Articles tagged with: Teaming

How Important Is Your Website To Teaming Partners?

on Thursday, 04 June 2015. Posted in Teaming

Many companies don't realize that their first government contract win will more than likely come from teaming. In fact, after speaking to literally thousands of government contracts, we estimate that nearly 90% of companies get their first contract as a subcontractor on a team. But that it just the beginning. A solid Programmatic Teaming Strategy (PTS) will easily increase your qualified opportunities by 400% or greater. The challenge for many companies is that they underestimate how teaming partners evaluate their capabilities, competencies, and value to the team.

For this piece, I want to focus on one of the more overlooked areas when it comes to teaming; your WEBSITE! How important do you think your website is when potential partners are evaluating your company? My guess is that you underestimate your website value to teaming. The first thing that you need to understand is that large companies evaluate dozens if not hundreds of companies each year. That's right, hundreds... And one of the fastest ways to scratch a company off their list and reduce their workload is by spotting an unprofessional website.

I recently conducted a test of government contractors in SAM (System for Award Management) and found that over 50% of the companies I reviewed had less than professional websites. So what does an unprofessional website look like? They typically wreak of the 90's. You know what I'm talking about. A frames based website with simple text links or worse, a great big image or flash video that takes forever to load and covers-up the entire page. But the real sign of a bad website is something that hasn't been updated in months or even years. I found one website that was last updated in 2009. That gives a bad impression to any company that visits. The ultimate "fail" is when you try to visit a company website and it doesn't exist anymore or it's been moved.

If you happen to make the cut past their initial review, here are the following things that MUST be on your site in order to be considered for the next step in the teaming process.

1.  Are your core competencies listed and easy to find? I heard a great quote at a recent conference. The quote was, "If it doesn't say it, it doesn't say it". What do I mean by that? You can't assume that your website says stuff that it doesn't. You can't simply imply that you provide a service or elude to what your competencies are. You have to SPELL IT OUT and make it crystal clear. As my dad used to say, "it has to be clear enough for a blind man to see it."

2.  Do your core competencies match what you have told them? I can't tell you how many times we speak to a partner and they say something is their competency, but it's not listed anywhere on their website. In fact, a lot of times, there's nothing even close to what they told us on their website. It's great to be able to talk a good game, but 1. NEVER embellish on what your capabilities are if you can't back it up and 2. You MUST be great at capturing your competencies and past performance through a process we call competency-mapping. This is the only way to make sure you clearly communicate your value to the team.

3.  Do you appear as a jack-of-all-trades or a Subject Matter Expert? The only thing worse than not capturing your core competencies is capturing everything you have ever done. Appearing to be a jack-of-all-trades is often a quick way to get booted from a potential team. It communicates that you only MAYBE have the skills to perform on a contract and MAYBE is not the name of the game. What you want in this situation is to appear as a Subject Matter Expert or SME. An SME understands the client, the market, and product or service that the client is looking for. Think of it this way, if you need a brain surgeon, you don't want a general practitioner cutting you open do you? I know that's a crude example, but it's a simple one. Also, if I'm in need of a brain surgeon and I do my research on them and their website doesn't say BRAIN SURGEON, I'm probably going to move on to the next guy on my list. As an SME, your website should be full of content and screams you are an SME in your field, industry, and core competencies. In fact, one of the best ways to demonstrate this is to approach this as a thought leader. Thought leaders are experts who continually create articles, books, materials, and other evidence that they are experts in their field.

4.  Do you have a government landing page? I know this one seems obvious, but I run across a lot of companies that are government contractors that don't have a government landing page. Remember that website study I referenced above that I conducted through SAM? During that study I found that only 20% of the companies I researched had a government landing page. Make it easy for potential partners and clients to understand that you work with the government by having a simple government landing page (I suggest one of your main tabs). The key pieces that should be on your government landing page are: Your Capabilities Statement, an overview / narrative of what you do and who you serve, a detailed listing of your core competencies, your NAICS codes, PSC codes, CAGE code, DUNS Number, a listing of your contract vehicles, and contact information.

5.  Capabilities Statement - Many companies have this information listed as text on the page and while that is great, I highly suggest you put a PDF of your Capabilities Statement on your government landing page. The reason is that it just makes it easy for teaming partners and contracting officers to download, printout, or email.

