Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Winning Tip: Focus on Prime Priorities

How To Become The Must-Have Partner.

Why should you consider working and teaming up with Prime contractors when seeking federal clients? Companies with strong niche solutions for U.S. military and government clients often need to reach end users through teaming.

Those large Prime contractors need nimble, high-value, innovative partners who bring them opportunities to win.

That matters more than any of the small business preferences -- no matter whether you're woman-owned, 8(a), SDVOB or anything else. Those preferences are secondary.

Partnerships develop when you focus on their priorities:

  • Core capabilities – what do you do well that your Prime needs?

  • Differentiation – what sets you apart from others in your industry that your prime would want?

  • Past performance and reputation as team player – are you reliable and proven commodity? Make it count!

  • Price – can your prime afford you? Is your margin the right one?

  • Personnel experience and low turnover – do you have the skill-set and knowledge to benefit your Prime?

  • Financial strength – are you solvent or are you going to be a liability to your Prime?

  • Location – will your distance and location be an obstacle or benefit to your Prime?
Daunting? Maybe, but don’t go it alone. Federal government resources like OSDBU's and PTAC's can help you sort it out and get ready to meet the primes...and other subcontractors serving primes.

Remember, focus first on meeting the Prime's needs. Then show -- with your Unique Value Proposition, past performance and capability statement -- how you do that better than anyone else.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Your Prime Soul Exposed

How To Be Clean and Lean

One of the things that surprises first-time subcontractors is the detailed information the government, and in turn, Prime contractors, want to know about your past projects. This is not the time to be coy: expect to bare your soul. The Primes want the same detail from you, as a subcontractor, that the government demands of them. Here's a checklist to see if you're ready:
  • Do have all the information from your past client's identity (including both end customer and, if you were a subcontractor, your prime)?

  • Do you have a quick summary of the name and duration of past projects?

  • Do you have a short project overview (what was the project objective? What problems did it solve for the client?) and

  • Can you provide the value of past projects - both top line and your share of it?
If you answer "no" to the above, you're not ready to meet a Prime. So how to get ready? The most successful companies -- large and small -- prepare Project Summaries and Capability Statements. It's not a matter of money, but a product of thoughtful preparation. In other words, you can use the heavy hitters' tools!

Get examples for how to do it yourself. Check out the Tools on my website, download the templates, and be ready to shine!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

What The GSA Doesn't Want You To Know

2008's Frightening Facts About GSA Schedule 70*

Here we go: Write these down. You'll want to tell your friends.

First, the hot numbers:

5614: Number of companies who won GSA Schedule 70 contracts in 2008.
15.76: Billions of dollars of purchased through Schedule 70 in FY08.

5.6: Percent of those dollars won by top vendor, Dell Computers.
50: Number of vendors that together brought home just about 50% of that $15.76 billion.

Now, the chilling numbers:
2576: Number of vendors who won less than $25,000 through their GSA Schedule 70 contract.
39: Percentage of GSA Schedule 70 holders who won NOTHING AT ALL.

and finally:
800: Number of vendors a GSA employee said will not be invited to renew their contracts, due to under-performance...INCLUDING those who just got a federal schedule to access state and local buyers but aren't making the effort to sell to the feds.

Friends don't let this happen to friends. So tell yours.

Want to keep out of that bottom 39%?
Get my paper -- NOW FREE -- "GSA Schedules: Seven Things You Must Know" today.

(*U.S. General Services Administration does want you to think twice before you go to the time and trouble of pursuing these contracts...but they don't talk about these numbers much. Aftter all, more contractors look like more open competition, more sources for buyers, right?)

This week's posts are inspired by David Meerman Scott's latest book, How To Create A World Wide Rave, which I just read free on my Kindle....

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The 5 People You Need to Meet, *Finale*

Final in a know-who series on people who can help you win government contracts.

The Program Manager (PM)

They have a lot of power, and can be hard to reach. The PM defines and controls spending priorities among activities. PMs care about how best to deliver the Agency mission, including how to define requirements to select the best vendors.

If you’ve established your credibility as a reputable problem-solver with the Small Business Specialist and the Contracting Officer, the Program Manager may be eager to hear about the details of your solution and your approach.

This meeting is your opportunity to learn, not pitch. You want to find out as much as you can about what his or her priorities are, and how you can contribute to solving the most important problems on the top of his or her list.

The Influencer

The Influencer could be a colleague, friend, writer, reporter, or blogger that the decision makers and players trust. They may be Program Managers or well-known innovators in the end-user community. They might be top professionals in the major prime contractors.

Why would they care about you? They need content! What can you bring them? They want to share hot stories – good and bad – about vendors, problems and solutions. Be sure they have yours!

