Preventing Personal Conflicts of Interest for Acquisition Contractors

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© kieferpix – Fotolia.com

At its core, the purpose of an OCI (organizational conflict of interest) clause is to prevent somebody from having an unfair competitive advantage by knowing information about an upcoming procurement or what is required to win or lose, or some other secretive information about what’s going on in that particular contract.

The dilemma is how to define organizational conflict of interest in a way that doesn’t prohibit the incumbent from bidding on the contract. Because the incumbent does know details about the customer and the contract, and already has people operational in the agency.

So when there is an incumbent in place, the RFP has to written in such a way that the evaluation requirements don’t give the incumbent an unfair advantage. In addition, we don’t want a situation where a contractor is helping to define the requirements, and therefore has advanced knowledge.

Acquisitions/support work is one of three contractor services that are most likely to get into OCI issues. Clearly, if you’re working as an acquisitions support consultant supporting a contracting office, you shouldn’t be able to bid on anything that you helped to work on, because you know the stuff that didn’t go into the RFP.

Organizational conflicts of interest are discussed in FAR Part 209.5, and there’s now a new subpart 3.11 that specifically addresses contractors in acquisition functions. It’s important to be improving these definitions because frankly lots of people have been tripped up on OCI clauses and OCI issues, particularly in these last eight years.

Ultimately we must prohibit the person who’s creating an RFP (helping the government create one) from bidding on that RFP, so they don’t have an unfair advantage over you or me.


Bid Protest Reform

Business creative concept. People in crisis with banners protesting.

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There have been many recent changes to the regulations around bid protests, including one outlined by Sandra Erwin in a recent guest post about Pentagon contractors.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO), where most bid protests are filed, released a proposed rule on April 25, 2016 that hopes to clarify the protest process.

There are a couple of important things to understand about where these regulations are going. There’s a proposed $350 filing fee. Right now there’s no filing fee other than admin costs of lawyers creating a document.

This is not a prohibitive amount, but is enough to make people think twice before filing. People have been complaining for years about folks who file frivolous protests in order to hold onto a contract. In fact, one company got the government’s attention with their repeated protests and were prohibited from protesting again for a specific period of time.

The GAO is also proposing to extend the ability to protest below the current task order multiple-award contract threshold of $10 million. Clearly, the lower they go, the more protests they will encounter. This is a good thing in one sense because of the recognition that more opportunities are being competed on multiple-award task order contracts. The bad news is that there are more likely to be protests.

There are a lot other rules and regulations to understand about the bid protest process, but let’s end this post at the starting place: deciding whether or not to protest in the first place.

The fundamental issue around protests is a belief that the government, has “done you wrong,” in their evaluation. However, you have to understand that these evaluations are always subjective and if you are eliminated in the evaluation process, it’s because the technical evaluators or contracting officers wanted somebody else, pure and simple.

You have to be very careful about using protests. Not only does it cost you money in legal fees, and the time and energy involved, but you could be pissing off a future customer. Just because you lost this contract, doesn’t mean you won’t be bidding on the next one from the same agency customer. Should you ask for a debrief instead, and focus on the next opportunity?


Late Payments to Small Business Subcontractors Will Affect Prime’s CPARS

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© dizain – Fotolia.com

On January 20, 2016, the FAR Council published a proposed rule calling for changes to the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), regarding payments to small business subcontractors. It has concurrence and is going to be added to the Code of Federation Regulations at section 19.701.

Originally put into the small business jobs act of 2010, this rule provides specific definitions for reduced payment and untimely payment so that there’s no questions or confusion, for example in the case of prorated payments.

This statute requires a prime to self-report, that is to say to tell on themselves, if they make a late payment to small business subcontractors.

(Note that this doesn’t apply if you’re a small businesses with a large business as a subcontractor. You can be late paying them and not have to self-report. This makes sense because typically large businesses have whole accounting departments tracking money coming in and going out.)

The prime self-reports to the CO and that information gets reported in a system called FAPIIS. What’s important is that a history of delayed payments in FAPIIS will be a criteria for your CPARS rating when a CPARS is generated at the end of each contract year.

For a small business, not getting paid can be a very big deal, so these efforts are definitely a step in the right direction.


Labor Law Changes That Will Affect Small Business Federal Contractors

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The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is a federal statute that defines, among other things, the difference between an exempt employee (one who is paid a salary and is therefore exempt from overtime pay) and an hourly employee (someone who may be paid on an hourly, weekly, or even yearly basis, but is not exempt and is therefore subject to overtime pay).