These key items will make a massive difference next time your company is being evaluated as a teaming partner. If you have any questions about the quality, professionalism, and effectiveness of your website or government landing page, please reach out to me directly and schedule a website review. I'll give you honest and objective feedback that will help you make a better impression on the web. Just email me at contact@rsmfederal.com.

Also, if you are a Federal Access Member, please check out the video on Government Landing Pages in the Video Library.

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Michael LeJeune is a Senior Consultant and the 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

The Name of the Game is Differentiation

on Monday, 09 March 2015. Posted in Techniques & Strategies

Times haves changed in government contracting. 

Once upon a time, in the land of Washington D.C., the Federal government actually preferred the use of sole source contracting and that was a key focus of every contractor. Contractors would jockey for position in the hopes of positioning themselves for and winning a sole source contract. Today, the days of hoping for and utilizing sole-sourcing as a core corporate strategy are pretty much over.

The government has slowly and purposefully increased competition requirements. Today, you may be up against 50 other companies responding to the same RFP. This example isn't an exaggeration. In fact, RSM Federal recently threw their hat in the ring on a contract and the interested vendor list totaled just over 50 companies.

The government is continually coming under fire to not only acquire the best products and services they can, but also at the lowest price - even to the detriment of quality and value. That's why you are seeing Low Price Technically Acceptable (LPTA) more and more often in government RFPs. But, this doesn't necessarily imply procuring the cheapest products. It means evaluating price and other factors, not limited to, quality, benefits, delivery speed, guarantees, and a whole host of other factors to get the very best deal. The problem for many companies today is that they don't communicate enough value, benefit, and other differentiating factors to minimize their competition's competitiveness.

Like you, we often hear stories of companies who lost a bid, but felt they were the most qualified or had the best products. It's marketing and branding 101 and it's as simple and as complex as that.

So how do you solve this problem? During a strategy session with Microgrid-Energy in St. Louis, Missouri, the question was raised, "What are the best practices for differentiation and how do successful companies do it? Just as important, as the leader in solar energy for the St. Louis region and much of the Midwest, our differentiation is critical to providing our general contractors with competitive advantage. So, what differentiation factors will help make our general contractors more competitive on single award (SATOC) and multiple award task order contracts (MATOC)?

How do you not only get noticed, but stand out from the crowd and SCREAM, "MY COMPANY IS THE BEST CHOICE"! There are two primary ways to solve this problem. The first is by implementing a process where you understand and know how to communicate your differentiation and the second is strengthening your capture strategy so that you ultimately produce more qualified opportunities to bid on. Just understand that adding more opportunities to your pipeline without clearly communicating your differentiation is akin to trying to fill a bucket with water when the bucket is riddled with holes. You will ultimately waste a lot of opportunities and precious time fighting a losing battle. That is why we recommend strengthening your differentiation first and then working on your capture strategy and why the remainder of this article will focus on differentiation.

Companies are constantly looking for and coming up with new ways to differentiate. Today I want to focus on just five of these strategies. These five strategies are in our opinion, the core pieces of differentiation that every company needs to understand and constantly refine.

1. Capability Statement: Your capability statement is one of your primary tools because, when developed correctly, is a key document that communicates the benefit and value of your products and services with the prospect and communicates the ability for your company to make a partner / prime contractor more competitive with you on the team. It includes who you are - an overview of the company, your approach to clients and / or partners, past performance, your products and / or areas of expertise, certifications, company data, and contact information. But most important, your focus is communicating value and benefit - not simply what you sell or the services you provide. These are the basics that MUST be in your capability statement. In addition to this, you want to approach this as a marketing piece and have it carefully designed to focus on value. This is not a place to skimp on graphics or the look and feel. RSM's capability statement also lists our areas of expertise and breaks out our services into categories using keywords and phrases that would often be used by a contractor looking for our services. We also suggest listing any government or commercial contracts that you have in order to build credibility and making buying easier for those already authorized to use those contract vehicles. We have several different examples. If you're interested, let us know and we'll send you a copy which you can review and use as a template.

