This pursuit results in a classical perception problem—is the glass half-empty or half-full? When pursuing an opportunity, we collect information, constantly filling the glass, trying to get more and more into it. When preparing a capture plan or ultimately the proposal, we find ourselves trying to fill the glass, inching ever closer to that unattainable state of perfection. Without realizing it, we often place our focus on the wrong track; we do not win proposals because of what we know; we lose them because of what we don’t know.

This isn’t just a trick of perception between two equal portions. If we fail to understand the customer, if we don’t know what’s important to the customer, we will lose. It doesn’t matter how much we did know, or whether the glass was half-full or 99% full—it’s the portion missing that tells the customer what we won’t be able to do for them.

Because win strategies are based on what we know, it’s easier to focus on what we know. However, when evaluating our progress toward completion of a capture plan or proposal, we are better off looking at what we don’t know. And, knowing what you don’t know is the first step toward filling the gap.

Have you got the winning solution for the customer? Don’t tell me what you know. Tell me what you don’t know, and I’ll know immediately what the chances are that you’ve got it wrong. Does the customer like the incumbent? If they do (or don’t), is it because of the staff, the project manager, or the company? Do you know what their preferences are, what their budget is, and who the competition is? Do you know their strategies and pricing? These and many other key capture questions may be impossible to find answers to. Nonetheless, the ones that you can’t answer are the ones that will determine whether you win or lose.

The next time you are evaluating a capture plan or proposal, focus on the unanswered questions and build your action items around them. If you’re evaluating a proposal, the odds are there won’t be time to answer them, and you may feel doomed. However, use the feedback to make sure that future capture plans address those questions, so you’ll have the answers early enough in the process to make proper use of them. Constantly add to the list of questions that should be answered by the capture manager. Then, instead of measuring progress on how many questions were answered, measure it on how many are still unknown. It will make a difference in your ability to capture the win.