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Instructional Articles
Articles outlining techniques, strategies, and lesson's learned about how to prime, subcontract and team on federal opportunities. The articles in this category provide background, discussion, and recommendations for entrpreneurs and small business owners. 

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7 Steps to Crafting the Perfect Trade Show Call to Action (CTA)

on Friday, 12 February 2016. Posted in Instructional, Techniques & Strategies

Trade Shows / Conferences are one of the most expensive marketing costs that many companies will invest in. So it makes sense to go into each event with a strong game plan for how your company will achieve the maximum Return on Investment (ROI) for the event. How many times have you heard the phrase "trade shows are a waste of time and money" from one of your colleagues? Probably a lot. In fact, many companies despise trade shows because they don't achieve the results they want and feel like it costs the company money instead of making it money.

The reason most companies don't get ROI out of events like this boils down to one simple problem that you can fix before your next event. It's called a Call to Action or CTA. A call to action is simply a CLEAR ACTION that you would like prospects to take. Now before I get into the steps to creating a call to action, let me be clear about something. There is such a thing as a bad CTA. So if you think you have a CTA, but you aren't getting the results you want, you may need to review the CTA to see if it's any good.

In our business, we are always testing our CTA's with sample lists to see what our conversion rates are. My sample lists typically consist of 2,500 blind emails. These are people that have never heard of us. The reason I do this is that I want an unbiased review of the CTA to see what the worst response possible is going to look like. Because if we can get a decent response from a blind list, I know I'm going to get a good response from people that know us.

So let's talk about how to craft the perfect trade show CTA.

1. Start with a Goal in mind. When I use the word goal here, I'm not saying: How many sales do you want or what is your overall goal for the event. I'm simply saying: What action do you want people to take when they see your CTA? What you should be thinking is: How do I get qualified people into my system / pipeline / funnel? You DON'T want raw volume here. You want qualified prospects. And the best way to do this is to have a really juicy piece of irresistible content that you are giving out.

We give out something called the Government Contractor's Success Kit. The kit comes with some really cool templates, a graphics pack, and a bonus video. Go check it out here: http://www.rsmfederal.com/linkedin

When we go to conferences, we hand out cards with how to download the kit on the back and we offer it at the end of our talks. Our goal is to generate 100+ downloads of this kit at each conference.
So why is this the main CTA that we use? Because we have tested it against several other CTA's and it performs the best. It has the highest conversion rate from a blind subscriber to downloading the kit and it's an easy entry point into our system. When used in combination with other tripwires, it produces amazing results. I explain more about tripwires below.

2. Make it easy, but not effortless. The one CTA that I hate at events is the old drop your card in the bowl to win a TV or something. That CTA is effortless and it puts a lot of unqualified prospects in your database. Which clutters up your database. Quick bit of marketing trivia. Did you know that a single unqualified lead in your database is estimated to cost as much as $1,000 over the course of time? Think about if for a second. If you market to them just like they are qualified, you may spend $500 on postage, direct mail pieces, and phone calls alone. AND unqualified prospects suck precious minutes out of your day that you should be spending talking to qualified prospect.

So back to my point of making your event CTA's easy, but not effortless. There are a lot of ways to do this. We love using a handout like a business card or postcard with a link on it. This also allows you to setup custom url's so you can track where leads come from. You can also use QR codes, setup signup stations in your booth, use social media (got to our facebook page to get the download), or use other handouts / chotchkies to accomplish this.

Filling out an application or watching a demo is not easy. Don't do that. It's irritating.

3. Remove the risk. Before you can remove risk, you have to understand what is risky to a cold prospect. Being asked to fill out 15 fields of information (that are all mandatory) is risky. Most people are willing to give you their name and email. That's not nearly as risky as giving out a phone number and mailing address.

So when you are asking people to fill out a form, just ask for name and email. It's proven that this method converts the highest and it's also proven that qualified prospects won't typically give you their phone number and / or mailing address without having a stronger relationship with you or your company.

4. Qualify the prospect. The easiest way to do this is to create an offer for your CTA that matches the biggest needs of your ideal prospects AND lines up with a service that you want to provide them.
Back to our Government Contractor's Success Kit for the example here. Our headline on our CTA is: Win More Government Contracts. Download the Government Contractor's Success Kit Today. This headline talks about a need of our ideal prospects. To win more government contracts. AND it ties to our services, which helps our clients win more government contracts.