2. Leveraging Past Performance: Whether it's your capability statement or your response to an RFP, you must clearly convey your past performance. Most companies don't do this very well. Part of this strategy includes an ongoing process of collecting past performance. In order to do this, you have to constantly engage your employees and find out what they are accomplishing for your clients. You should also do a debrief or after action review (AAR) after every project is complete. In one debrief, for one of our clients, we found that an on-site employee had been working on the next generation accounting system for a fortune 500 company and our client had no idea their employee had been doing this as a side project. So have a system in place for discovering past performance and then determine how and where you will communicate it. One recommendation is to create a past performance folder. You can use a word document or another tool like Evernote to track these. Just make sure the tool you are using has a simple search function. I like using Evernote for the simple reason that it will show me notes that are related to each other. So if I create each past performance piece under a separate note, the system will automatically find and relate other notes. This then becomes extremely helpful when you are looking for all past performance related to a specific topic. Finally, most companies in both commercial and government markets have a folder either on a computer or shared drive with past performance write-ups that they've used in proposals.

3. Positioning your Competencies: This is a process that you will follow each time you approach a new client or contract. The first step to positioning your competencies is something called Competency-Mapping. "Competency-Mapping is a method that forces you to evaluate and map the value and benefits of your products or services and differentiate them based on a specific prospect, that prospect's unique problems or challenges, and/or a specific opportunity." (Excerpt from RSM Federal's; The Government Sales Manual.) For RSM Federal, this process often starts with the simple question, "How is this competency important to the client and why do they care"? Starting with this shapes your process and forces you to answer the prospects most important questions. This approach allows you to take your competencies and map them directly to a prospect's problem or need which will result in a custom approach to solving your prospect's requirements and help you stand out from the competition.

When approaching a new client or contract, you have to take a step back and clearly understand what the client's greatest challenges / needs are, how you can solve their problems, and how best to communicate this information. The days of boilerplate answers and boilerplate capability statements are over. Sure, you can reuse marketing copy in your pieces and we are not discounting that. You just have to understand that the customization of your materials will go a long way toward differentiating you from your competition and thus winning more business. For example, if you serve multiple industries or niches, you may want to tailor your capability statement for each one. When you respond to an RFP, you will want to tailor the language in your RFP response so that those on source selection feel that you are responding directly to their requirements. Key point - whenever possible, tailor for each prospect or partner. It takes time but exponentially increases your chances for success.

4. By Product or Service: One of the most common ways to differentiate is by product or service. This one is a little more self-explanatory, but companies still miss out on a huge opportunity we find most can improve how they do it. When you are looking at your products or services, there are several factors to consider. When thinking about product differentiators, consider the following: quality, pricing, functional features, design, availability, and the knowledge / education level of the buyer on the product. When thinking of service differentiators consider these: Speed, lower risk, stronger processes, differences in project / program management methodology, past performance, level of understanding of the customer's processes and systems, geographic location, and reputation. These are just some of the factors that you need to consider when thinking about product and service differentiation. Even more important, none of the differentiator types we just listed are any good without using quantifiable and qualifiable metrics. You need percentages, dollar amounts, savings, opportunity cost, etc.

If you are responding to an RFP, you should be able to determine which of these factors are most important to the customer and then customize your response to highlight the areas that you are most qualified in. If you've attended one of our sessions at an SBA, Department of Veterans Affairs, or other National conference, you know the importance of collecting intelligence on an opportunity before the RFP or RFQ is released. It's a good idea to ask the contracting officer questions (better yet, talk to the program manager) about these factors in order to get a more clear picture of what their priorities are. Depending on the uniqueness of your product or service you may even be able to ghost your unique capabilities into an RFP. This only happens when you are communicating with potential clients well before and RFP or RFQ hits the street, and can only be done with proper communication, planning, and capture management. Engaging opportunities in pre-acquisition, before the RFP is released, is a key training focus with most of our clients. 

5. Through Teaming: It's our personal belief that teaming, when done correctly, can be one of your largest weapons in government contracting. Teaming has many different layers, but the most common is teaming for the purposes of winning a contract. We often work with companies on positioning with prime contractors and general contractors. Getting on a team is not the important piece. What's critical is how you position to get on the team and subsequently position during source selection and after the contract or task order is awarded. What good is it if you get on a winning team but you don't make any money? This happens often, especially with smaller companies. Your objective is to find the prime that is the best fit for your capabilities and has the best chance of winning the contract. This requires a little research on your part and there are many government tools you can use to find out who is interested in the contracts you are interested in and the past performance of the primes so that you can determine the best fit.

