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How and Where to Conduct Research Prior to Meeting with a Government Prospect

on Thursday, 14 April 2016. Posted in Techniques & Strategies

Have you ever had a meeting with a government prospect that didn't go the way you had hoped?  Or worse, you think the meeting went great, but then you never hear from the prospect again or they won't take your calls?  This is a very familiar scenario for government contractors.
 
Research will not only improve your meetings, but also increase your chances of winning contracts on the backend of a successful meeting.  I'm amazed at how many companies "wing it" when it comes to prospect meetings.  A lot of contractors walk into meetings with a plan to deliver their capabilities statement; talk about their company, products, and services; and ask about opportunities.  This is a recipe for looking and sounding like every other contractor.  And you don't want that.  You want to differentiate yourself and your company from every other contractor that the prospect has talked to.  And that requires an education / research on your part.  Luckily, there are a multitude of online resources you can use to educate yourself on your prospect before your first meeting.  And the good news is that this research shouldn't take you more than 1 to 2 hours to do.  It just depends on the volume of information available for your NAICS codes and the type of products / services you provide.
 
The first tool I suggest you check out is FPDS.  The Federal Procurement Data System is the most comprehensive free tool available to government contractors for determining who buys what you sell.  You can break down buying history by NAICS, PSC, Place of Performance, Agency, Department, and many other factors.  This allows you to quickly and easily determine if you should even be meeting with a prospect as well as how much they typically spend on your products.
 
FBO is typically the next place I suggest you use for research.  It's very easy to go into FBO and lookup an organization to see if there are any open solicitations for your products / services.  Make a list of any opportunities that relate to your company and be prepared to ask questions about them.  I'm not saying that is where your focus should be in the meeting, but it is something you need to be prepared for.  Something I might say in a meeting is, "I noticed you that you currently have 15 solicitations that relate to our products / services.  If you were us, which ones would you recommend we focus on?"  This is a great question to ask because you are likely to get expert advice on where you should spend your time.  Who better to tell you this than the prospect?
 
Every prospect you will EVER come into contact with is connected to a Small Business Office, officially known as the Office of Small Business (OSB) and has a small business officer.  That small business officer should be able to tell you all about the prospect you are meeting.  Now I will throw out the disclaimer that this is just like anything else in the world.  Some small business offices just aren't very helpful or knowledgeable.  The fastest way to determine if an OSB is worth your time is to ask them if they work closely with your prospects on solicitations before they are made public.  What you are probing for here is to find out their actual influence over the acquisition process.  The officers who work closely with the prospect in pre-acquisition are the ones that are going to know about opportunities BEFORE they hit the street as well as go to bat for you if the prospect tries to make a solicitation full and open as opposed to 8a, SDVOSB or whatever it should be.
 
Agency / Department or Location Sites - It's worth a quick search online to see if the prospect you are meeting with has an individual location website as well as if they are posting opportunities on acquisition websites outside of FBO.  Depending on the prospect and the size of the solicitation, organizations utilize many different websites to post opportunities.  For example, the Intelligence Community ARC, Navy NECO, or DLA DIBBS to name a few.
 
Last but certainly not least, you can always Google the prospect.  I like to google terms such as "prospect name" and contracts or solicitation, "prospect name" and press release, and simply "prospect name".  These three searches should return several quick results that you can scan to learn more about the prospect as well as the latest news on them.  For example, you could find out that their entire budget has just been frozen for six months.  This is something you should know before your meeting.
 
This next step is what turns research into actionable intelligence.  Use all of this research to build your meeting strategy.  Map out the questions you want to ask, what questions you should be prepared to answer, your goals and objectives for the meeting, what materials if any that you bring to the meeting, and think through and strategize about the possible scenarios.
 
Follow these simple tips and you will not only get better at conducting research prior to a meeting, you will get better at determining what is actionable intelligence and what is just "good to know" information and you will definitely get better at conducting your prospect meetings.
 
For more information on this topic, please check out the Federal Access Webinar:  How to Engage and Position During Government Prospect Meetings.  This session will realign your expectations on what to actually focus on during an initial prospect meeting.  To register for the webinar just Click Here.
 
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Michael LeJeune is a Partner and Federal Access Program Manager at RSM Federal, a federal consulting and business-acceleration strategy firm that helps businesses in accelerating the education and processes necessary to winning government contracts. For more information, videos, and contact information, please visit www.rsmfederal.com

You Don't Win Government Contracts With Your Socio-Economic Status

on Friday, 11 December 2015. Posted in Techniques & Strategies

A socio-economic status is a powerful differentiator. That's it. It's a differentiator.

My team has worked with thousands of companies and this is a common challenge and misperception amongst small businesses.

Tell me if this sounds familiar?