Now, this doesn't eliminate the people who can't afford our services, but it does focus in on people who have winning more contracts as a top priority and that gets us a step closer to qualified. Our tripwires help qualify people even further. But you get the idea. This CTA will only attract people who want to win more contracts and it will position us as a company who can help with this. How does winning a free TV qualify people? It doesn't. It just puts business cards in a bowl.

5. Make it scalable. Scalable equals automation and technology. I try to only use systems where people are putting their information in on their phone, tablet, or computer. It's just not feasible for me to do this any other way. That is why I love sending people to a form on our website. This allows the prospect to enter in their own information (saving me time and money) and it also increases the accuracy of the data. If you have your own people inputting data, you will almost always have errors and lost leads because of those errors.

Making the collection of information scalable also allows you to use the CTA in multiple places. For us, we get to use the same CTA at our booth, while walking around the event, and while we are speaking from the stage.

Another thing you will want to do is integrate your marketing system with your CTA. For example, have the signup form on your website add the lead to your Constant Contact, Infusionsoft, or whatever email system you are using. If you have an autoresponder, have the new lead assigned to the autoresponder so they get your drip marketing.

Another reason I like having people input their own data is that it requires a little bit of effort. I want someone to go through a few hoops to get to me. It shows they have interest. If you make it too easy to reach you, you will be bombarded with unqualified leads.

6. Add in some Tripwires. This is probably my favorite step in the process. Tripwires are a simple and great way to engage your prospects at multiple levels and to further qualify them. The concept is very simple. Think about what you have to offer your prospects for free or even low cost and gently sprinkle that into the process of signing up for the original CTA.

If you want to see this in action, go to check out our Government Contractor's Success Kit page at http://www.rsmfederal.com/linkedin. When you sign up for the kit, you will be redirected to a page where you can download the kit. Directly below the kit is an offer to sign up for one of our free webinars. If you sign up for the free webinar, you will see another CTA (tripwire) for our free trial of the Federal Access program. Once in the Federal Access program, there are other CTA's to attend webinars as well as to upgrade to the full system.

7. Measure it. Last but not least, you have to measure your CTA's to find out what works best. I try to test 6 to 10 at a time. Once I have a winner, I will often play with the headline, message body, and even the unsubscribe notice to see what converts best. Marketing is all about math and knowing your numbers. What performs the best and what generates sales. A high conversion rate of "subscribers" may not be the right CTA for your company if it doesn't generate sales. In fact, sometimes you will find that a CTA with a lower upfront conversion rate may generate more sales in the long run because of something simple like the subject.

For example, you will have a high conversion rate for giving out a free TV, but the odds are slim that it will generate sales for your company unless you sell TV accessories. That is why it's so important to measure everything at every step. In our business, I not only measure the initial conversion rate, I measure the conversion rate from step to step and the overall conversion rate from lead to sale. This helps me make marketing decisions based on data and facts instead of gut feelings.

Bonus Tip: Be Prepared to Be Patient.

I get asked a lot how I became so good at marketing. My answer is simple. I try a lot of stuff and make note of what works and what doesn't. I stop doing what doesn't work and I ramp up what does work. It's not a complicated formula, but the average person / business owner wants to craft the perfect CTA on the first round in a vacuum and have it work. That is NOT a good formula for success.
If you want long-term success, create a dozen CTA's. Create multiple headlines for them, and test the crap out of them. That's the formula for crafting the perfect CTA.

Need help crafting the perfect CTA for your company?

Send me an email at mlejeune@rsmfederal.com and I'll be happy to setup a call with you.

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Michael LeJeune is a Partner and Federal Access Program Manager at RSM Federal, a federal coaching and consulting business-acceleration strategy firm that helps companies accelerate the education, techniques, strategies, and processes necessary to winning government contracts. For more information, videos, and contact information, please visit www.rsmfederal.com

How to Market to the Government: Step 1 - Getting to Know Your Customer

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

The Tools

One of the great things about selling to the government is that it is fairly easy to research who buys what you sell.  My favorite tool for researching this is the Federal Procurement Data System or FPDS.  You can search the tool by NAICS code/s, Agency, Department, Place of Performance, Keyword, and just over 320 other fields if you create a free account and use the Adhoc reports.  Just visit www.fpds.gov for more information on FPDS.  You can also check out this free FPDS Tutorial video we shot on how to use pivot tables and conduct basic FPDS searches.