Here are just a few questions you will want to ask before approaching a company you want to team with. Do we already have a relationship with one of the interested companies? Do the interested companies already have a partner that does what we do? Do we have actionable intelligence on this opportunity that no one else has? Why would a prime want to work with us over another company? Does our company do something so unique that we would be an asset to any of the primes? Are any of the primes in our geographic location and for the purposes of this contract and does that matter? All of these questions revolve around one simple question you must answer for every company you attempt to team with:"How do we make the prime more competitive?" Because that's why they will put you on the team.

One huge benefit to teaming is that teaming with another company gives you third party credibility. This is especially true when the prime is a big defense contractor or a company that is well known in the market. Once you engage a prime and get on their team, it's to your benefit to work as hard as you can and devote all necessary resources to the RFP process. This not only wins the favor of the prime, it gives you leverage to talk to them about other opportunities they may have in their pipeline. One thing we always tell clients is that strong teaming relationships will increase your pipeline drastically over time as you continue to contribute and add value to the team. In the beginning, it may be you brining opportunities to the prime, but as you prove yourself, they will start to bring opportunities to you.

Summary: Learning how to differentiate and making it a core component of everything you do is absolutely critical to your success in government contracting (and commercial sales). The government faces thousands upon thousands of inquiries every year from companies wanting their business. Your job is to do everything you can to stand out as not only the right, but best choice for the government every time. One way you do this is by being very selective of the prospects you approach, how you approach them, and customizing your message to best fit their needs. Follow these five steps and you will improve the quality of your communication, differentiate yourself in the market, and accelerate revenue.  

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Michael LeJeune is a Senior Consultant and 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

14 Questions You Should Ask Yourself Before Teaming on Government Contracts

on Tuesday, 24 June 2014. Posted in Techniques & Strategies, Teaming

One of the first lessons you will learn in government contracting is that most companies win their first contract as a subcontractor to a larger "Prime" contractor. The initial reasoning behind this is that the larger Prime has a track record of past performance, more resources than you, and occasionally has a foot in the door of the client you want to work with. That said, at some point, you will want to be the Prime and you will need to research teaming partners. While this article focuses mainly on you as the Prime, all of these questions are relevant to ask anytime you are approached about teaming in any capacity.

Companies "team" and subcontract with other companies for several reasons. They team to be more competitive. They team to gain access to a specific market, agency, or armed service that they don't have the bandwidth to engage on their own or the business intelligence necessary to be competitive. When looking for a teaming partner, the larger Prime is looking for a company(s) that brings a competitive edge that is not organic to their company. The ideal programmatic teaming strategy helps both companies increase the number of pipeline opportunities and on occasion, enlists their teaming partners to do the lion's-share of the work on a given proposal.

The simple fact is that teaming is a great way to boost your companies opportunities and competitive edge in the marketplace. However, in its simplest form, you're building a relationship. And every relationship deserves some research and due diligence to make sure you are getting as much value from the relationship as possible as well as providing value to your partner.

The following are questions you should ask yourself before teaming on a government contract with a potential partner. Not asking these questions can lead to choosing the wrong partner, wasting valuable time, energy, and resources, as well as ultimately not winning contracts. So take our advice and ask these questions upfront to make sure you have the best teaming strategy possible.

1. Is their website professional? (if not. . . or no website. . . I wouldn't subcontract with them) Their website doesn't have to be the best one you've ever seen. It just needs to be professionally put together and something that you are going to be comfortable sharing with your potential clients. After all, this company is going to be your partner and your clients are going to Google them and look for a website. If their website is not up to your specifications, ask them if they are willing to make some changes. If they say yes and they are willing to make the changes quickly, you may still want to consider them as a partner.

2. Do they have a professional email? (no Hotmail, Yahoo, Gmail, etc.) One of the quickest ways to discover that someone is not serious about their business is to exchange email addresses with them. In this day and age, a domain and email support will cost the average company less than $100 per year, per employee. This is a minor investment that any worthy partner should be making.

3. Size of company? Judgment call - but ensure they have the necessary resources. The last thing you want is to win a contract and not be able to perform the work due to your partner's lack of resources. So make sure they have the staff to do the job you are asking them to do in order to win the contract. This applies to small and large companies. If you are dealing with a small division of a large company, they may not have the resources you need to do the work, but should be able to get the proper resources. In any case, ensure that your partner is able to meet the demand of your contract or easily scale up to meet the requirements.