The current threshold is $455 per week, meaning that if you’re paid that amount or less you’re automatically assumed to be hourly. If you’re paid more than $100,000 per year, you’re automatically assumed to be exempt. In between, there are duties (referred to as professional standards) that will define an employee as exempt.

So that’s the current law. Under the new law, they’re going to raise that salary to $913 per week, and the automatic compensation level to $134,000 per year. What this means is that a lot more people are going to become subject to hourly rules, no longer exempt. When that happens, as a small business owner you will have to convert those people from exempt status to hourly status, from being paid a salary and not being eligible for overtime pay, to being eligible for overtime pay and being paid hourly.

In government contracting, it’s common practice for people to put in a lot of extra hours, many of them spent on non-billable work (sometimes called “company time”) rather than directly serving customers, after the 40-hour week is “done.” This might be time spent doing things like interviewing candidates for other jobs in the project or elsewhere in the company, preparing status reports, or attending company meetings. A major example of this is doing proposal work.

Let’s say you have an employee who works 40 hours a week of billable time and 10 hours a week of “company time.” Under these new rules that employee will now have to be paid for all of those 50 hours (and 10 of them at overtime rates).

Of course you’d be smart to consult with the compensation experts and lawyers whose job it is to work on this stuff. I will only say that it’s important for you to understand these issues because these changes are definitely going to be a challenge.

For more details, see this fact sheet from the Department of Labor and this article from the HR Bartender.


How to Lose a Contract in 3 Easy Steps

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© WavebreakmediaMicro – Fotolia.com

This is a guest post by Debbie Ouellet of EchelonOne Consulting. Debbie gets it exactly right. Pay attention, folks!

From time to time I’m approached by a business owner who has just been blind-sided. They’ve been a long-term service provider for a customer and just learned that they no longer have the contract.

And they don’t know why.

Most often this has happened when the contract went back out for bid, usually through the RFP (Request for Proposal) process, and the service provider prepared their own response. I’m called in to perform a postmortem and provide feedback with the goal of preventing a recurrence with other contracts.

Many business owners might assume that they were simply underbid (i.e.: another vendor low-balled their price to win the contract). The truth is; that’s rarely the reason.

What are 3 of the main reasons that long term vendors lose contracts in the bid process?

They got complacent.

Any procurement manager will tell you… complacency in a vendor is a contract killer. The vendor works hard in the first year or so of the contract to bring innovation, quality initiatives and cost control strategies into play. And then they ride the wave for the remainder of the term.

It’s not that they’re lazy or even bad vendors. They just get comfortable that all is well within their contract and relationship and that everyone is happy with the status quo.

When you read their RFP response and distill it down to the main messages, it says, “We’re great, you know we’re great and we’re going to keep doing what we’ve been doing…because hey, it’s working.” Unfortunately, their competitors have done their homework and suggested new approaches and offered added value in their responses making the incumbent’s proposal look pretty darn blah.

Another tactic that drives customers crazy is when long-term vendors save all of their ideas and innovations to submit with the rebid process. Instead, a better approach is to show steady improvement over the entire term of the contract. Your customer then sees you as consistently bringing value to the table. Then when it comes time for the contract to go out to bid again, you can cite the great initiatives you’ve implemented and offer a few more that you’d like them to consider moving forward.

The best piece of advice I can give a vendor who already has a contract is this: At least once each year, sit down and take stock of what you’ve done for your client lately. Where did you bring value, suggest cost control or improve quality? If you haven’t, find ways to do it now before the contract goes out to rebid.

They assumed that they knew it all.

At times, being the incumbent has its drawbacks. They’ve been immersed in their customer’s business so much so that they lose perspective and believe that they already know everything there is to know about them.

Because the vendor thinks they already know, they don’t read the RFP documents carefully. They make assumptions and miss key elements for the response.

No matter how good your relationship is with your customer, you should always approach an RFP as though it’s anybody’s game. Read it carefully, ask questions and follow the instructions to the tee.

They assumed that the client knew it all.

At times, an incumbent won’t explain responses fully in an RFP because they assume that the client already knows about their business, what they do and how they do it.

