Engaging the government customer boils down to four key tasks: building relationships, collecting information, influencing the requirements, and vetting your solution. Let’s discuss these key tasks and how to complete them in the most effective way.
Key Task 1: Building Relationships. Your task is to build a relationship with the government customer to win a procurement. But where do you start? You need to focus on three aspects of this task:
- Knowing when in the capture process to interface personally and most effectively with your government customers.
- Identifying and differentiating the various types of government customers.
- Earning trusted advisor status.
Key Task 2: Collecting Information. When you are meeting with a government representative, 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 for working with the government just as much as it does in 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. 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.
Key Task 3: Influencing the Requirements. The best of the best of government contractors shape the requirements in the RFP to raise their win probability. They wire the contracts to themselves early on, and seal the deal with the perfect proposal. Wiring seems like something negative, but unless you are violating the procurement integrity laws, there is nothing unseemly or unethical in doing this, just good business for Beltway insiders. The good news is that you can wire the contracts to yourself as well.
The recipe for wiring an opportunity to your company is simple:
- Build the relationship early and become a trusted advisor.
- Find a solution that will benefit you and make it difficult for the competition to win.
- Make recommendations to the government with the interests of the projects in mind first. In other words, you have to show how the solution you came up with is in the best interests of the government, and follows their rules (it cannot be evident that they are giving you preferential treatment and are limiting competition, or someone will protest).
Key Task 4: Vet the Solution. Because you never want to surprise the government with a solution that’s so original they might not understand it—or approve it—you want to run it by the government before you write the proposal (in the pre-RFP stages of the procurement). For example, what if you decided to get the same job done with three people but they used to use ten people? Would they be happy or upset? Are they attached to the initial number of people for different reasons, perhaps because these people are doing a lot more work for them than is apparent from reading the SOW? Do these people report to different departments that like to have their own resource instead of sharing a person? See if they approve your solution, and tweak it with them if they don’t. They might also at that time drop a valuable hint as to what they would ideally want it to be.
You might decide against running the solution by the government in a couple of situations:
- If you know that someone in the government is very close with your competition and they would most certainly disclose your solution to them.
- If there are too many other contractors involved and are running around your customer, who could leak this information to their strategic partners. People are people, and they tend to talk. You might want to carefully evaluate this risk. Although it is low, in some really large and strategic pursuits, you should exercise extra caution and decide what you want to run by the customer and how, as well as what (if any) artifacts you want to leave with them.
If you execute these four tasks well, you will be half-way to winning.