4. Better Business Bureau? The first thing you do is check to see if they have a rating. If they have a rating, what is it? If they have complaints, were they resolved to the satisfaction of the complainant? They may have several complaints, but this could be normal for their industry. For example, construction companies and auto mechanics often have several complaints. It's the nature of their business. You want to know if the issues are being resolved and if they are in good standing with the BBB. Go to www.bbb.org for more information.

5. Google the company for legal and other financial actions. When you search, use the company's name and the name of the CEO or top leader in conjunction with keywords including "rip-off report" "scams" and "complaints." The reason you search by CEO or the name of the top leader is because scam artists and unethical business folks will often spin-up new companies to create a company with no complaints.

6. LinkedIn Profile? Does the company owner or your point of contact have a profile? Review it. When reviewing a profile, look at their job history, any attachments, publications, and recommendations. This information will not only give you some insights into the company and individual you are speaking with, it will also allow you to get to know them and build your relationship. Last but not least, send a custom invite to connect.

7. Are they responsive? One example, you've contacted them to discuss an opportunity that you've qualified and you've communicated strong differentiation providing competitive advantage. Do they respond to your email and calls the same day or does it take them 48 to 72 hours to respond? Is their response professional? There's an old saying that I like to think of here, "How it begins, is how it ends". If your potential teaming partner isn't responsive in the beginning, you can count on them acting this way at some point during the proposal phase and on award, during contract execution. A lack of responsiveness is a recipe for disaster.

8. Have they provided this service before? (i.e. do they have past performance and expertise?) Specifically ask them for details on similar contracts they've supported during the last three years. When looking at past performance, you want to review case studies or information that relates directly to the potential contract you are looking to bid on. It's not good enough if they did something similar that "should" translate to the work on this new contract. You are looking for relevant and specific information that is a match to your opportunity.

9. Professionalism, Licenses, and Certifications? If the level of support you need them to provide is commonly performed by individuals with specific certifications, how many of their employees that will be subcontracting to you have those certifications or licenses? If just one. . . you'll want to be very detailed when you ask about self-performing in question 10. Make sure that your potential partner can produce the necessary documentation for their licenses or certifications. You typically don't need these upfront, but simply need to ask if they are able to produce documentation upon request for your client.

10. Do they have the personnel and will they self-perform? This is an important question! Many companies don't keep employees "on the bench" where they are non-billable, waiting for the next contract to come in. Are you okay with them signing your subcontracting agreement and then going to Monster or a recruiter to find the labor they need to fulfill the contract? Depending on your products, services, and the market, this may not be something you're willing to risk. So, if you subcontract work to another company because of they have the expertise, then you are assuming they will be using in-house employees to fulfill the contract. If not, you're running a serious risk. No right answer but you want to take this into account.

11. Business insurance and do they need to be bonded? They should have basic business insurance and if you need them to be bonded, double-check and ask them. You don't want a claim from the client and since your subcontractor isn't bonded, your insurance ends up having to pay for it. In this case, your subcontractor is not "sharing the risk" and you will be paying for their mistake or accident when your company has to pay higher rates. In many cases, a simple umbrella policy can cover all the insurance needs on your contract. If your teaming partner does not have this, ask them to purchase it and provide you with the documentation.

12. Would you trust this company to abide by your subcontractor agreement? (e.g. if you told them not to speak with the client other than to perform what you've asked them to. . . can you trust them not to attempt to steal future business?) This is often a gut feeling and will be based on your first few conversations with your partner. You've probably heard the old saying, "Loose lips sink ships". Be aware of the type of information that your partner shares with you in those first few meetings. If they only share relevant information or ask for an NDA to disclose business practices, the odds are that they are trustworthy. However, if they are very open to sharing "confidential" information with you or share too much information (TMI) about projects, you had better beware.

13. Is this Company the best fit for you? When you team with another company, one of the worst things you can do is change your teaming partners after an agreement is signed – so make sure this is the company you want to work with. For subcontracting, once they're onsite, you're stuck with them absent changing your subcontractor(s) in the middle of a project. So when you are evaluating potential teaming partners, it's best to do your research and interview multiple companies. Your mindset should be a long-term relationship and not just your next project. This leads into question 14.

