Whenever we execute a competitive analysis or black hat session, the first thing we consider is the customer. Every competitor is focused on making that customer believe that their solution is the best choice. Identifying and integrating customer needs, wants, and fears into analysis, including Black Hat reviews, is critical to guarantee that our efforts are impactful and realistic.
How do we ensure that a customer needs, wants, fears assessment is accurate and verifiable, and achieve the full value of the customer assessment?
Determine who is the customer – U.S. Government agencies are complex organizations. These involve multiple decision makers and influencers who will make an award decision or influence it. Discuss and identify the true decision makers and influencers. There may be people who are important, but if they do not decide or strongly influence the final award decision…let’s be honest, they are non-factors in appealing to customer concerns.
Categorize customer concerns – We frame these as needs, wants and fears. Always frame these against known or suspected evaluation criteria!
- Need – Absolutely necessary to satisfy this in order to be at least minimally credible.
- Want – This is “nice to have” if you can make it happen, but the customer may be unwilling to pay extra.
- Fear – Failing to satisfy this creates a potentially significant risk in the customer’s mind, which may unravel any goodness in your proposed solution.
Identify biases in your interpretation of customer concerns – It’s easy to align the customer’s priorities with your own capabilities. Using a biased interpretation of your customer is a disservice to you and your capture team. Evaluate the issues and needs that the customer has explicitly stated in some credible manner. This may come through dialogue (let’s hope!) with the customer(s) and not through 2nd and 3rd degree sources.
Remember this sage statement…
“I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” –Abraham Maslow, The Psychology of Science, 1966
Test credibility of your interpretations of customer concerns – Trust nothing. Verify everything. If a customer concern fits a bit too neatly into your core capabilities it may not necessarily be serendipity at work. Understand your information sources and the statements behind each need, want, and fear. Look at customer statements, direct stakeholder interactions, program priorities and any draft RFP documents to verify these issues.
Apply your customer needs, wants, and fears assessment to competitors – This assessment lays the groundwork for other competitive analysis and Black Hat review activities. Use this to guide your understanding of yourself, your partners, and your competitors. Interpret competitors based on known customer priorities. In a Black Hat review, work to address those customer concerns as the competitor using their capabilities. This significantly impacts how we look at the competitive field and how we understand the strengths and weaknesses of competitor offerings. Don’t assume the competitor is going to propose a feature of a solution because it fits the competitor’s desires.
For example, if we are acting as Competitor X and we initially think that they gain some competitive advantage through the use of their SECURITYGIZMO proprietary, cutting edge cybersecurity tool because it seems to (1) fit needs based on what we know, (2) has a good track record of performance and (3) the competitor tends to apply this to many of their solutions, ask yourself questions such as:
- Does the customer really want the “cutting edge” or “just enough to be “compliant”?
- Will the customer will be impressed by a mature tool offering?
- Will they run screaming from any solution involving the word proprietary?
Balancing needs, wants, fears against the Section M evaluation criteria – If a customer concern does not fit in Section M, it doesn’t matter.
Executing a competitive analysis or Black Hat review without understanding what the customer concerns are (needs, wants, fears) is more of a general academic exercise rarely grounded in the only thing that really matters – WINNING.
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