When you are meeting with a government representative, your purpose is NOT ” to sell” them – especially during your first visits to this customer. Your purpose is TO LISTEN. Dale Carnegie said that you can get a reputation as an extremely engaging conversationalist by mostly listening – and it holds true in working with the government just as much as it does with other aspects of life.
This not only helps you form a great relationship with the customer but becomes an information gathering technique. You should come to your meeting well-prepared – having researched as much as possible about the customer and the agency’s mission. Be prepared to talk about yourself, but only in the context of the customer. And then, be prepared to ask open-ended questions about the procurement that you are chasing, getting the customer to open up and talk. Early in the procurement cycle it is much easier to get the government to be open with you.
Here are examples of the questions you may want to get answers to about the opportunity:
1. What exactly is the requirement – what is this project all about? What is the scope of the work?
2. What is the acquisition strategy that the customer is intending to use – a regular single award requirements contract via an RFP, is it going to be a task order under an IDIQ or GWAC, can it be via a GSA schedule, and so on?
3. Is the contract or some portion of it going to be a small business set-aside?
4. When would they like the project to begin in an ideal world scenario versus what the reality would be – given all the protocols they have to follow?
5. What are the key project milestones (start, other milestones, end)? How long would the project be in duration? Will there be a base and option years?
6. Where is the customer in the procurement process – what needs to happen in order for the procurement to be issued? What is the approximate schedule for that? What are the issues that are still unresolved?
7. What type of contract is the customer likely going to use:
Cost Plus (and all of its varieties – Fixed Fee, Incentive Fee, Award Fee, and so on)
Time and Materials
8. What is the ballpark budget for this opportunity? Does this include the government personnel costs, or is this the contract cost? If the government representative is reluctant to answer this question, offer them budget ranges – for example, is it under $50 million, between $50 and $75 million, and so on.
9. Has this budget been approved and funded? If not, what are the milestones for approval and funding? What is the risk that the project will not be funded?
10. Has this work being done already – if so, via what vehicle? By what contractor(s)?
11. What about the way the work is being done right now – could it be changed or done better?
12. Does a customer have a specific vision for solving their problem? Would they like some suggestions and options?
13. What is the customer’s vision as to how this work should be done – a particular technology, approach, platform, or solution?
14. Who else in the customer’s organization is or will be involved in this procurement – and what will their role be?
15. Where will this work be done – in which location? Would the personnel be required to be on the government site?
16. Are there any facilities requirements?
17. Are there any special personnel requirements?
18. Is there any specific challenge the customer is worried about? What “keeps them up at night?”
19. Would they like help with anything – a description of work requirements, for example, different solutions for the problem, tradeoff analysis, or anything else that would help them write the Statement of Work (SOW) for the RFP?
20. Has anything changed since the last visit or conversation?
It goes without saying that you have to work those questions into the conversation naturally as the opportunities come up – don’t turn this into an interrogation. Some of them apply, and others do not. These are just a few examples of questions to get you started.
Starting is the hardest part. As you get the hang of it, and especially as your relationship with the customer grows, you will come up with more questions to ask that are specific to this opportunity. Be prepared not to get all this information in one visit. You may not get it all from one person either – you may have to meet with several people in the customer’s organization to get full and credible answers.
My eight-part webinar series, How to Double Your Probability of Winning Bids by Mastering the Art of Capture (http://www.ostglobalsolutions.com/art-of-capture), explores the topic of working with the government in great detail. The series started last week, but it’s still not too late to register as we have a video replay and the recording of the first class. In the module coming up this Wednesday, we will cover three principal tasks you have to complete when working with the government that are critical to the success of your capture effort. In addition, I will show the participants how to build a “customer map” that will help them navigate the customer’s organization with a high degree of mastery. They will learn about the procurement process, the source selection evaluation process, and the five categories of government decision-makers, and their influence on the procurement process. I will also provide a great format for a Customer Contact Plan and techniques to get in contact with the right people. Do not miss the opportunity to take this class – it will change the way you develop business forever.
About the Author: Olessia Smotrova-Taylor is a capture and proposal management consultant and president of OST Global Solutions, Inc. For additional useful resources and links to help grow your business, go to her website at www.ostglobalsolutions.com. Check out her training webinar schedule at https://www.ostglobalsolutions.com/training/schedule.