14. What does your gut tell you? Really. I can ask all of these questions, receive solid and positive responses to all of them, and still sense something is wrong. This comes with experience. If you hear alarm bells - don't discount them. At the end of the day, this potential partner has the ability to add to or subtract from your income based on their performance. They also have the ability to help you sleep at night or cause many sleepless nights worrying about them. Take your time and weigh their answers appropriately. And last but not least, if there's something bothering you about the company that you can't put your finger on, why take the risk? Walk away.

If you like this article or have additional feedback or strategies that you would like to share with us and our network, we invite you to leave a comment below. Also check out our Digital Library where you will find additional information on teaming, teaming agreements, and other valuable templates that you can customize and use right away for your business.

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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   

Selling To The Government - What Does It Take To Be Successful?

on Tuesday, 01 October 2013. Posted in Techniques & Strategies

If you're like most business owners, you've spoken to several non-profits in your local region who are funded in order to help small businesses win government contracts, attended a handful of conferences and expos, paid to watch a couple of webinars, and purchased no less than a dozen books on selling to the government. Yet, a very large number of you have yet to crack the code on how to best position for and win government contracts or increase your government sales.

In 2012, RSM Federal started working with a new client. If you've seen been to www.rsmfederal.com, you know we require ourselves to provide name, title, and company whenever we utilize a quote or client success. But in this example, we don't want to impact their competitive advantage. So for the purpose of this article, we'll call this company Blue Strategies.

When we first started working with Blue Strategies in 2012, they were focused on commercial sales with no understanding of how to sell to the government. Via a referral, I was introduced to Blue Strategies and we immediately starting working together. During the first six months, we completed the following:

     1. Two day onsite government tailored workshop (Accelerated education of the market)
     2. Design and build of government market entry strategy
     3. Communication's strategy
     4. Website update with detailed government landing page
     5. Prospecting plan and follow-up processes
     6. CRM for pipeline management

The above activities included dozens of sub-activities but that's not the focus of today's article. What is important are the results and I want you to pay special attention to how the integration of the above activities were required to achieve success. First we'll identify the results and then we'll discuss how integration of these activities opened new doors and provided competitive advantage. The results:

     1. A two day workshop was tailored specifically to Blue Strategies, its products, and its services.

     2. Built a market penetration strategy (MPS) based on who buys their solutions, how often they buy, and how much they spend. The MPS also included a list of those companies they should consider teaming with based on the prior government contract awards. The strategy included a target list for agencies and partners; how to communicate value, differentiation, and commercial past performance; how to price proposals; how to differentiate their proposal; and other business strategies.

     3. Once the MPS was ready, we spent quite a bit of time creating a prospecting plan that focused on pre-acquisition (before RFPs or RFQs are released).

     4. Developed a new Program to communicate expertise in their market and industry that provided a solid perception of maturity, expertise, and trust.

     5. In 2013, Blue Strategies initiated capture management for government sales. In the first 6 months of their fiscal year, they exceeded their annual quota by 43%. . . and they still have six months to go.

     6. In 2013, Blue Strategies won a contract with the Department of Veterans Affairs, their largest federal contract to date.

     7. In 2013, an incumbent contractor on NASA SEWP IV, one of the largest government wide acquisition contracts (GWAC) invited Blue Strategies to join them as a subcontractor on the SEWP V opportunity, a contract vehicle with more than $5 Billion in contract opportunities.

In little more than six months after initiating the sales process, how did Blue Strategies translate activity into success? So many companies fail to connect the dots and achieve a successful government revenue stream. So how did Blue Strategies do it? The answer lies in education and how that education supported the integration of their business functions.

Unlike most companies, Blue Strategies didn't simply go to a local government non-profit to learn "how to sell" to the government and then respond to every RFP or RFQ they saw on FedBizOpps. This is the reason why so many companies fail to successfully sell to the government. It's not because most companies don't have outstanding solutions. It's because they don't understand the market and are unable to accelerate their activities with proven techniques and strategies. You can't Google this. You have to learn it. Successful companies immerse themselves in learning about the market and picking successful technique and strategies required to differentiate and communicate competitive advantage. In the case of Blue Strategies, what they learned in the workshop (the foundation for everything they learned over the subsequent six months) was integrated into every business function and then cross-mapped between business functions. Blue Strategies' value and the techniques and strategies they utilized were integrated across all public-facing tools and platforms.