Once you have the data from FPDS, I suggest searching FedBizOpps / FBO.  Search specifically on the agencies / organizations that you found in FPDS that are the top buyers of your services and look at all opportunities.  You are not necessarily looking to bid on an opportunity at this stage.  You are looking for intelligence on the organizations you want to sell to.  What types of solicitations are they putting out?  What is the average value of their solicitations?  How many solicitations do they have open at any given time?  What else can you learn from reviewing the opportunities in FBO?  Hint:  Multiple solicitations for products / services you sell means they are serious about buying those.  So pay close attention to that organization.

Calls You Should Make

Once you zero in on an organization you want to work with, I suggest calling the Small Business Office (OSBP /OSDBU).  Every organization has a person like this whose whole job is to help YOU learn how to sell to that particular organization.  In some cases, this person heavily influences acquisitions for that organization.  For example, if they are aware of a SDVOSB that can do the work they will tell that organization that the solicitation should be SDVOSB instead of full and open.  But this only happens if they know about your company.  Here is a list of the Federal OSDBU Directors and their contact information.

The Procurement Center Representatives and Area Directors for your geographic region can be a source of great information.  PCR's can answer specific contracting questions in their area and help you make connections to other PCR's.

You will also want to call the contracting officers specific to the organization you want to do business with.  One of the easiest ways to get this contact information is to ask the OSDBU (Office of Small Business) or to do a quick search on FBO for that organization.  Solicitations on FBO usually have at least one if not multiple contracting officers listed at the bottom of the solicitation.

Questions You Should Ask

This list of questions applies to discussions with the OSDBU, PCR's, and Contracting Officers CO's.  While this list isn't exhaustive, it should give you a good start and help guide your discussions.  NOTE:  Don't expect for everyone you call to be willing to answer all these questions.  It may help to just ask a few, thank the person, and then call back with additional questions.  But, here is a little trick that I've found to getting help from just about any government employee.  When you call, say the following:  "Hi there, I'm [your name] with [your company] I was wondering if you could help me with something?  [Pause - they will say yes]  I'm new government contracting.  We've done a bit of research and it looks like your organization buys what we sell, but I have no clue where to start.  Can you help me get started?"  They will yes and probably give you a little information and then you can start asking questions.

  • How does your agency procure the products / services I sell?
  • Can you help me understand your procurement process?
  • How should I market / sell to this organization?
  • Do you have an Approved Vendor list?  If so, how do I get on it?
  • Do you utilize simplified acquisitions?
  • How important are small business goals?
  • Are there any important conferences or industry days that we should plan on attending?
  • Can you introduce me to the conference coordinators?
  • What big projects do you have on your radar for the next 6-12 months?
  • What contract vehicles do you use the most?
  • If you were me, who else would you be talking to?
  • Can you make an email introduction for me?

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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

What is FPDS and 5 Ways it Can Help You Win Government Contracts

on Tuesday, 04 August 2015. Posted in Instructional

What is FPDS

The Federal Procurement Data System - Next Generation or FPDS (www.fpds.gov) is a government website that gives unprecedented real-time access to government spending patterns. The system is free to access and only requires you to create an account. The beauty of a system like this is that it allows contractors to look at past contract actions to determine the propensity and viability of doing business with the government. A quick search can tell you if the government is spending money on what you sell, how much they are spending on it, who the top agencies are that are buying what you sell, and who your competition and best teaming partners are.

What gets reported to FPDS?
A large percentage of Government contracts that have an estimated value of $3,000 or more as well as modifications to the contract. Keep this in mind when you are searching the system because you will often find multiple "actions" on a particular contract. This does not mean a new contract has been issued. It simply means that some sort of contract "action" has occurred. Contracting actions are updated on a daily basis to FPDS. 

Due to federal requirements, contract actions often take 90 days to be posted to FPDS. In other words, FPDS is often behind by one calendar quarter.

FPDS does not track or have report data available for the following: Grants, FEDSTRIP's, MILSTRIP's, GSA stock and GSA consolidated purchase programs, and government purchase card purchases under the micro-purchase threshold.

