Government Needs Value More than Ever

As a guest on a Kansas City radio station a few days ago to talk about our book, “Seven Myths of Selling to Government“, I was asked how this could be a good time to sell to the government when the federal government is struggling to meet its obligations.  I think I startled the host when I said, “Are you kidding me?  Now’s a great time to sell to government…especially if you’re trying to break into the government market.”  It’s quite simple.  Now, more than ever, government buyers are looking for value.  That means they’ll be more open when you approach them with the value you offer.

Think of it in your own life.  When your personal budget is tight, aren’t you more aware of better ways to spend your money?  You don’t stop spending money, do you?  You look for ways to spend it more wisely.

You may run into people within the government who say, “Funds are tight, and we’re not in the market.”  Well, you’re talking to the wrong people.  Either they’re not really involved in buying your type of product or service, or these same people would have  brushed you off when tight government budgets weren’t in the news constantly.  Keep trying.

That is, keep trying if (a) you really have a product or service that will provide real value, and (b) you know how to articulate the value.  (These are two different things…equally important.)

This was a particularly fun radio interview.  The host even had his 12-year-old son on.  That is the show was fun until the 12-year-old stumped me on a question.  You can get to the radio interview here.

All the best,

Rick

The Myth of Pre-Solicitation Vendor Gatherings

“Industry days and similar events attended by multiple vendors are of low value to industry and the government because industry won’t provide useful information in front of competitors, and the government doesn’t release new information.”  So says one of the myths the White House’s procurement policy chief is trying to bust.

Daniel Gordon, Administrator for Federal Procurement Policy, has written a memo to procurement leadership throughout the federal government in an effort to debunk that and nine other myths.  Per our initial post on the topic, we’re addressing several of them one-by-one.  The “industry days” myth is a good one.

Gordon says well-organized industry days, as well as pre-solicitation and pre-proposal conferences, are valuable opportunities for both government and potential vendors.  We’re going to agree.  For government, these events provide an opportunity to communicate the same information at the same time to an array of interested parties.  They also serve as “attention getters”, somewhat similar to a marketing event.

For vendors, these events serve as a good means for getting information.  But, some of the most valuable information doesn’t necessarily come from the mouths of the government people at the front of the room.  For example, you’ll be able to see who else is interested in a procurement.  You’ll get an opportunity to size up your competition.  And, these events can be a good way to scout out potential partners.  However, you’ll only be in the partner hunt if you’ve got something of value to offer.  In fact, if you don’t have something of value to offer, then skip the meeting.

If Dan Gordon has his way, there will be more of these meetings conducted on-line.  In his memo, he suggests a strategy of using web-based technology to expand the reach of such meetings.  That may be fine, but if you’re really interested in the procurement and have something of value to offer, I suggest you be there in person.  You may find that the hallway conversations with other vendors there will lead to valuable teaming relationships.

All the best,

Rick

By the way, check out our book “Seven Myths of Selling to Government“, oddly enough published about the same time Dan Gordon published his set of myths.  Different perspectives, but you’ll see some similarities.

When Are Government Buying Meetings OK?

About the same time we were releasing our “Seven Myths of Selling to Government” book for vendors, the White House was releasing its own set of myths for government buyers.  In our earlier post, we outlined the ten myths the White House Administrator for Federal Procurement Policy seeks to debunk and promised to deal with them individually, relating them to sellers.  Let’s start with the first one…

In myth one, Daniel Gordon said it’s a misconception that federal procurement people can’t meet one-on-one with a potential offeror.  Instead, said Gordon, “Government officials can generally meet one-on-one with potential offerors as long as no vendor receives preferential treatment”.  Bottom line is that, prior to a solicitation, the government can meet with whomever it wants…as long as it gives no one preferential treatment.

“Whomever it wants” is important.  Don’t go busting down doors telling a government buyer that they must meet with you because they met with your competitor, and because the White House said they must meet with you.  Just because a meeting occurs doesn’t mean that preferential treatment is being given.  Instead, politely state your reasons for requesting a meeting.  If you state clearly how the meeting will benefit the buyer, you’ll probably get it…as long as the solicitation hasn’t been issued.  And, if the buyer says they’re not meeting with any vendors, there’s really not much you can do about it.  Even though this would be contrary to White House advice, buyers aren’t required to meet with vendors.

On the other hand, don’t think that meeting with a potential government buyer will disqualify you from participating in the solicitation.  As the White House memo says, this should not be the case.  However, if the government asks you to help write the specifications for a solicitation, you should not be allowed to participate in the solicitation.  That doesn’t mean you can’t provide your product or service specifications in the pre-solicitation phase.  You should.  That’s different from being asked to write the requirements.  (In our consulting practice, we are regularly asked to write requirements documents and always agree that we will not respond to the solicitation.)

