In the U.S. Army Infantry, the actual execution of an ambush is less than 10 minutes. Once the mission starts, you move to the area, set up, conduct a leader’s recon of the ambush site, set up security elements, plan the firing line, place your gun teams, and eventually attack. It’s not that different from a mad dash of responding to a short turnaround RFP to demolish your competition. An ambush is, however, the result of painstakingly thorough planning and preparation, which includes map reconnaissance, route planning, squad assignments, and numerous other considerations. All of this happens before the mission starts, and it generally takes about 140 times longer than the ambush itself. After all of the preparation work has been done, now you can move everyone to the objective and place the fire line, and then you wait, just like you would wait for a Task Order RFP to be issued. The waiting could be for a long time, but now you are ready.
The relative time for preparation to action is very similar to how business development must be done for the Indefinite Delivery Vehicles (IDVs). There is a lot of preparation work to complete before the Task Order RFP is issued, so that you can respond within a short span of time. The more time you have spent preparing, the better you are positioned to win.
The rules of engagement for business development for IDVs boil down to the following three principles.
- Learn about the upcoming Task Order RFPs way in advance and take time to prepare. You cannot skip business development and wait for the Task Order RFP to drop, hoping to be able to respond well when it suddenly is released.
For all IDVs, the communication with the customer is difficult because once the task order is added to the vehicle, the one-on-one dialogue stops. This window of opportunity is much shorter than the regular amount of time allowed for talking to the customer. The reaction time to research, develop a win strategy, analyze competition, decide on your team composition, and develop the solution is only available when you know about opportunities in advance.
The main role of a business developer is to fill the pipeline of opportunities for each vehicle. It can be done in several different ways.
Some vehicles have a forecast of task orders, but most do not. The first methodology is to determine which task orders on the vehicle are expiring and when, using data from such tools as BGov or the task order module of GovWin IQ.
The next step is to get as much face time with the customer as possible. Here comes another complication. Just like there are different types of ambush that dictate different types of preparation, how you do business development depends on the nature of the IDV.
You have single agency IDVs and multiple-agency IDVs, and it makes all the difference in the approach and the level of difficulty. You may also have a level of complexity due to the sheer number of awardees—the more awardees there are, usually the harder it is to prevail. The number of awardees can vary from two to thousands.
Single agency IDVs are agency-specific Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contracts that cover the needs of an entire agency, but generally are not open to other agencies. An example of these IDVs is DHS Eagle II. With single agency IDVs, it is relatively clear who the customer is, and whom you would need to court to build a relationship.
Multiple-agency IDVs include Governmentwide Acquisition Contracts (GWACs), Federal Supply Schedules, and other types of task order or delivery order vehicles established by one agency for use by multiple Government agencies to obtain supplies and services. Sometimes use by other agencies is occasional or incidental. Examples include CIOSP-3 and Seaport-e. In this particular case, it is harder to determine who the customer is, as there is a multitude. A business developer needs to realize clear priorities, pick the top two to three customers that use this particular vehicle, then focus on them. Even if these customers are in different geographic locations, it is still a business developer’s task is to maximize face time. You will either have to travel a lot or find local people who have existing relationships with the customer to set up post at that location and serve as your interface.
2. Organize the team for marketing. If you are a small business that has gotten on a large vehicle, it is important that you maximize your team’s capabilities of finding opportunities by marketing capabilities to customers. Just your business developer alone will not be able to “eat an elephant”—whereas a team of business developers might just be able to. You have to develop a set of marketing rules of engagement with the customer, and develop a unified marketing message. You also need coordinate a team to assist with your business development efforts. Don’t try to do it all on your own. Multiply yourself by establishing procedures and reaching out to your team to help develop action items and add opportunities and information to your pipeline. A team that pulls together its resources effectively will result in more awards.
3. Use insiders to fill your pipeline and get you additional intelligence about opportunities. When you are just starting on a large IDV, you may want to reach out to your teammates to see if they have people already working on a government site or have a relationship with the customer, and see if you can leverage them to build a connection. Once you grow your footprint with this customer by winning a few task orders, you will be able to leverage your own personnel to get even more work. However, most project personnel have had no training in business development. Providing training for your team will increase their effectiveness at being able to recognize opportunities, market your capabilities, and know what information is necessary for you to pursue those opportunities.
In a nutshell, to succeed in business development for IDVs, don’t mistake swift action of a task order or delivery order proposal preparation, with the necessary amount of advance positioning and training you have to invest to be successful. During the short-turnaround proposal process, just like in an over-within-minutes ambush, long and careful planning will help you dominate competition.