Win Strategy General Guidelines – The Competitor Analysis

  |  July 30, 2009

For this analysis, consider the following:

  • What is the competitive political situation?

These issues cover a broad spectrum of uncertainties and disagreements within the procuring and using agencies, at the top DoD levels, and within Congressional committees. For example, the Air Force may want a new, airborne tank killer missile, while the Army may want a shoulder-mounted weapon. Another example: In the mid 1970s the Navy released a Request for Information (RFI) for a Type A VSTOL — a small, multi-engine VSTOL aircraft to fly anti-submarine reconnaissance from a wide variety of military and Merchant Marine ships. Another faction in the Navy, however, wanted to fly the same missions from a large, land-based aircraft. My company spent a great effort (funded by the Navy, fortunately) on preliminary design of this aircraft, which never materialized past the study stage.

  • What are the competition issues? Which can be overcome? Which might not be overcome?

These issues, distinct from the political issues that are controlled or influenced by purely political elements, may be categorized as technical, management, operational and support, schedule, and funding profile. Be brutal in your assessment of these issues because seemingly innocuous issues can be fanned by their proponents and suddenly blaze into major drivers. Formulate risk analyses and contingency mitigation plans for the ones most likely to occur, and place the rest on a watch list. Determine in advance what situations could develop that would require your “no-bid” decision.

  • Who are the competitors?

You will, of course, be aware of your major competitors, and the online list of attendees at pre-RFP bidders’ conferences will show those companies attending. This will include those who will certainly bid, those who think they might bid but decide later to no-bid, and those companies looking to subcontract or team with the primes. Do not discount bidders unknown to you. On one proposal for a downtown people mover for the City of Miami, my client believed that the funding identified was not enough to buy the specified system. “They can’t be serious!” was the belief, so my client (I had advised them to offer what the funding would buy) bid a fully compliant system at a price that far exceeded the funding available. An unknown Canadian company came “out of the blue” with a compliant system and price that won the contract.

  • What are your competitors’ competitive images and influences with the customer?

Some companies have established reputations with your customer. These companies are known—rightly or mistakenly—for their expertise in certain disciplines or cooperative working relations with your customer. If those companies do not include you, then you will have a tough time winning. In the 1980s my client was bidding on the Ground Launched Cruise Missile (GLCM) control software Pre-Planned Product Improvement (P3I) program. My client had built the original software under subcontract to the GLCM prime contractor when the program had originated under Navy management. Now the P3I program had shifted to the Air Force at Wright-Patterson AFB. A trip report from our marketing manager’s visit to W-P indicated that the Air Force Program Manager knew nothing about my client. In fact, my client had just opened a local office in Dayton. I recommended to my client that, before the RFP is released and the personal contact door is closed, that we fix this situation. I argued: “You, a Vice President, must take our local representative to visit the GLCM Program Manager. Here is the impression that you must make: ‘I am an important Vice President at [GiantCorp]. I am very busy, but I have taken time out of my busy schedule to come and introduce myself and our new local representative to you because you are important and this program is very important to us. We have established a local representative here for your convenience. Please contact him if you have any questions, and please contact me directly if you need anything else. You have my pledge to support this program with all of our company resources.’” Incredibly, the Vice President told me: “Well, if they don’t know that we are interested in this program by now, then I don’t know how to convince them…” He did nothing, and we lost. A personal friend, retired from W-P, later told me that my client “didn’t know beans about mission management software.”

  • What are likely competitors’ solutions

Try to gather as much information as possible on your competitors’ likely concepts, perceived technical and management advantages, pricing policies and strategies, characteristics, disadvantages, prior research and development work on related and similar products and services, and past relationships with your customer. When I was Proposals Director for a major aircraft firm, we got many requests for bids on subcontract component development and manufacturing from other aerospace and defense companies. Thirty-seven percent of those requests resulted in the companies manufacturing the components themselves. Those companies were obviously gathering cost information on our development and manufacturing processes. Illegal? No. Unethical? Perhaps. Effective, real-world, competitive gamesmanship? Most certainly.

  • What are the known and probable competitor’s strengths and weaknesses

You must continually gather information on your real and likely competitors’ programs, products, image with your current and potential customers, financial stability and capabilities, people, and technical and management philosophies. Have this information readily available so that when the need arises for a specific competition, you can formulate an effective means to exploit their weaknesses and counter their strengths in your proposal ghost stories.

  • What teaming arrangements are potential among your competitors?

Your database of competitor information should include not only large, prime competitors, but also smaller companies who could add value to your competitors through teaming or subcontractor associations. Include information on the capabilities, both technical and political, for small, small disadvantaged, minority-owned, and HUBZone companies. You can also use this information to grab potential teammates or subcontractors away from your major competitors to weaken their competitive position and to strengthen your own.

  • What are the competitive attitudes, programs and issues within the customer’s organization or funding authority?

These competing influences can sway or even terminate an otherwise viable program, and there may be a key individual in your customer’s organization with a predisposition to a specific concept. For example, during the VSTOL enthusiasm of the 1950s and 1960s, Bernie Lindenbaum at Wright-Patterson AFB was a strong proponent of the tilt-rotor aircraft. Many different VSTOL concepts were studied and NASA, the USAF, Army, Navy, and Marines funded several experimental flight test vehicles to explore the various concepts. You will note that the only U.S. VSTOL flying today, other than helicopters, is the V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft for the U.S. Marines. The Osprey is an outgrowth of Bernie’s 1950s’ XV-3 and 1970s’ XV-15.

  • Is any competitor “wired” to win? If so, who is it and what can be done about it?

This is a key consideration, and if you really believe that an incumbent or competitor is wired to win, you should carefully consider no-bidding. Sometimes the incumbent is “wired to win,” and sometimes the customer is fed up with the incumbent and wants it out. A case of wanting the incumbent out was exemplified during the late 1980s when the F-16 System Program Office (SPO) solicited for a replacement for the radar warning receiver. The existing receiver was so bad, that F-16 pilots in Vietnam turned it off—it not only failed to warn of attacking missiles, it alerted the enemy missile batteries that the F-16s were there! Before our client hired us, it had submitted a proposal, to replace the incumbent’s system, but both proposals were so bad that the SPO cancelled the solicitation and rewrote the RFP. We entered at this point and worked with our client for six months. We submitted the proposal the end of October and heard nothing—no questions, no clarification requests, no deficiency reports. On December 20 General Loh called in our client’s Chairman and handed him a $2.6 billion contract. On another solicitation, my client was proposing engineering support services (IDIQ) to NAVSEA, (1985). My client had bid against incumbent in 1979 and lost, and again in 1983 and lost (proposal was scored “marginal to unacceptable”). The customer was happy with the incumbent, the RFP was skewed to the incumbent, and the Source Selection Plan was skewed to the incumbent. This time, we convinced our client to include features and benefits not called for in the RFP and focused upon the customer’s overall problems and concerns. This time our proposal was scored “acceptable to exceptional,” and was so strong that we “won” by a wide margin. Unfortunately for us, however, someone in the Navy office overheard the results, remarked about it to someone in the elevator, which an incumbent representative overheard. The incumbent demanded—and got—a BAFO, by which it underbid us, ultimately winning the award.

In Part 5 of this series we will provide guidelines on preparing your Self Analysis, and in Part 6 we will provide guidelines on developing presentation of your business, offering, political, marketing, and pricing strategies and your Action and Commitment documents.


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