Before Blue Strategies took these steps, in 2012, the president of the company set a quota of $300,000 for 2013. That was their goal and it was my responsibility to help them get there. Government was still new and they had yet to start selling to the government. Then in 2013, they initiated capture management and sales. In the first six months, they won more than $430,000 in government contracts. What's even more impressive is that the average contract award was $11,800. While many other companies sell what they sell, the approach to how they communicated differentiation and the value of their solutions was key. This value is outlined and communicated on their capability statement, on the website, in emails, on the phone, and in proposals. It came down to trust and how they communicated the value of their solutions went beyond the financial.

Three months ago, Blue Strategies was contacted by a Contracting Officer in the Midwest who required their solution at a Veterans Administration (VA) hospital. I worked with the Blue Strategies on how to position and win the opportunity. It started with asking the contracting officer how many companies he had reached out to. The answer was three. We asked if there was an incumbent. The answer was yes. We asked for the name of the incumbent. He provided it. Although the incumbent had performed outstanding work, the acquisition strategy did not allow the incumbent to compete for the follow-on contract. We called the incumbent, who was less than thrilled to hear from us. However, we spent several days developing a strategy that proved to be successful. When Blue Strategies contacted the incumbent, they provided a win-win solution that developed into a relationship of trust. Blue Strategies was willing to give up revenue that most companies would fail to consider if it guaranteed an exclusive teaming agreement with the incumbent. The incumbent agreed, the competition lost access to the incumbent, and our client won the contract. In this case, it's less about what you sell and more about how you position with the government and with your teaming partners.

Then last week something happened that became the genesis for today's article. An incumbent contractor, one of only 45 companies that competed for more than $5 Billion in contracts the last seven years, sent them an email. There was one requirement in the statement of work for the upcoming SEWP V contract competition that the incumbent could not support. They reached out to several companies, including Blue Strategies. Why did they contact our client? Because Blue Strategies' website communicated a mature understanding of the federal space. That was the start. That same day, a conference call was scheduled and the very first question Blue Strategies asked was "Are you formally asking us to be a sub-contractor on SEWP V?" Why would you spend several days collecting information and pricing if there's no guarantee the Prime will put you on the team? They said yes. Within 24 hours, the two companies signed a teaming agreement for one of the largest GWACs in the Federal space. The website and how it differentiated Blue Strategies was critical. The ability to communicate in government terms was critical. When they asked Blue Strategies if they had the capability to do the work, the answer was more than yes. . . it was "of course. . . it's very similar to the work we did for the VA last month." It's more than just what you sell. It's how you position, differentiate, and communicate the value provided to your clients. Not necessarily the value of your solutions. It's about communicating actual and perceived maturity as an organization.

There are many companies that understand the basics, attend a few government events and webinars, and still "don't know what they don't know. . ."

The most important thing you can do is educate yourself beyond the common "How to do business with the government." The basics of selling to the government are provided by several dozen organizations, many of which are free services. They all provide outstanding value and I recommend they be your starting point. But selling to the government and giving yourself a higher than average chance for success, requires more than a basic understanding. This is not unique to government sales. Education is a common business paradigm regardless of market or industry. It requires immersion and utilization of proven techniques and strategies that are integrated across business functions. It starts with the owner. It comes down to business acumen. If you become a student of government sales, you're likelihood of winning a government contract will be much higher. When you wonder how a specific company became successful. . . now you know.

Did this article pique your interest? Yes? What are your next steps? 

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Joshua P. Frank is Principal and owner of RSM Federal, a federal consulting and business-acceleration strategy firm that represents small and large businesses in accelerating the education and processes necessary to win government contracts. For more information and videos about RSM Federal, please visit www.rsmfederal.com   

Proposal Screening and Pricing

on Thursday, 11 April 2013. Posted in Teaming

Are You Talking To A Potential Competitor?

Most businesses understand the basics of being a Prime or a Subcontractor when responding to a government Request For Proposal (RFP) or Request For Quote (RFQ).  As prime, you submit the proposal and if awarded, your company receives the award.  You may have one or more companies (subcontractors) who work for you on the project.  As a subcontractor, you are a member of a team and work for the prime who is awarded the contract.  Most companies understand the basics.

Two weeks ago, I was on a conference call with a media organization that provides federal radio advertising on government radio stations.  What transpired was troubling and while it was legal, it was highly unethical. More important, the situation discussed below educated the prime on what questions you must ask other companies when you obtain pricing.