There are three reasons why this is a bad approach:

  1. The people reading your response may not know you. The truth is, your main contact; the one who loves you; may not be the decision maker in the bid process. Changeover in decision makers is also commonplace in today’s business world.
  2. Most RFPs go through a scoring process. Each set of answers to questions is scored against a pre-defined process to come up to an overall score. It’s a process that was designed to ensure objectivity in the review process. The bids with the highest scores make it to the finalists list. If you don’t provide full answers to questions, how can you be scored properly?
  3. Incomplete answers look sloppy and lazy. You don’t want your customer to think that you couldn’t be bothered to take the time to answer their questions properly.

Use incumbency to your benefit

Being the incumbent in the RFP process can be a huge advantage as long as you understand that winning and keeping a contract starts long before it goes out to bid.

  • Consistently show value (and make sure that your customer knows about it) while you have the contract. Document it so that you’ve got the information readily available at bid time.
  • Always approach an RFP as though it’s anybody’s game.
  • Don’t assume that you know everything. Read the RFP document carefully and follow the instructions closely.

Don’t assume that the people reading your response know all about you just because you’re their current vendor. Answer questions fully as if they didn’t know you.

I’d much rather help a client win back a contract through the RFP process than explain to them postmortem why they didn’t.

This article originally appeared at http://www.echelonone.ca/apps/blog/show/44087958-how-to-lose-a-contract-in-3-easy-steps and was reprinted with permission.

Debbie Ouellet of EchelonOne Consulting is a Canadian RFP consultant and business writer. She helps business owners win new clients and grow their business by helping them to plan and write great RFP responses, business proposals, web content and marketing content. You can find out more about Debbie at www.echelonone.ca.


Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business Joint Ventures – New SBA Requirements

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© alexmillos – Fotolia.com

This is a guest post by Steven Koprince of SmallGovCon.

SDVOSB joint venture agreements will be required to look quite different after August 24, 2016.  That’s when a new SBA regulation takes effect–and the new regulation overhauls (and expands upon) the required provisions for SDVOSB joint venture agreements.

The changes made by this proposed rule will affect joint ventures’ eligibility for SDVOSB contracts.  It will be imperative that SDVOSBs understand that their old “template” JV agreements will be non-compliant after August 24, and that SDVOSBs and their joint venture partners carefully ensure that their subsequent joint venture agreements comply with all of the new requirements.

If you’ve been following SmallGovCon lately (and I hope that you have), you know that we’ve been posting a number of updates related to the SBA’s recent major final rule, which is best known for establishing a universal small business mentor-protege program.  But the final rule also includes many other important changes, including major updates to the requirements for SDVOSB joint ventures.  For those familiar with the requirements for 8(a) joint ventures, most of the new requirements will look familiar; the SBA states that its changes were intended to ensure more uniformity between joint venture agreements under the various socioeconomic set-aside programs.

The SBA’s final rule moves the SDVOSB joint venture requirements from 13 C.F.R. 125.15 to 13 C.F.R. 125.18 (a change of note primarily to those of us in the legal profession).  But the new regulation is substantively very different than the old.  Below are the highlights of the major requirements under the new rule.  Of course (and this should go without saying), this post is educational only; those interested in forming a SDVOSB joint venture should consult the new regulations themselves, or consult with experienced legal counsel, rather than using this post as a guide.

Size Eligibility

In order to form an SDVOSB joint venture, at least one of the participants must be an SDVOSB, and must also be a small business under the NAICS code assigned to the procurement in question. The other joint venturer can be another small business, or the partner can be the SDVOSB’s mentor under the new small business mentor-protege program or the 8(a) mentor-protege program:

A joint venture between a protege firm that qualifies as an SDVO SBC and its SBA-approved mentor (see [Sections] 125.9 and 124.520 of this chapter) will  be deemed small provided the protege qualifies as small for the size standard corresponding to the NAICS code assigned to the SDVO procurement or sale.

This piece of the new regulation appears to overturn a recent SBA Office of Hearings and Appeals decision, in which OHA held that a mentor-protege joint venture was ineligible for an SDVOSB set-aside contract because the mentor firm was not a large business.