  • Business cards where your socio-economic status logo is just as large as your corporate logo?
  • When you look at the homepage of your website, all of your socio-economic statuses have logos that are built into the top graphic of your homepage or they are elsewhere on the page... and they're at least an inch in diameter? 
  • Your capability statement (line card, project list, etc.) has your socio-economic logo(s) at the top where it's the first thing you see when you look down?
  • Your website and marketing materials start with, "We're a small woman-owned business that provides..." or "We're an 8a, woman-owned small business that provides..."
  • When you walk into a meeting with a prospect or potential teaming partner, you start your 45 second introduction with "We're an 8a or woman owned or service disabled veteran owned... etc."

In general, this is the norm for many small businesses. I'm going to explain why it's wrong, why it minimizes the value of what you provide, and how you should communicate your status. Don't take my word for it. Our Federal Access Members have won more than $1.5 Billion in small business contracts since 2011.

Yes, I know - this is what you've been told to do. Small business offices, your mentors, your colleagues, and the various non-profits funded by DoD and your local community all tell you to, "Put it front and center! There are federally mandated set-aside levels for your company! Larger companies and potential partners have sub-contracting plans that require that they team with companies just like yours! Use your status!"

This does NOT make smart business sense and I'll explain why.

Softly Communicate Your Status

For the last three years, I've supported the SBA's Emerging Leader's Program. As part of that support, I work alongside various state and federal contracting officers, associations, and organizations that focus on supporting the small business community. During a class, several months ago, I made the point that regardless of market (commercial or government), you need to "softly" utilize your socio-economic status(s). The Director of one of our local non-profits, that focuses on helping small businesses get into government, very forcefully told the class that I didn't know what I was talking about. I sat there and waited for someone to ask why? Eventually someone asked me to explain and when I did, every business owner in the class agreed. For the Director of our local non-profit - it's not her fault. It's how she was trained, how she trains her counselors, and it's why most small businesses start most introductions with their status and size.

Think about this:

A prospect (government or commercial) buys from you because of the value you provide. It's not because of your products or services. There are hundreds of companies that sell what you sell. It's not because of your socio-economic status. You can have two or three statuses but if you don't convince your prospect that you're competent, your status doesn't matter. Not to mention your status is not as strong a differentiator as you've been led to believe. Sure, it's a differentiator but you don't win contracts because of it.

It's not what you sell. It's the value of the products or services that you provide. It's not the statuses or certifications your company holds. Those are just regulatory buckets. Yes, the government can sole source 8a contracts. Yes, the government can sole source 8m (WOSB) contracts - but you can read an earlier post about how unlikely and difficult it is to actually win an 8m sole source contract. Your company will NOT win a set-aside contract if you don't convince the prospect that the value of what you provide is outstanding.

Now some of you are thinking, "These are just semantics." To some extent, you're correct. But from a business perspective, this is more than semantics. It's about how you approach the market, position your company with prospects and partners, and how you differentiate a level of maturity that is not commonly found in small business.

What Happens When You Focus On Value

One of our Members asked for help preparing for a meeting with a senior contracting official at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas. We discussed how to approach the meeting and how to follow-up. Most important, we told them not to mention their socio-economic statuses during their 45 second introduction. (They are 8a, WOSB, and Native American.) The meeting was going well, the business owner gave a short overview of the company, immediately took control of the discussion, and about 30 minutes into the meeting, it came out that she had multiple socio-economic statuses.

The contracting officer leaned forward and said, "We have contracting goals that require that we work with companies like yours. Why didn't you tell me you had all these statuses!"

She said, "Because that's now who we are. That's not the value we provide." The contracting officer leaned back and said, "That's the best answer I've ever heard."

Until that point, the owner focused on collecting intelligence and communicating the value of her products and services. There are so many other techniques and strategies that had a role during this meeting but that's for another time.

Just remember this - it's not what you sell. It's not your socio-economic status. It's the qualifiable and quantifiable value that you communicate to your prospects and partners. Don't worry, you're socio-economic status will eventually come into every discussion. But you should never lead with it! Do the capture managers for Northrup Grumman or Lockheed Martin introduce themselves as, "Hi, I'm John with Lockheed and we're a large business that provides..."? Of course not. They rely on their past performance and the perceived value of their company. Yes, we all know they're a large company but why do only small businesses introduce themselves with their size?

Yes - this is commonly accepted and taught to most small companies. But from a business perspective, it makes little sense.

This is why you don't put your status on the front of your business card; why you don't put it front and center on your homepage, and why you should stop introducing your company as a status.

You're not a status. You're a company that provides value.

 

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Joshua P. Frank is Managing Partner for RSM Federal, founded in 2008, a federal coaching and business-acceleration strategy firm that helps businesses in accelerating the education, techniques, strategies, and processes necessary to winning government contracts.

This article referenced the Federal Access Program.

For more information, visit http://www.rsmfederal.com

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