Where do you meet them? In person, at events and conferences. And online – set up some Google Alerts; check out the groups on forums like LinkedIn and industry association web portals.

The End User

…is the front line employee or person in the battle space. She or he cares about getting the job done with the resources available. How will you make his job easier? How well do you understand his problems or constraints? Once you show you’re helpful, End Users can ask senior managers for support to try your solution.

See part 2 and part 3 of this series!

Or download Making the Most Of Your OSDBU Visit from my online tools.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The 5 People You Need to Meet, Part 3

Third in a know-who series on people who can help you win government contracts.

The Contracting Officer (CO)

The Contracting Officer (CO) manages the competition and contracting process, including publication of the solicitation, and has legal authority to sign your contract with the United States federal government. The CO’s job is on the line to ensure a legal, fair & proper process selects the right vendors for the job.

Again, if your questions show you know how this Agency usually buys, and the programs they manage that might need the kinds of things you offer, they’re much more likely to open the door to someone you really need to meet, especially the Program Manager.

Meeting the Contracting Officer (CO)

Come prepared to discuss (and bring a capabilities statement including):
  • Your core capability: Once again, what’s your Unique Value Proposition -- your sweet spot, the thing you do that sets you apart in the marketplace? That helps focus your meeting.
  • Your credentials and relevant past performance: Edit to focus on past work similar to what the agency needs. Bring that same capabilities statement that you prepared for the Small Business Specialist. Include the contract number, value of the whole project, and, if you were a subcontractor, your contribution. List the prime contractor point of contact. During the meeting, highlight your past experience in providing relevant services.
  • Include basic information: List your GSA Schedules and other contract vehicles, certifications and recertification dates.
  • Ask about specific projects: By now, you should be focused on specific forecast opportunities that this contracting officer handles. Ask about upcoming opportunities that might be candidates to become set aside, and fit your capabilities, experience, performance and financing.
  • Ask for what you want: That can include help getting an appointment with the relevant Program Manager.
  • Stay in touch: After this first meeting, build the relationship and follow-up!
See Part 4 of this series!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The 5 People You Need to Meet, Part 2

Second in a know-who series on people who can help you win government contracts.

The Small Business Specialist

Every federal government department has an Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU) staffed by Small Business Specialists to ensure that small companies get fair access to that agency’s government contract opportunities. (Find them at www.osdbu.gov).

They can help you find details on Agency buying plans, and introduce you to the contract officers, directors, and program managers within Agency who may need what you offer. But -- they are more likely to offer introductions if you show how well you’ve already researched the Agency and its needs.

Meeting the Small Business Specialist

  • Make an appointment! In-person meetings are better than phone calls at first. Make an appointment, don’t just drop by! After the initial meetings, phone or email is often very effective. Ask your Small Business Specialist what she prefers.
  • Understand the procurement process. Certification does NOT guarantee you ANY business. Show how well you understand the buyer’s world; refresh your registration in the Central Contractor Registry (CCR) by including using the strongest key words possible.
  • Know the Buyer. Research the mission and programs of the buying agency you’re visiting. Absolutely review the online forecast projects before the meeting!
  • Ask about specific projects. Ask about upcoming opportunities that might be candidates to become set aside, and fit your capabilities, experience, performance and financing. Identify projects by name and program office, not solicitation number.
  • Ask for what you want. That can include help getting an appointment with the relevant Program Manager.
  • Follow up and stay in touch. Once you’ve made this initial contact in person, build the relationship! Keep in touch with regular updates on your corporate info, experience, contract wins, registrations and certifications.
Click here for part 1 of this series. Or move forward to part 3.

Monday, March 09, 2009

The 5 People You Need to Meet, Part 1

Helping Hands That Open Federal Contracting Doors

Once you've figured out which departments and agencies might be your buyers (oh, not sure about that? Start by cruising www.usa.gov), you need to get ready to meet the people who can help you.

The Five People You Need To Know
  • The Small Business Specialist (at the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization -- OSDBU)
  • The Contracting Officer
  • The Program Manager
  • The Influencer
  • The End User
The better you prepare -- know what they care about, and what they can do for you -- the more they're likely to help you. Will planned procurements happen? Will they be set-aside for small business? What are new requirements likely to be? When are pre-proposal conferences? Who are these people? What doors do they guard? What do they care about, and what is the key that will open their doors to you?

Download an article on do’s and dont’s when you meet them!