Required Joint Venture Agreement Provisions

Under the new regulations, an SDVOSB joint venture agreement must include the following provisions:

  • Purpose.  The joint venture agreement must set forth the purpose of the joint venture.  This is not a change from the old rules.
  • Managing Member.   An SDVOSB must be named the managing member of the joint venture.  This is not a change from the old rules.
  • Project Manager.  An SDVOSB’s employee must be named the project manager responsible for performance of the contract.  This, too, is not a change from the old rules.  Curiously, unlike in the rules governing small business mentor-protege joint ventures, the SBA doesn’t specify whether the project manager can be a contingent hire, or instead must  be a current employee of the SDVOSB.  The new regulation also doesn’t address OHA case law holding that a specific individual must be named in the agreement (i.e., it’s insufficient to simply state that “an employee of the SDVOSB will be the project manager.”)  It’s unfortunate that the SBA didn’t address that issue; if the SBA agrees with OHA’s rulings, it would have been nice to have the regulations reflect this requirement so that SDVOSBs understand that a specific name is required.
  • Ownership. If the joint venture is a separate legal entity (e.g., LLC), the SDVOSB must own at least 51%.  This is a change from the old rules, which don’t address ownership.
  • Profits. The SDVOSB member must receive profits from the joint venture commensurate with the work performed by the SDVOSB, or in the case of a separate legal entity joint venture, commensurate with its ownership share. This is a change from the old rule, which applies the 51% threshold to all SDVOSB JVs.  To me, there is no good reason to distinguish between “informal” and “separate legal entity” joint ventures, especially since the SBA (elsewhere in its final rule) concedes that “state law would recognize an ‘informal’ joint venture with a written document setting forth the responsibilities of the joint venture partners as some sort of partnership.”  In other words, an informal joint venture is a legal entity too, just not one that has been formally organized with a state government.  In any event, the long and short of this change is that we can expect to see many more informal SDVOSB joint ventures.  That’s because, using the informal form, the non-SDVOSB will be able to perform up to 60% of the work and receive 60% of the profits (see the discussion of work split below); whereas in a separate legal entity joint venture, the non-SDVOSB will be limited to 49% of profits, no matter how much work the non-SDVOSB performs.
  • Bank Account.  The parties must establish a special bank account” in the name of the joint venture.  This is a change from the old rule, which is silent regarding bank accounts.  The account “must require the signature of all parties to the joint venture or designees for withdrawal purposes.” All payments to the joint venture for performance on an SDVOSB will be deposited in the special bank account; all expenses incurred under the contract will be paid from the account.
  • Equipment, Facilities, and Other Resources. Itemize all major equipment, facilities, and other resources to be furnished by each venturer, along with a detailed schedule of the cost or value of such items. This is a change from the old rule, which doesn’t require this information to be set forth in an SDVOSB joint venture agreement.  In a recent court decision, an 8(a) joint venture was penalized for providing insufficient details about these items—even though the contract in question was an IDIQ contract, making it difficult to provide a “detailed schedule” at the time the joint venture agreement was executed. Perhaps in response to that decision, the new regulations provide that “if a contract is indefinite in nature,” such as an IDIQ, the joint venture “must provide a general description of the anticipated major equipment, facilities, and other resources to be furnished by each party to the joint venture, without a detailed schedule of cost or value of each, or in the alternative, specify how the parties to the joint venture will furnish such resources to the joint venture once a definite scope of work is made publicly available.”
  • Parties’ Responsibilities.  Specify the responsibilities of the venturers with regard to contract negotiation, source of labor, and contract performance, including ways that the parties will ensure that the joint venture will meet the performance of work requirements set forth in the new rule.  Again, if the contract is indefinite, a lesser amount of information will be permitted.  This is an update from the old rule, which requires information on contract negotiation, source of labor, and contract performance, but does not require a discussion of how the SDVOSB joint venture will meet the performance of work requirements.
  • Ensured Performance. Obligate all parties to the joint venture to ensure complete performance despite the withdrawal of any venturer. This is not a change from the current rule.
  • Records. State that accounting and other administrative records of the joint venture must be kept in the office of the small business managing venturer, unless the SBA gives permission to keep them elsewhere. Additionally, the joint venture’s final original records must be retained by the SDVOSB managing venturer upon completion of the contract. These provisions, which are not included in the old rule, seem dated in the assumption that records will be kept in paper form; it instead would have been nice for the SBA to allow for more modern record-keeping, like a cloud-based records system that enables documents to be available in real-time to both parties.
  • Statements. Provide that quarterly financial statements showing cumulative contract receipts and expenditures (including salaries of the joint venture’s principals) must be submitted to the SBA not later than 45 days after each operating quarter of the joint venture. This language, which was basically copied from the 8(a) program regulations, doesn’t specify who might be a “joint venture principal” in a world in which populated joint ventures have been eliminated. The joint venture agreement must also state that the parties will submit a project-end profit-and-loss statement, including a statement of final profit distribution, to the SBA no later than 90 days after completion of the contract.  I find these requirements a bit odd because, unlike for 8(a) joint ventures, the SBA doesn’t pre-approve SDVOSB joint ventures, nor does it seem that the SBA will review a particular SDVOSB joint venture agreement except in the case of a protest.  So why the ongoing requirement for submitting financial records?