Of course, the rules regarding meetings change dramatically once the solicitation is issued…another reason to get ahead of the RFP. A good bit of our book is dedicated to this.

So, good luck with your meetings.  When you get them, make sure you focus on making them meaningful for the buyer, not yourself.

All the best,

Rick

White House Attempts to Bust Government Selling Myths, Too

It looks like we’re in good company trying to turn around myths about selling to government.  In our book, “Seven Myths of Selling to Government“, we take exception to seven, OK actually eight, common perceptions about government contracting and selling to government.  In a nutshell, though, it’s a book about building relationships and establishing value, rather than flying blindly responding to a bunch of RFPs.

Well, the White House has come out with its own set of myths to debunk.  It comes in the form of a memo from the White House Administrator for Federal Procurement Policy to federal acquisition officers, senior procurement executives, and chief information officers called, “‘Myth-Busting’:  Addressing Misconceptions to Improve Communication with Industry during the Acquisition Process”.  Some of the facts behind the myths may surprise you.

  1. “We can’t meet one-on-one with a potential offeror.” Fact:  Government officials can generally meet one-on-one with potential offerors as long as no vendor receives preferential treatment.
  2. Since communication with contractors is like communication with registered lobbyists, and since contact with lobbyists must be disclosed, additional communication with contractors will involve a substantial addition disclosure burden, so we should avoid these meetings.”   Fact:  Disclosure is required only in certain circumstances, such as for meetings with registered lobbyists.  Many contractors do not fall into this category, and even when disclosure is required, it is normally a minimal burden that should not prevent a useful meeting from taking place.
  3. A protest is something to be avoided at all costs – even if it means the government limits conversations with industry.”  Fact:  Restricting communication won’t prevent a protest, and limiting communication might actually increase the chance of a protest – in addition to depriving the government of potentially useful information.
  4. Conducting discussions/negotiations after receipt of proposals will add too much time to the schedule.”  Fact:  Whether discussion should be conducted is a key decision for contracting officers to make.  Avoiding discussions solely because of schedule concerns may be counter-productive, and may cause delays and other problems during contract performance.
  5. If the government meets with vendors, that may cause them to submit an unsolicited proposal and that will delay the procurement process.”  Fact:  Submission of an unsolicited proposal should not affect the schedule.  Generally, the unsolicited proposal process is separate from the process for a known agency requirement that can be acquired using competitive methods.
  6. When the government awards a task or delivery order using the Federal Supply Schedules, debriefing the offerors isn’t required so it shouldn’t be done.”  Fact:  Providing feedback is important, both for offerors and the government, so agencies should generally provide feedback whenever possible.
  7. Industry days and similar events attended by multiple vendors are of low value to industry and the government because industry won’t provide useful information in front of competitors, and the government doesn’t release new information“.  Fact:  Well-organized industry days, as well as pre-solicitation and pre-proposal conferences, are valuable opportunities for the government and for potential vendors – both prime contractors and subcontractors, many of whom are small businesses”
  8. The program manager already talked to industry to develop the technical requirements, so the contracting officer doesn’t need to do anything else before issuing the RFP.”  Fact:  The technical requirements are only part of the acquisition; getting feedback on terms and conditions, pricing structure, performance metrics, evaluation criteria and contract administration matters will improve the award and implementation process.
  9. Giving industry only a few days to respond to an RFP is OK since the government has been talking to industry about this procurement for over a year.”  Fact:  Providing only short response times may result in the government receiving fewer proposals and the ones received may not be as well-developed – which can lead to a flawed contract.  This approach signals that the government isn’t really interested in competition.
  10. Getting broad participation by many different vendors is too difficult; we’re better off dealing with the established companies we know.”  Fact: The government loses when we limited ourselves to the companies we already work with.  Instead, we need to look for opportunities to increase competition and ensure that all vendors, including small businesses, get fair consideration.

There you have it.  Now you know what myths the top procurement official in the White House wants to squelch.  In effect, he’s telling buyers some of the same things we tell sellers.  Communicate and build relationships.  As Daniel Gordon says in his memo, industry partners are often the best source of information on markets, “so productive interactions between federal agencies and our industry partners should be encouraged to ensure that the government clearly understands the marketplace and can award a contract or order for an effective solution at a reasonable price”.  You can find the full memo here.

We’ll take on some of the myths one by one in future posts.

