In the first chapter of our new book, Seven Myths of Selling to Government, we start out with what we consider the biggest myth of all: that RFPs drive government business.
Many companies come to us thinking that what they need to know in order to get government business is how to get wind of it when new RFPs come out. That’s the smallest fraction of it.
Our book has almost 30 pages of detail on what the real keys to winning RFPs are. But here’s a tidbit you can have right now: Make sure your reputation precedes you. When they get your RFP response, make sure they already know about your expertise and experience, already know your proposal will be worth considering.
Building your reputation for expertise isn’t an overnight job. You can’t start when you get the RFP. You need to start now, in anticipation of RFPs to come 6 to 60 months from now.
How do you do it? There are lots of possibilities. Here are some ideas.
Publish a blog and a newsletter.
If you’re an expert, you need to show forth your expertise on your own turf, and there’s no better way to do it than to start a blog. With a constant focus on what problems you can solve for your prospects, write about how you’ve helped and who you’ve helped. Give advice in a concise, well-organized format (“Five Ways to . . .”). Do it at least weekly.
Blogs are essential to the expert, but they take discipline – and if writing is not one of your areas of expertise, it may take some staff or free-lance writing help. But it’s well worth it. Anything you do to capture attention is likely to lead people back to your blog, which, over time, should become a treasure chest of your accumulated wisdom and the best possible “advertisement” for your skill, smarts and accomplishments. (The key, by the way, is to make sure it never sounds like an advertisement.)
If you’re going to commit to a blog, make all that writing do double duty. Collect the best bits and put out a monthly newsletter. You can also solicit guest contributions from other experts, so you take on a little extra shine from their reflected glory.
Write for the trades.
When you get your writing act together on your own website and publication, consider seeking space in the publications that cater to your prospects. You should already be reading them: Government Product News, Government PROcurement, Government Technology News, Defense Industry Daily, etc., etc. Focus on one. Think about how you could help them fill their columns – trade publications are shorter on staff than ever before. You can pitch a single story to them, but think about what you’ll do for an encore. Your goal will be to become a regular contributor. If you have an idea for a column – on a topic you can sustain interest in issue after issue – that’s even better.
Your ultimate goal is to get readers to follow you from the pages of the magazine to the pages of your website, specifically your blog. So be sure you include the address of the site. Mention every now and then some juicy bit you’ve posted there that relates to the magazine topic at hand.
Get a speaking gig.
If you find this intimidating, think about the last few conferences you attended. How many rock stars were presenting? Few to none, would be our guess. A conference planner often has days of programming to fill, and usually starts with just a handful of good speaker names.
If you’ve established yourself as an expert in an appropriate trade publication, have a good topic and a compelling description of it, you stand a very good chance of getting at least a break-out session at a worthwhile meeting. If you have a knack for this, you can work your way up the food chain, to better spots (lunch speaker, keynote speaker) and better conferences.
Planning and a little bit of patience are in order. You need to start developing your themes and your voice on your blog. When you’ve got that down, expand from your “private” media to the trade media. When you’ve got a name there, you can go on to speaking and making presentations.
You don’t need to be world famous. You just need to be, in Steven Van Yoder’s phrase, “slightly famous” in the circles that include the issuers of the RFPs you’re interested in.
It doesn’t guarantee you’ll win them all. But it makes the selling job a lot easier. The critical first question, “Who the heck are these guys?” is answered before the proposal review committee even has to ask it.