While I wish that every SDVOSB would call qualified legal counsel before setting up an SDVOSB joint venture, the reality is that many SDVOSBs attempt to cut costs by relying on joint venture agreement “templates” obtained from a teammate or even from questionable internet sources.  Using SDVOSB joint venture agreement templates is risky enough under the old rules, but will be an even bigger problem after August 24, when all those old templates become severely outdated.  I hope that all SDVOSBs become aware of the need to have updated joint venture agreements meeting the new regulatory requirements, but I won’t be surprised to see some SDVOSB joint ventures using outdated templates in the months to come–and losing out on SDVOSB set-asides as a result.

Performance of Work Requirements

In addition to setting forth many new and changed requirements for SDVOSB joint venture agreements, the new regulation also specifies that, for any SDVOSB contract, “the SDVO SBC partner(s) to the joint venture must perform at least 40% of the work performed by the joint venture.”  That work “must be more than administrative or ministerial functions so that [the SDVOSBs] gain substantive experience.”  The joint venture must also comply with the limitations on subcontracting set forth in 13 C.F.R. 125.6.

And that’s not all: the SDVOSB partner to the joint venture “must annually submit a report to the relevant contracting officer and to the SBA, signed by an authorized official of each partner to the joint venture, explaining how and certifying that the performance of work requirements are being met.”  Additionally, at the completion of the SDVOSB contract, a final report must be submitted to the contracting officer and the SBA, “explaining how and certifying that the performance of work requirements were met for the contract, and further certifying that the contract was performed in accordance with the provisions of the joint venture agreement that are required” under the new regulation.

Past Performance and Experience 

Many SDVOSBs will groan at the new paperwork and reporting requirements established under the new regulation.  But the SBA has inserted at least one provision that is a definite “win” for SDVOSBs and their joint venture partners: the new regulation requires contracting officers to consider the past performance and experience of both members of an SDVOSB joint venture.  The regulation states:

When evaluating the past performance and experience of an entity submitting an offer for an SDVO contract as a joint venture established pursuant to this section, a procuring activity must consider work done by each partner to the joint venture as well as any work done by the joint venture itself previously.

Small businesses sometimes assume that agencies are required to consider the past performance and experience of the individual members of a joint venture–but until now, that wasn’t the case.  True, many contracting officers considered such experience anyway, but there have been high-profile examples of agencies refusing to consider the past performance of a joint venture’s members.  Of course, a joint venture is defined as a limited purpose arrangement, so it makes no sense to require the joint venture itself to demonstrate relevant past performance.  This change to the SBA’s regulations is important and helpful.

The Road Ahead

After August 24, 2016, those old template SDVOSB joint venture agreements won’t be anywhere close to compliant, so SDVOSBs should act quickly to educate themselves about the new regulations and adjust any planned joint venture relationships accordingly.  For SDVOSBs and their joint venture partners, the landscape is about to shift.

This post originally appeared at http://smallgovcon.com/statutes-and-regulations/sdvosb-joint-ventures-sba-overhauls-requirements/#sthash.hSCSekWL.dpuf and was reprinted with permission.


Small Business Subcontracting Changes You Should Know About

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© dizain – Fotolia.com

This is a reprint from the Federal Register: The Daily Journal of the United States Government for July 14, 2016.