All the best,

Rick

Preparing for Government Cut-Backs

No doubt about, selling to the government is being impacted by the economy.  If you’ve not seen it in your own business, you’re either not paying attention, failing to look ahead, or ignoring the signs.  Times are tight, and government buyers at all levels are feeling the pinch.  Even if their funds haven’t been cut, there’s a threat they will be.  Plus, they know that they are being watched more closely than ever.  Of course, government won’t stop buying (well, I guess the federal government could if Congress can’t come to terms on a budget)…but, they’re buying more carefully.

So, what do you do about it?  Inc magazine says you should be proactive.  You shouldn’t wait for your government customers to come to you, it says in an April article, you should go to them with ideas for saving money.  You may find you end up with more business, not less.

It goes back to our oft-stated mantra about relationships being so very important in government sales.  You know your government customers are struggling, so help them out.  This doesn’t mean voluntarily slashing your prices.  You shouldn’t.  But, it does mean getting creative.

Is it possible that you have new products or solutions that can help provide efficiencies?  Is it possible they’re not using your products and solutions as many ways as they could?  Do you have success stories to share of other customers finding efficiencies?  Or, perhaps could you offer assistance with problems you may not even be aware of that are keeping them your customers up at night?  Why not schedule a meeting, and find out?

In other words, don’t hide behind the economy, like so many people and organizations do.  Use it to strengthen your relationships.  I guarantee you that, properly done, you’ll benefit in the long run.

All the best,

Rick

Government Contracts: A Strategy?

We heard from quite a few people on our blog recently, “Rule You Can Break:  The GSA Schedule“.   Responses generally came from two sources:  (1) companies-wanting-help with the GSA (General Services Administration) process, and (2) consultants-wanting-to-help companies with the GSA contracting process.  The companies-wanting-help generally cited concern over the time involved working through a confusing process.  The consultants-wanting-to-help generally cited their ability to bring insight and speed (relatively speaking) to a time-consuming and difficult process.

I thought about these comments as I sat in the doctor’s office this morning awaiting treatment for the inevitable high blood pressure that comes with selling to the government.  I  did some searching on my mobile device and ran across the Wiki section on Contracting with the United States Government.  Wow, what a nice write-up…very comprehensive and well-written with lots of insight.  Some of the important take-aways, outside of significant detail on how the federal contracting process works:

  • Federal government contracts are governed by law…not a commercial lawyer or procurement person’s idea of what would generate the best value for a company.  That makes the process significantly different when dealing with government vs commercial sales and contracting.  (There can be no procurement unless there’s a law somewhere somehow authorizing it.)
  • Federal acquisitions begin with identification of a requirement, then acquisition planning.   (This is an important one, the one where our company focuses its efforts.)
  •  “Contracting is all about risk allocation and minimizing risk.”  (It would be a good idea to read that one a few times.)
  •  “Proposal writers should bear in mind that the first thing they must do in their proposal is focus on what the Government wants to see in the proposal – namely information directly related to the specifics of the solicitation”.  (In other words, beware of “fluff”.)

Reading Wiki (or anything for that matter) won’t teach you how to win business through the government.  There’s a lot involved.  Time and time again, we see companies naively thinking getting on a government contract is a strategy.  (Get on the contract, and orders will come in.)  It’s not a strategy, just one tactic that needs a solid strategy around it.  If you’re intent on getting on the GSA or other government contracts, first read the Wiki post referenced above.  Then, find a good consultant who specializes in helping companies with the GSA schedule.  Don’t tackle this alone.  If you can’t find one, contact us and we’ll give you some suggestions.

All the best,

Rick

The Creative Government Buyer & Seller

I was asked an interesting question the other day. It was whether I consider selling government frustrating because government buyers don’t think creatively and openly. It’s an oft-asked question and I’m sure the answer many would give is “yes”.

Trying to win government contracts can, indeed, be frustrating. But, the frustration should not come from a lack of creative thinking by government buyers. I think the frustration often rests at the feet of the vendor.  It results from failure to adequately identify and encourage potential sources of creative thought.

In an earlier post, we discussed the fact that there are three types of government buyers:  Procurers, Influencers, and End-Users.  Through our years of helping companies win government contracts, we can cite dozens and dozens of stories where the Procurers, Influencers, and End-Users we worked with showed clear signs of creative thinking and creative problem-solving.  However, it often took nudging from vendors to release the creativity.  (Creative problem-solving, in any circumstance, fares better with a nudge.)

So, when your frustration reaches its peak, look inside and take responsibility.  Don’t think that just because you’re selling to the government, you are helpless.  Yes, there are rules you must follow, but don’t let those rules be your excuse. 

All the best,

Rick