If you’ve been doing the GOVCON business development thing for a while, you probably know what a “black hat review” is. Just in case we don’t have the same definition, though, we execute black hat reviews in order to:
- Evaluate competitor strengths and weaknesses specific to an opportunity;
- Anticipate competitor win strategies; and
- Build counters to neutralize that competing win strategy.
(If you would like a more expansive exploration of these basics, check out a blast-from-the-past post on the topic at the FedSavvy Strategies blog: “Capture Essentials: Black Hat Review Session.”)
A black hat review should be a part of your company’s broader capture process. If done in a meaningful manner, a black hat review has the potential to put your firm a step ahead of your competition and in preparing a winning proposal. To maximize the return on your investment, consider the following guidelines:
Take the time to do it well. Many organizations execute black hat reviews in rapid succession. These become what could be charitably called a “drive by” evaluation of the competitors. Is this superficial look really effective? No. The only thing that you might accomplish is a refresh of the team’s basic understanding of core competitors. For that reason, take the time to do it well. Do the research. Do the discussion among teammates and team members. Aggregate and delve into the details. Don’t just “check the box.”
Plan on a full day. This sounds like a lot, but this piece of the puzzle is significant to the broader capture process.
Respect the competitors. Leave their arrogance and your disdain for competitors at the door. Whatever bias that your firm may have, you need to show your competitors (and their staff, capabilities, pricing, etc.) the highest level of respect. They will use their proposal to project the most favorable image, and working from that complimentary posture will allow you to see the competitors at their best. To see the competitors as the customer may see them. If you can beat them at their best, you have great odds to win.
Focus on seeing the competitor through the customer’s eyes. At this point in the capture process, you’ve likely (hopefully?) engaged enough with the customer to have a good sense of the needs driving the contract opportunity. Use this core list of needs to drive your team’s focus. Each competitor needs to be analyzed from this vital perspective: how the firms/teams might address customer needs, wants and fears. While you might not be impressed with some competitors’ capabilities, your opinion doesn’t matter. It’s about serving the customer, so examine each competitor through that viewpoint.
Be action-oriented. Focus on actions. At this stage, will you know exactly the competing strategies to win? No, not with 100% accuracy, but as you work through a good exercise, you will spend the required time to identify key aspects. You will dissect why your competitor can win, which, in turn, focuses your team on identifying and bolstering counters to neutralize or exceed those strengths. For this reason, we spend most of our time in the black hat review trying to figure out how the competitor gets to a win… and then we flip the exercise around at the end to find ways to unravel the case we’ve just made for that success.
Document everything you do. It’s too easy to spend time doing a black hat that involves a lot of talk through the exchange of ideas. It’s too easy to forget to document that conversation and the paths that took you to good ideas (or bad). While documenting things may be a hassle, do you really think you remember finer details of discoveries made during the process? Especially months and several proposals/personnel down the road? Document everything so you can make that a touchstone of knowledge going forward.
We hope this helps you get the most out of running a black hat review. These are all lessons-learned from years of designing, researching, and directing black hats. Do you need some help? Just let FedSavvy Strategies know, and we’ll be happy to talk.
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