RSM Federal is on a team responding to a federal agency RFP. Because the RFP requires purchase of radio ads on specific radio stations, every company responding to the RFP had to call the radio station to get pricing. To broaden this concept, if it were a technology RFP, you might call Oracle to get pricing on a database license; or if the RFP asks for kitchen exhaust hoods in addition to cleaning services, you may provide the hoods, but you may need to subcontract to a cleaning company and obtain pricing for their cleaning detergents.  In this case, it's obtaining pricing for on-air time slots.  Our team is a strategic marketing  and advertising team - not a radio station. Every company that wants to respond to the RFP has to call the station for pricing.

This led to a conference call. Throughout the call, the employee for the radio station was answering questions but didn't seem to be providing complete answers. It felt as if she were holding back information. So I asked the following questions:

  1. Are you providing the same pricing to every company that calls you and if not, how do we obtain preferred pricing?
  2. Are you, as a radio station planning to subcontract or prime this opportunity?
  3. If you are planning to prime, is our team obtaining the same or better pricing?
  4. If you are planning to prime, are you running a screen?

She would not confirm that they were providing the same pricing to all companies or if there was preferred pricing. When asked directly, she confirmed that the radio station was in fact planning to respond to the RFP as a prime.  Finally, she would not verify if the pricing given to our team was competitive (the same) as what the radio station was going to quote themselves. In other words, the radio station was providing pricing to various teams but it was likely that the pricing in their own proposal would be less expensive than what they were giving to us. Furthermore, now that we knew they were responding to the proposal AND providing pricing to other teams, we asked if they were running a screen.  They refused to answer the question.

What is a screen? When a company plans on responding to an RFP as the prime (submitting a proposal directly to the government) and as a subcontractor (supporting pricing, requirements, manpower, etc.) to another company, ethics require that the company employ a screen. In the case of this radio station, they should have two teams that do NOT communicate between themselves on the specifics of the RFP. This ensures that the services being provided and the costs of those services are not being communicated between the internal teams.  Again, not illegal - but full of unethical possibilities.  Here's what can happen: Let's assume you are the prime and you ask for pricing on a ten second radio slot and get $85.  Now you have to add a margin so let's assume your bid to the government is $90. Without a screen, the radio station that just gave you a price of $85 recognizes that you are going to add a margin.  Then they bid $75 directly to the government.  You're at $90 and they are at $75. This is legal.  But it's highly unethical and this situation can be prevented by asking the questions above before pricing is discussed.

And here is what we left out - during the call, our team discussed proposal strategy, assuming that the radio station was not a prime. The alarm bells didn't start going off until after we had discussed our strategy. So we had given another company, our competition, a competitive advantage without realizing it. The team had assumed that since the opportunity was a 100% small business set-aside, that the radio station would not desire and could not respond as a prime.  Bad assumption.

While not legally a subcontractor, by obtaining pricing from the radio station, they are a de-facto subcontractor because those parts of the RFP are being subcontracted to another company. . . the radio station. There are no none disclosures or teaming agreements - just pricing.

Our team identified ways to compensate for this and updated our pricing accordingly.  We're currently in source selection.  Whether our team wins or loses, we'll provide an update to this article.

Every government acquisition is different.  For many companies, responding to an RFP may not require products, services, and pricing from another company. This situation is a bit more unusual because the government specifically identified a radio station by name in the RFP. We had to get pricing from them.

To recap the lessons learned: If you have to get pricing for products or services from another company, before you discuss the opportunity, you must first verify their intent. Are they providing pricing to other teams? Are they a sub-contractor on another team? Are they intending to prime? Also, depending on the answers, are they running a screen? This provides your company or team with confidence that all parties are being ethical.  Regardless of running a screen, are they being consistent with their pricing and if not, to what extent? In certain situations, you may decide not to bid because it may be too difficult to achieve competitive pricing.

RSM Federal specializes in these and other small business government teaming and sales strategies.  For more information, please visit www.rsmfederal.com or call us at (703) 677-1700.

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Joshua P. Frank is Principal and owner of RSM Federal, a federal consulting and business-acceleration strategy firm that represents small and large businesses in accelerating the education and processes necessary to win government contracts. For more information and videos about RSM Federal, please visit www.rsmfederal.com 

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