What's a big ticket sale? Bob McCord, owner of McCord Communications training and consulting firm, would say that big ticket sales range from $500,000 to $2 billion and take a small army of professionals to bid on and to "capture" (or win).

McCord ought to know because he has coached teams at Boeing and other large companies that have made the final oral presentations that have captured big ticket sales in this price range.

Here's my interview with McCord:

Sam Williams: Bob, please walk us through the sales processes for the mega sales that you have worked on.

Bob McCord: The starting point, of course, is first to become aware of the opportunity. If you are the incumbent provider, and the contract is going out to bid, then your client will remind you, if you don't already know.

If you aren't the incumbent or if it's an entirely new RFP (request for proposal), then your business development department will have learned about the opportunity by scanning websites that contain RFPs such as www.fbo.gov for the federal government; http//procure.az.gov for the State of Arizona; and pima.gov.procure for Pima County. Private websites like www.findrfp.com also can be helpful.

It's also important to touch bases with your primes - prime contractors that offer sub-primes the ability to participate in large contracts.

After we have identified an opportunity, a team of professionals is formed for the bid/no bid decision. This team evaluates the requirements of the RFP, the company's overall and unique capabilities, scheduling and possible profit margins. Does the RFP require a firm fixed price or does it permit best value procurement?

If the RFP requires a firm fixed price, then the contract usually goes to the lowest priced bid. But, if you have certain economic advantages over your competitors and you can price to win while still producing an acceptable margin, then you may want to bid on the RFP.

If the RFP allows for Best Value Procurement, then price isn't the sole determinant. If you have a superior track record or unique capabilities, then you could win the bid even if yours isn't the lowest price.

The go/no-go team also checks to see if the RFP is wired in such a way that it gives an incumbent or some other competitor an unfair advantage. But, that's not necessarily a knock-out condition. Many times we have still bid on opportunities that seemed to favor a competitor or an incumbent and still won because of the false sense of security the wired RFP gave them. (An example of that will be included in the next Sales Judo column in the May 20 issue.)

To sum up the go/no-go step, it corresponds to the early stages of qualifying sales leads where sales professionals attempt to determine what it will take to win the deal: price, fit, quality, service?

The good news with RFPs is that my prospects have already clearly stated that they want a particular product or service and has established specifications, formats and deadlines. Unlike most non-RFP sales, I don't have to tease those elements out of them.

Williams: What happens if the decision is go?

McCord: Some companies refer to the steps required to win the RFP as a "capture plan," and you can find a good description of one at http://www.shipleywins.com/library/23.pdf. Our capture plan is broken down into well-defined stages and tasks with teams (Blue Teams 1 and 2, Black Hat, Pink Team, Red Team and Gold Team) assigned to each stage.

In the first step, Blue Team 1 creates a written capture plan with a win strategy. It also determines gating factors (if the gate is open, go, but if its closed, stop) that, if encountered, may terminate the entire effort. For example, if we discover that a competitor has a patented technology, pricing and service that we just can't compete with, why bother to continue?

The Blue Team may also work with a Black Hat review team that examines our competitors' solutions and apparent strategies. This team usually consists of customer experts within and outside our company, and their focus is also on customer requirements, express and implied.

The Black Hat team must maintain its objectivity so that it can identify and deliver unpleasant news. It also has to have a kind of curiosity that identifies ways to improve our product relative to that of the competition. Sometimes the Blue Team will hire consultants from marketing research or competitive intelligence firms to help them out.

Williams: So, Blue Team 1 and the Black Hat review team are the strategy and intelligence collection units of the capture process. They sound a little like the CIA.

McCord: Right, and often, if problems occur downstream in the capture process, their origins occur in these early phases.

Next, a variation of Blue Team 1 called Blue Team 2 incorporates any new information obtained by the Black Hat Team into the capture plan. For example, if a competitor is weak in certain areas, we'll determine how we might exploit those weaknesses. One technique, called "ghosting," entails eroding the image of our competitors without openly attacking them. We do this by subtly bringing to light capabilities that we have which we know they don't. Often these ghosts find their way into the final proposal evaluation criteria and provide us with significant advantages.

A next step, involving the Pink Team, brings together senior VPs from management, the chief engineer and others who can clearly articulate the company's business case. They review the capture plan enhanced by Blue Team 2 and may make mid-course corrections at this time, including abandoning the RFP as unwinnable or undesirable if new information has come to light.

If neither of these outcomes occurs, then a Proposal Team is formed. It is responsible for responding to the specific requirements of the RFP, such as the written proposal and oral presentations within the context and schedule laid down in the capture plan most recently revised by the Pink Team.

Once we have prepared the proposal and oral presentation, a Red Team reviews both from the points of view of the customer's evaluators. Their job is to make certain that our proposal is responsive and in compliance with the RFP. As a rule they should have had no involvement with any of the other teams so that they can offer objective and unbiased criticism. The Red Team recommends rewrites, as needed.

Sometimes there is also a Gold Team that reviews the draft Proposal and the visual aids used in the final oral presentation. Their job is to make certain the business case is clearly stated and that the RFP is responsive at all points. Often members of the Gold Team assign themselves the roles of various evaluators, sometimes called "cultists," who will be at the final presentation.

Williams: Cultists?

McCord: Cultists are evaluators who are conscientious in the extreme. For example, there are cultists who specialize in quality, IT security, subcontract management, risk management, recruiting and hiring, to name a few. Often, each of these specialists will employ one or two consultants who also attend the final presentation and act as evaluators. You can actually have as many as 30 to 40 evaluators in the room.

Williams: Sounds pretty scary, Bob. Next time, let's discuss how you prepare your presenters for these running-the-gauntlet, winner-take-all presentations.

Contact Sam Williams, president of New View Group, at swilliams@newviewgroup.net or (520) 390-0568. Sales Judo appears the first and third weeks of each month in Inside Tucson Business.