” That team learned the hard way, but now recognizes the benefits of remaining realistic and objective during the capture phase.

Improve Capture by Putting People Before Process

In capture, nothing is more dangerous than decisions made in isolation, before everyone has a chance to bring ideas to the table and challenge assumptions. Instead of starting capture with a timetable, we should first ask who needs to be involved in the process. Empowering people to master the opportunity’s potential from the outset will turn them into active storytellers, if and when the bid becomes live. We can’t get buy in by simply having something in the diary. They must believe their voice will be heard and will impact any future success.

Channeling Excitement and Calling Out Bad Behaviors

Our belief in an opportunity shouldn’t curb our ability tackle it. My challenge in capture conversations is sometimes met with aggression. Passion, created by pressure to deliver for the client that mounts during relationship-building with them, sometimes propels unreasonable views and bad behaviors. Harnessing this passion in a strategic way, as well as recognizing and addressing unacceptable behaviors early on, can have a huge positive impact on the outcome of capture.

Not Just the Right Questions — Emotive Questions

Jumping into our client’s mind is about exploring their challenges in the right way. We all know open questions work well, but let’s consider leaving the factual stuff out. “What keeps you up at night?” is a strong start. Humans are more effusive about what we want to avoid rather than what we seek to achieve, so a question like this opens discussion around challenges that won’t appear in the brief.

The best bet? Get face-to-face with key decision makers. A capture workshop to discuss their hopes and fears in an open but confidential forum, using a room-reader who takes notes and gauges reactions to certain topics, opens doors.

Emotive questions aren’t only for our clients. They’re also the best way of challenging ourselves. Instead of asking, “Can we deliver?” try, “Are we really willing to deliver?”

Keep an Open Mind

Leave assumptions at the door, listen to client feedback and acknowledge that perceptions of delivery, price and market standing are absolutely critical — even if we don’t agree with them. Past performance is crucial. The future of our relationships through capture is key. Yet focusing on the present is arguably the best place to start shedding our assumptions. This might include mirroring client behaviors, making sure our actions support our statements or simply recognizing that there are gaps in our understanding.

Creativity, Objectivity and Connecting the Dots

I like to think of myself as a storyteller, rather than a facilitator of process. To tell a compelling story, I must approach every new opportunity creatively, remain objective about the audience and bring together the best group of people to deliver through their bond with the audience. This narrative allows me to move teams from process toward people as protagonists of that tale, even in the earliest moments of the capture phase.

Viewing capture as scene setting that demands the right behaviors from those protagonists also creates a springboard for challenge. Are we confusing our capability with pride in our service delivery? Are we acknowledging our own bias in how we’re putting forward our solution? Or are we, for whatever reason, not living our own values through capture?

Understanding Buyer Behaviors Is the Cornerstone of What We Do

This philosophy underpins capture, but to truly walk in our clients’ shoes to understand their drivers, worries and personalities, we must go beyond the process to truly focus on people.

Perhaps then, we should turn our thinking on its head and focus on capture as an attitude — not a process.


Rachel Lishman is a bid manager at Savills and a winner of APMP’s 40 Under 40 Award in 2021. Delivering winning bids across the property sector for 10 years, her passion for improving capture culture finds her coaching teams in client relationship building and rigorous qualification to help them win and retain business.

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