Can you hire an effective capture manager?

Bob Lohfeld offers his best tips for finding the right person to be your company's next capture manager.

The CEO of a mid-tier company asked me why many capture managers turn out to be ineffective and, in his case, could he have done something differently in the interview process to predict their effectiveness before hiring them.

This is a difficult question because most capture managers will interview well, but some will not live up to expectations once on the job. I thought I would share some insights about this situation in this article.

The triple threat

Capture managers are part business development (BD) manager, part project manager, and part proposal manager. In this hybrid role, they serve to prepare a company to compete for and win the larger, more complex bids in the government market and are appointed when a company makes a decision to pursue a particular procurement.

You should view capture managers as a triple threat—professionals who are skilled in the three areas of BD, project management, and proposal management and can lead any and all of these areas.

Capture managers act like BD managers when they interface with prospective customers to gather a deeper understanding of customer needs, requirements, and objectives. Additionally, they must be keenly aware of other competitors—and their strengths and weaknesses—and lead your efforts to develop your win strategy. They must understand the dynamics of the government market and be able to shape the procurement in a way that is advantageous to your firm. Capture managers are your company’s spokesperson when talking with the customer, and they represent your firm in all external matters related to the pursuit of their assigned procurement.

Capture managers also act like project managers. They lead your company’s exercise to develop your technical and managerial solutions that (hopefully) are rich in features that will separate your firm from your competition. They select the personnel you propose to staff the project, select your teaming partners and subcontractors, establish your bid price, and minimize risk to your firm should you be awarded the project.

Finally, capture managers act as proposal managers by overseeing your proposal development effort with the proposal manager reporting directly to them. To do this effectively, the capture manager must drive the proposal, integrating your solution into the proposal by skillfully placing features of your solution into the right sections of the proposal where they will get the greatest score and ensuring that your proposal communicates your solution effectively to the customer.

You should view capture managers as a triple threat—professionals who are skilled in the three areas of BD, project management, and proposal management and can lead any and all of these areas.

Capture manager prerequisites

To be an effective capture manager, you need experience and skills in BD, project management, and proposal management. I believe you should have served at some point in your career in each of these roles. Being familiar with proposal management and being able to lead it are worlds apart. Similarly, being able to understand the technical areas your firm works in and being the external spokesperson for your company in these areas in discussions with the prospective customer are, again, different ends of the same technical spectrum.

So often, we see companies force fitting people into the capture manager role and then justifying the selection by saying, “Meeting all prerequisites is not necessary.” I have heard company executives say their capture managers don’t need to have a good command of their company’s technology. They argue that they are a big company with lots of technical wizards, so the capture manager doesn’t have to lead this area.

When they say this, what they are really doing is rationalizing their decision to put less-qualified persons into the role of capture manager. In modern psychology, this is called cognitive dissonance where the company executive lowers the importance of one of the discordant factors—in this case technical understanding. I’m sure there are some exceptional capture managers who are not technically proficient, but they are the exception, and this should not be the norm for which your company strives.

When interviewing capture managers, establish your prerequisites and then take the interviewee deeply into discussions in each area. It only takes a few minutes to tell the difference between someone who has real skills in each area and someone who just tosses around the words. Find out how deep their skills are in each prerequisite area and then, if you hire them, know that they are going to need additional skills training in areas where they are weak.

Capture manager leadership skills

Great capture managers have great leadership skills, and they are naturally driven to win. They command the respect of their customers, their peers, and their superiors. They lead through their intellectual skills and have the ability to motivate others around them.

Capture managers lead deals of all different sizes and complexities. When you interview a capture manager, try to understand the complexity and competitive landscape of their past captures. Here dollar size is not a good indicator of capture accomplishment. For some captures, it seems like every competitor wins, and the capture is little more than having the company submit a capability proposal. For others, the capture campaign was complex, the deal was competed fiercely among the top companies in the industry, and only one company came out as the winner.

When you interview prospective capture managers, find out what deals they led, not just were involved with. Find out what their roles were and what they contributed personally to the effort. Everyone involved with a win will take credit for it. Your job in the interview process is to find out what they really did. I talked with one capture manager who told me how he led his company to fame on a major recompete. As we talked more about the effort, I learned that his company had been the incumbent for 16 years, and the government had tried to sole source the procurement to them, but couldn’t get it done. They then issued the procurement through a contract vehicle with limited competition and made the award to his firm. In retrospect, he seemed to have contributed little to this pursuit other than having made some corporate briefing charts.

Striving for top capture managers

Capture is an intellectual competition played by the best and brightest people in our industries, and the company that assembles the best team and competes the hardest will most likely win. Capture managers are the quarterback of your team and have to lead your BD, technical, and proposal teams in your campaign to win. If you compromise your standards for capture managers, you will compromise your results.