It’s not until that moment—when your heart sinks into your stomach, you just lost that big proposal—that you gain total clarity of what just happened.

The factors that cause capture teams to lose often boil down to a few fundamental actions (or inactions).

It’s common for companies to become enamored with the idea of winning certain contracts. They allow their emotions to override the flashing warning signs that they may not be destined to win a particular government contract. So often, it’s in the basic “blocking and tackling” —and NOT in the advanced plays—where companies and managers fumble and repeat the same mistakes.

As a capture director who has been in GovCon for more than 15 years, I’ve seen my share of wins and losses. I know what “good” looks like—and what it does not.

When I’m first assigned a capture, I ask five essential questions. Over the course of the capture effort, I continue to set goals and make progress against each of these key areas every week, if not everyday.

In my experience, if you have positive answers to these five specific questions, you are headed in the right direction.

1. Do we have customer intimacy?

Never forget that your customer is the decision-maker who determines whether you win or lose. Customers are all just people. Their buying decisions are emotion-based.

Understanding your customers’ requirements is just the first step. All it means is that you can read. It buys you nothing.

You need to understand your customers’ challenges, hot buttons, personalities, power structure within their organization, and everything you can find about them.

When you take the initiative to develop customer intimacy through trust and value-based relationships over time, you significantly increase your chances of winning business. Conversely, when you don’t invest in developing customer intimacy— you have a high likelihood of losing.

2. Do we have corporate commitment?

“This is our main thrust.”

“This is a must win.”

People in GovCon repeat this over and over again. And oftentimes— it’s a lie.

When they don’t commit resources, it’s a lie.

When management doesn’t pay attention to the capture effort and stays detached, it’s a lie.

When they are too busy, it’s a lie.

When they have a hundred other “main thrusts” and “must-wins–all with the same low priority, it’s a lie.

For successful capture efforts, corporate commitment is essential. Even if your capture is not the most important opportunity in the company, you still need corporate commitment to succeed.

Teams win an opportunity, not just the capture manager. You need 100% backing from leadership to bring the right level of attention and focus to reviews, and provide the needed resources.

If you want to win, stay laser-focused on securing corporate commitment throughout the capture and proposal effort, and move your opportunity to the top of the priority list.

3. What is the timing of this opportunity?

Companies who fail to engage early enough in the government procurement process are far less likely to succeed. For strategic capture efforts, you engage a capture manager a year to two-years before the RFP. This gives you ample lead time to develop customer intimacy, help shape the RFP requirements to your benefit, and begin to identify fundamental elements of your solution including potential teammates.

Don’t wait until the RFP is about to come out to start your capture efforts or, worse —after the RFP is already out.

All too often, companies waste time chasing “pop-up” opportunities because they feel they are “qualified” to respond. But in this hyper-competitive environment “being qualified” simply isn’t enough. This self-defeating bidding behavior is rarely successful. In the long-term it robs companies of their ability to capture opportunities that are one or two-years out in the horizon.

4. Do we have the appropriate resources to respond?

The most successful capture managers surround themselves with a team of A-players.

They don’t think they can do it alone. They don’t pretend they can do it alone.

We need all the business development managers, solution architects, proposal managers, proposal writers, graphic artists, price-to-win strategists, competitive intelligence strategists, pricing strategists, pricers, contracts managers, subcontracts managers, subject matter experts and more… And they need to be GOOD…

The capture manager is like a conductor—orchestrating all the players and their individual pieces and ensuring everything comes together—much like a symphony.

Just like you never see the conductor jumping into a chair to fill in for the violinist during a symphony, the capture manager should not be “doing” an individual team member’s job.

You also never see a violinist drop the violin and start playing saxophone in a symphony, because they are short one saxophone player.

If you’re a capture manager and you want to win, you need to insist on getting an experienced, capable, and complete team.

5. How will we win?

This is the #1 question of executives —how will we win? If you’re a capture manager, you better be able to answer this one.

Of course, when you are first handed an opportunity you may not have a solid or compelling answer to that question yet. But fundamentally, even on the very first day you should have some inkling as to how to answer this question, even if it’s evolving.

Maybe you know the customer, or your teammate knows them. Maybe you have similar work with another customer. Or perhaps, you plan to strategically hire someone who understands the contract completely.

As you progress in your capture and definitely by the time the RFP is released, you should have a detailed and complete response to how you plan to win.

It’s your turn – what are your thoughts?

This information may be basic government contracting 101 for many of my readers.

Despite that, I’ve seen captures go sideways repeatedly because at least one of these five essential elements wasn’t there or addressed appropriately.

In fact, I’d be shocked if even one of you hasn’t experienced one of these in your career in GovCon. I would love to get your comments below on your experiences. Please share your comment below.