Is A Business Proposal Different From A Marriage Proposal?

The capture methodology is widely considered to be a best practice that ensures a company is well positioned to win business. Too often, however, companies undervalue the prescribed, repeatable steps and attempt to expedite the process. This article considers the logical progression of the capture methodology by comparing it with universal experience of personal courtship. Couples go through a multi-stepped process that is remarkably like the four-step capture methodology. Both scenarios have several similarities including a common means to prompt a positive response during the proposal stage. Let’s take a deeper dive.

First Let’s Consider a Marriage Proposal

I shudder at the thought of classifying courting in a procedural sense. But when you think about it, a courtship is more than hearts and flowers. A courtship does have (or perhaps should have) some clear guidance to ensure mutual admirers get on the right path and ultimately make the right choice. It is all about sound decision making. After all, when the honeymoon is over, reality sets in. I’ve heard it said, “Love is blind, but marriage is an eye opener.” So, when choosing a lifelong spouse, couples move through a sequential series of key relationship stages.

Attraction

Let’s cut to the chase and face the facts: there must be a mutual attraction before a courtship can get off the ground. Perhaps there is an intellectual connection, a similar background, or even a mere physical attraction. Initially, the two people recognize their shared interests and are honestly and eagerly interested in getting to know each other better. But, as conversations begin, if one continuously talks about themselves—on and on, without coming up for air, showing little or no any interest in the other person—boredom sets in, or worse, annoyance. Despite the initial attraction, a lack of focus and interest toward the other person can spell the end of the budding romance.

Acquaintance

The adage, “First impressions are lasting impressions” is certainly appropriate during this early phase of the courtship when admirers begin to get acquainted. They determine through conversation and observations if the person is someone they want to get to know better, to continue a relationship. Do they show potential? Do they share the same basic ideals, values, and interests? The overarching question may be asked, “Am I willing to invest more time to get to know this person better?” After weighing the [honest] answers to this central question, each person can then decide if they want to continue the relationship. If the answer to this question is mutual, agreement is reached to continue developing the friendship.

Relationship Building

This is the phase where the rubber meets the road, and things can get a bit dicey. The two parties begin to really learn about each other by asking pointed questions and delving more deeply into topics that are significant to each other. Equally as important, they more closely study each other’s actions, habits and lifestyle choices. Actions speak louder than words. Each person begins to observe actions that can more accurately provide added insight. Do we generally “like” being with each other? Does each person keep their word? Are they time conscious? How do they treat their family? The observed behavior can answer larger questions about a potential spouse such as, are they trustworthy? Do we share the same principles? Do we really have enough in common to sustain a healthy, mutually beneficial relationship? This process takes time to run its natural course. If both people feel sure they want to move forward after this stage of the relationship, maybe it’s time to take it to the next level.

Pop the Question—the Proposal

Let’s face it—serious people don’t come to the point of asking someone to marry them unless they know the answer—or are at least reasonably certain of a positive outcome. As Figure 1-1 indicates, they want an emphatic and enthusiastic YES. All the time spent to this point impression making, courting, convincing, influencing, helping, caring, sharing, loving, etc. has prepared them for an unequivocal affirmative response. NOT “I’ll think about it,” NOT “maybe,” and certainly NOT the inconceivable “No” answer.

At this point, there should be no other legitimate suitors. While others may be interested, a healthy relationship is not formed if one person is using the other to make another suitor jealous or attempt to force them to pay more attention. Three is a crowd, and this is not the type of “partnership” in which they’re willing to accept a shared prime or secondary position. They don’t. You are the ONE!

Can you see the similarities in the capture process?

Now let’s review the business process

Like my reluctance of rigidly structuring the courtship process, I hope to avoid overly romanticizing the sales/capture methodology. However, the capture process should stir up some emotion and passion to persuade the customer to make an informed business decision. Capture is all about positioning the customer to prefer your company and its solution to the exclusion of all competitors prior to the RFP issuance and certainly before any written proposals are submitted. In fact, if a bidder’s proposal submission is the first interaction with the customer for a given opportunity, their win probability drops significantly—like close to zero. Allow me to take a page from the playbook of my former colleagues and friends at Shipley Associates and consider the proven four-step capture methodology.

1. Unknown Position – At this stage you don’t know what you don’t know. You are unaware of the specific customer needs, hot buttons, and issues, and their view of your company (in terms of this opportunity), and your relative competitive position. You may be asking, “What customer in my industry does not know my company?” Assess that question carefully. That fact is, the only relevant opinion is the customer’s. Your company may be a powerhouse in the industry, with a stellar reputation and formidable past performance credentials. However, I urge you to consider that even the best customer relationships, even contractors in an incumbent position shouldn’t rest on their laurels and take the win for granted. Your company would be wise to presume that all potential bidders are on a level playing field.

2. Known Position – During this stage of the capture process, companies need to do their due diligence. The capture team must shift from the unknown to known position with the customer through close and frequent interaction with various customer stakeholders. This can be accomplished by skillfully and methodically building or maintaining relationships with the customer, as well as with outside influences such as legislative concerns and third-party consultants. To be successful, you must understand the technical, business, and in some cases, the personal goals of the customer. You must perform needs assessments and understand the customer’s drivers and challenges and cultural subtleties. Then you must analyze your findings and validate them with the customer to be certain you are both on the same page.

3. Improved Position – This is the stage in which you develop and execute your strategy and tactics. Put your Capture Plan to the test. Learn how to influence the customer even more through marketing communications, opportunity focused advertising, RFI responses, white papers, sales calls, executive alignment, team development (teaming agreements) etc. Note that these and other activities all occur before the RFP is issued. Validation is essential. If the customer doesn’t think your strategy and tactics are appropriate and meaningful—then they are not. And remember, often the situation or circumstance changes and you must adjust your strategy and plans to align with the new environment.

4. Favored Position – At this point the customer knows you and your company, and is well aware, in fact convinced, that you’re the best choice. Your company and the customer have developed an excellent, undeniable rapport. You have achieved the coveted trusted advisor status. The customer is cognizant of the other vendors seeking to win their business, but they favor your company. You are in a good place. It took much planning, strategizing and laser-focused execution. Now, you simply repeat the goodwill that you have already established until the RFP is released. Then apply all the learnings gained throughout the capture process: solid win themes, addressing hot buttons, and aligning customer issues with innovative, and relevant solutions. Present a compelling proposition and ask for the business— and the answer will be—drum roll please—YES. Chalk up another one in the “W” column!

In both scenarios—marriage and business, the lion’s share of the effort occurs well before the proposal.

Conclusion

Can you imagine meeting someone—without taking any time to get to know each other better—and then suddenly, they propose marriage? The answer will be a resounding NO followed by running as fast as you can in other direction. How then, given the similarities to a marriage proposal, can companies expect a customer to accept their proposal as a winner when they have not taken the time to earn the business? As your company seeks opportunities in the next 18 to 24 months, the smart move, the one that leads to the win, is to start the capture process now. Investment of time, financial and human capital will pay huge dividends later.

Author Bio

Alan L. Lewis, CP APMP, is the Senior Proposal Manager at Envistacom, LLC. He has more than 25 years of pursuit management, process development and improvement, and marketing communications experience in the public and private sectors. Alan can be reached at alewis@envistacom.com.

 

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