Read on for more detail in Part 2 of this series.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Small Business Specialists Share Insider Tips

Get The Inside Scoop

Here's what I heard these top small business specialists say on how they can best help you.
  • JP: Jodie Paustian, Small Business Specialist, Internal Revenue Service, Office of Procurement Policy
  • KR: Katherine Rachubinski, Navy Inventory Control Point (NAVICP), Philadelphia
  • TB: Terry Budge, Industrial Specialist, Small Business Administration, Philadelphia
  • MM: Michael Miller, Chief Logistics officer, Department Of Veterans Affairs
  • ME: Marcia Easton, Small Business Chief, Army CECOM, Ft Monmouth
  • DD: Dave Dickson, District Director, SBA, Philadelphia
    Thanks to AFCEA Small Business and the October 2009 conference team led by Tammy Goehrig.
  • KR: Know what part of the agency you want to do business with. Even if it's another part of the agency than the one you're in, the small business specialist can usually refer you to the right person.

  • KB: Be thorough, and stick with it. A Company had been brought into SBA for a certificate of competency. Issues came up between the agency and the company, which had to revise their proposal. Then, SBA reviewed the proposed joint venture and its flaws. Over three months, the contract was eventually awarded for $140M over ten years.

  • DD: Explore the opportunities! Of over 300,000 businesses, only 1.2% of small businesses are registered in CCR. Even excepting home based businesses, still only 2.5 % are registered. Not enough small businesses know how to do business with the U.S. government

  • DD: Help government meets its small business award goals. Government just barely made its 23% goal last year. Talk to the agencies you're targeting, get on CCR, complete your certifications on ORCA and represent all the preferences for which you're eligible. If you have several boxes checked, "...you're gold. If you're a HUBZone, Woman Veteran Business owner, the agency can count you in all those."

  • MM: Focus. Nobody specializes in everything. Public Law 109-461 set up VETBIZ.GOV to provide preferences for Service Disabled Veteran Owned Businesses. But even with that preference, you can't register as "specializing" in too many things, or your company looks like it has no actual strength.

  • JP: Make a strong first impression! Here's an example: the IRS had a requirement for a Client Relationship Management System, a $600,000 project which we designated for 8(a) companies. Everyone got invited to make presentations. Four made technical presentations. The first one had done its homework, asked additional questions, and knew we didn't want an IT approach. Another company said they'd develop a web site, so they hadn't researched us at all! And another one showed up a half hour late. Work with the small business specialists, and find out where to focus.

  • KR: Meet us in person, at the small business office. Present a concise capability briefing. "A company cannot do everything!" We talk during the meeting about areas your expertise might relate to in our command. We follow up after the meeting with suggested points of contact, and a blurb about programs you might fit. Then the onus is on you to contact those people, and say you've been in to see us. That usually means they'll call you back...but we want to know if they don't, too.

  • Work your way in: based on those introductions, you should be able to set up another meeting with technical specialist who will be really interested in your expertise. At that point, you want them to understand what your company can do and the special preferences you're eligible for.

  • Be ready to team: If we have a lot of IDIQ's, we may ask you to work through a major prime that holds this contract vehicle.

  • Strong online presence counts! Small business officials check your web site. Procuring agencies and primes use the Central Contractor Registry.

  • Make the most of your past experience. Performance history need not be limited to government contracts. The more you keep that up to date, the more valuable it is. The systems no longer limit the NAICS codes you can use... but don't be distracted, be very specific.

  • ME: Respond to RFI's, even if you can't meet every requirement. CECOM is definitely open to that, and may pass that information on to primes doing source selection, too. IRS also uses RFI's actively.

  • TB: Attend OSDBU events for fact-finding. See who the big guys are who are winning work in your domain. Then be able to explain how you fit into what they do. Just because you're one of those small businesses, that's the icing on the cake. Government wants to know how you can effectively do the job. Start out small, get your feet wet, get a track record.

  • TB: Let SBA help you. SBA has 68 district offices that will teach you how to use these free tools, how to use the system, and coach you through it. Contact the SBA district office that supports you.

  • ME: Stay in touch with the small business office. You don't just come in one time. Things change with your company, and with the command. Come back. I met with 175 companies last year. Your visits keep you fresh in our minds when the primes come in.

  • JP: Keep us up to date! Tell us when you've won a new contract, got a GSA Schedule, completed CMMI. and make your messages complete! If you email me to say "I want help doing business with the IRS", then attach a capability statement.

  • KR: Personalize your message -- beyond mailmerge! Don't send mass email. Your email and its content should be very specific to the addressee and her responsibilities.

  • DD: Be patient and prepared. Many companies ask for introductions to technical officials. Many commands will shield these people from contractors because they just don't have the time to deal with them if they haven't done their homework and are only going to waste valuable time!