Black Hat – The Wild Wild West

Helene Johnson
February 2, 2021 | 6 min read

What on earth is a Black Hat and why should we do one?

To truly understand the value of a Black Hat, think about the Western movies you have seen.

There are good guys and bad guys. There are saloons with poker players, dancing girls, and whiskey.

Everyone is sitting in the bar drinking their whiskey; the women are milling about. All of a sudden, a crew of “bad guys” slam open the swinging doors and waddle unsteadily into the bar.

All talking stops; everyone turns to look at them. Anxiety, fear, or sometimes shock fills their faces.

The bad guys usually have several things in common:

  1. They waddle because they are weighted down with their holsters and guns.
  2. They are unbathed and tend to be chewing tobacco, which makes them talk like John Wayne.
  3. They look like they’ve been hunkering down and haven’t visited a barber in a long time.
  4. They all wear – you guessed it – black hats!

Now, go with me here. What do bad guys in black hats have to do with bidding to win?

They all want something from those who are in that saloon.

They may want someone’s gold, land, horses, women, or just a part in another B-rated Western movie.

And what about all the people in the saloon? They were just fat and happy; drinking, flirting, and losing at poker. They did not expect to have to deal with the bad guys. They were caught unprepared.

That is what a Black Hat is all about.

Putting it simply – it’s for your company to be ready for the bad guys!

Maybe you are happily performing on a current contract and know you have another year or two before it’s up for recompete. Or you found the perfect new opportunity to go after, but you must know that others out there want that work and will do and say what is necessary to get it.

They are not scared of you because you don’t know when they will show up. If you’re not ready, well, let’s just say there will be plenty of fistfights, shooting, and spitting of tobacco. All havoc will break out. Eventually, some will have to leave the saloon – there will be a winner and a few losers.

When should you do a Black Hat?

The right time to do one is early and often. If you have work to protect, you need to do multiple black hats.

We recommend doing your first Black Hat two years out from your recompete. Why so early? Because your competitors will be tracking your work and going after it. How do you know who is going after it two years out?

Ask yourself: Who’s been after your other programs? Who’s been visiting your client? Who are your teammates (yes, they are your competitors unless they don’t want to risk losing their current work)? Who else has work for this client? Who are you constantly running into lately at conferences or on webinars?

These are all potential competitors.

Why do Black Hats so often? Because things happen. Technology changes. Companies merge and some go under. Government clients leave. New ones come in. They have their favorite contractors – those they trust. They don’t know you and in some cases are stuck with you until your recompete or an option period comes up.

Basically, the landscape changes, and you must revisit your potential competitors. We recommend reviewing and revising your Black Hat results every 6 months.

How do you do a Black Hat?

This is where the fun comes in. Yes, fun. Every facilitator leads Black Hats differently. We at TechnoMile help you to make them fun.

Let me back up a bit. Before the Black Hat, we have to do some not-so-fun stuff first. Research each competitor you are going to consider (model) in your session. We recommend no more than 4 companies.

If you have businesses that are similar (i.e., two large businesses that are both integrators), you may want to pick just the one that you know will go after the deal. More than 4 companies are too many.

Have someone learn as much as they can about each company: Their trends, pricing, footprint at the agency, skills, etc. TechnoMile’s Competitive Insights platform, which is a market intelligence tool that consolidates and enriches data from top federal sources, is an excellent resource for efficiently conducting competitive research and analysis.

Then, take all of this information and create a briefing book for each company. This briefing book will take the place of any basic research needed to be done on the day of the Black Hat.

The rule of thumb for the number of participants needed for a successful black hat is three times the number of competitors you are going to model, plus a facilitator.

Make sure that you invite your teammates to this session. And make sure you invite folks that know the companies you are modeling. But have no fear. You can still have a successful Black Hat without teammates and without people who know the competitors.

Now, it’s time for the actual Black Hat.

This is where the facilitator’s style comes to play. There is no cookie-cutter Black Hat format. What’s most important is that there are enough people to assign to each competing team and that everyone dedicates the entire day to the session.

No matter what style and format is done, the basics remain the same. The facilitator assigns everyone to a team. The capture manager briefs everyone on the opportunity. The participants separate into the competitor team they were assigned.

Over the next several hours, each company comes up with their story: Why Us and Not You. After the teams have completely formed their strategy of why “their company” should win the deal, all teams get back together, then each team presents to the entire group.

After all the teams have presented, it is now time for everyone to remove their assigned company persona and come together as one. Now, you will help the Capture Manager recover and come up with the really important approach to answer the question: Why should the government pick us and no one else?

How do you know when your Black Hat is successful?

Just like in our example of the Western movie, the room you meet in should look like the saloon after a brawl. Tables are upturned and the dancing girls are in the corner, making fun of the fools on the floor and on the bar. The barkeeper is upset and wondering who’s going to clean up this mess. The saloon owner is downright disgusted.

In our Black Hat, the capture manager is worried and convinced that they cannot beat the competition and we are going to lose for sure. But then, the team comes together and cleans up the place and rights the chairs and tables. The piano player starts to play and all is right with the world again.

In the end, the good guys ride off in the sunset to look forward to another day. In other words, we come up with the winning approach, better than any other company could, and we win the deal.

Categorized: Blogs


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