5 Ways FPDS can help you win government contracts

1. Determine if government contracting is a viable option for your company. If you are already in government contracting, this point is not for you. But if you are thinking of pursuing government contracts, this is the most important point for you. Before you spend months pursuing government programs, certifications, or getting a GSA schedule, you need to do some research. The first thing you need to research is the market viability of selling what you offer to the government. Many times people just assume that the government does or does not want what they have to sell. The only way to know this is to pull the reports from FPDS. You will first need NAICS codes. NAICS codes are the North American Industry Classification System Codes for every industry and service. These are standard codes that the government uses to look up vendors who sell what you sell. If you don't know your NAICS codes you can look them up online or you can Google them. Once you pull the report in FPDS, you will quickly be able to identify if the government is buying what you sell and how much they are spending on it annually. This will give you a lot of insight into how you should pursue government contracting. 

2. Use FPDS to identify all agencies that are buying what you sell. One of the easiest ways to search data in the system is by NAICS code. This allows you to target your specific product or service and to pull detailed reports by what you sell. Once you do a search on your NAICS code, you can download this data into an Excel spreadsheet and sort the data. Once you have the data, you will want to look at the "Contracting Agency" field. This is the list of agencies that are buying what you sell. Once you identify who is buying what you sell, you can now develop a strategy for how you are going to approach and target them.

3. Identify your top competitors and potential teaming partners. The "Vendor Name" field is a list of all contractors that were awarded contracts. You can sort this data by vendor, agency, contract type, vendor's location and many other fields to determine who your competitors are by agency, geographic region, and other options. The value of knowing this is twofold. First, you always want to know who you are up against. This allows you to do research on your competition and to position your company with as many differentiators as possible. This also lets you know if you have one main competitor or multiple. For example, your main competition on Army contracts could be one company and your main competition on Navy contracts could be a totally different set of companies. You need to know this information so you can plan and execute your strategy properly. Secondly, most companies just getting into government contracting often win contracts as a subcontractor under a teaming agreement. How do you find those potential partners? The same way you find your competition, by looking at these reports. A good way to do this is to look at companies who already have past performance (have won government contracts). Your next step is to look at which companies you may already have a point of contact for or some synergies. 

--> For more information on teaming, visit our article: 14 Questions You Should Ask Before Teaming on Government Contracts

4. Watch for changes in government spending and trends. One of the best things about FPDS is that you will always have a firm grasp on what the government is spending for your products or services. This data allows you to watch trends such as increases, decreases, or shifts in your market. For instance, you could start out with the Air Force as your number one client and spot a trend over time that shows they are decreasing their spend for your services, but that the Department of Commerce is starting to spend more on your services. This allows you to shift your market strategy and target the real "buyers" for what you sell. This also allows you to consider changes in the market, staffing, and many other factors essential to your success.

5. Formulate your strategy. Once you have all of the information in items 1-4, you can start to form your strategy. At RSM Federal, we recommend that you have an overall strategy for how you will approach the government in general and then micro strategies for how you approach the different agencies and a Programmatic Teaming Strategy (PTS) for your partners, both primes and subs. Understand that not all agencies buy the same way and that there are many opportunities that you need to be aware of. 

Whether you are working on your main strategy or micro strategies, the FPDS system is one of several tools you will use to gather market intelligence. We recommend checking FPDS every 3 to 6 months depending on your industry. This will allow you to stay on top of trends and allow you to make changes to your strategy on an ongoing basis.

A word of caution. . . Various government watchdog groups and consulting firms have suggested that FPDS can be off by as much as a billion dollars at any given time. What you really need to know is that human beings are entering the data and from time to time make mistakes. The reports that you pull are only as good as the data that was entered so just understand that the data can be off at any given time. However, the amount of information in FPDS is extensive enough to mitigate the errors and absence of information. So, FPDS remains one of the top tools we recommend for initial and ongoing propensity research. 

Also beware that many government systems and bid-matching services pull their data from FPDS. In many cases, consultants charge thousands of dollars for the same data that you can access for free via FPDS. So buyer beware . . .   

For a quick tutorial on FPDS, please check out this short video. 

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Joshua Frank is a Principal of 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 on RSM Federal, please visit www.rsmfederal.com

  • Three (3) Government Contracts in Just Eight Months

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