DoD, GSA, and NASA are issuing a final rule amending the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) to implement regulatory changes made by the Small Business Administration, which provide for a Governmentwide policy on small business subcontracting. The changes being implemented in this final rule include the following:

(1) Requiring prime contractors to make good faith efforts to utilize their proposed small business subcontractors during performance of a contract to the same degree the prime contractor relied on the small business in preparing and submitting its bid or proposal. To the extent a prime contractor is unable to make a good faith effort to utilize its small business subcontractors as described above, the prime contractor is required to explain, in writing, within 30 days of contract completion, to the contracting officer the reasons why it is unable to do so;

(2) Authorizing contracting officers to calculate subcontracting goals in terms of total contract dollars in addition to the required goals in terms of total subcontracted dollars;

(3) Providing contracting officers with the discretion to require a subcontracting plan in instances where a small business re-represents its size as an other than small business;

(4) Requiring subcontracting plans even for modifications under the subcontracting plan threshold if said modifications would cause the contract to exceed the plan threshold;

(5) Requiring prime contractors to assign North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) codes to subcontracts;

(6) Restricting prime contractors from prohibiting a subcontractor from discussing payment or utilization matters with the contracting officer;

(7) Requiring prime contractors to resubmit a corrected subcontracting report within 30 days of receiving the contracting officer’s notice of report rejection;

(8) Requiring prime contractors to provide the socioeconomic status of the subcontractor in the notification to unsuccessful offerors for subcontracts;

(9) Requiring prime contracts with subcontracting plans on task and delivery order contracts to report order level subcontracting information after November 2017;

(10) Funding agencies receiving small business subcontracting credit; and

(11) On indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contracts, the contracting officer may establish subcontracting goals at the order level (but not a new subcontracting plan), 81 Fed. Reg. 45833. This final rule is effective November 1, 2016.

This information was reprinted from the Federal Register: The Daily Journal of the United States Government. We first learned of it in the PilieroMazza Weekly Report newsletter (click here to subscribe).

Note from Bill: Several of these changes could have a material impact on your circumstances as a small business in the Federal marketplace:

  • #1 creates a contract ratings impact for not using your “bid team.”
  • #3 will require even single award contracts being novated to large businesses to implement small business goals.
  • #6, while risky, allows you to bring a dispute to the KO, when the big Prime is delaying payments.
  • #10 is interesting; it establishes credit for “outside” funders. So if a contract is issued by Agency A, but Agency B uses it with their money, they now get credit for any set-aside used to award the contract. This could be huge in letting contracts be used by all.

How to Choose a Proposal Consultant

Business people negotiating a contract, they are pointing on a document and discussing together

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Sometimes choosing a proposal consultant happens accidentally. When we bought a small company down in Florida, Ray Vause was a consultant for them, and we got to see him operate before deciding to make him our own proposal manager consultant – and that’s been a very good thing. Through several proposals including a winning 50+ person effort for the Marines, we’ve continued to get good results from that decision.

I asked Ray to share his thoughts about choosing the right proposal consultant.

What should federal contractors keep in mind when choosing a proposal consultant?

A proposal consultant should truly be a consultant, not someone who is between jobs and looking for employment, who may leave once they have a permanent offer. 

Look at their track record of experience and wins. Your consultant needs to have won some programs. A consultant should also have many years of experience writing proposals for different DoD agencies (Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and different buyers within each DoD branch). (Note from Bill: Or civil agencies, depending on where your opportunity is.)

 The consultant’s experience should also include different types of proposals (services, products, support, etc.), different volumes as volume lead and proposal manager (cost, technical, logistics, management, past performance, etc.), and various procurement strategies (LPTA, Best Value, etc.).

How many consultants should a company interview?

At least three. It is also very important to see references from companies who have used the consultant.

What can the business owner do to keep the work on track?

Daily correspondence with the consultant via email and conference call, attending the standup meetings conducted by the consultant, and reviewing the invoices and hours charged by the consultant.

What are important things to agree upon before starting work with a proposal consultant?

The process for each phase of the capture process, the level of detail for each phase of the proposal development (draft and final), and the level of authority the consultant has.

Is there anything else you think our readers should know about choosing a proposal consultant?

Proposal consultants have specific talent that many small businesses do not have on their staff. Good proposal consultants are hard to find. When you discover one who is flexible and works well with your senior staff, you have achieved your goal and you are on the road to success.


Federal Sales Tactics for the Stage and Screen

Speaker Giving a Talk at Business Meeting. Audience in the conference hall. Business and Entrepreneurship. Panoramic composition suitable for banners.

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This is a guest post by Judy Bradt of Summit Insight. Judy and I recently partnered up for the webinar, Insights from the Mid-Tier: More Federal Q4 Tactics. If you missed Part One, here are Judy’s first three federal sales tactics for Q4.

Webinars, podcasts and videos

YouTube is the world’s second-largest search engine. Do your competitors have a YouTube channel? You could be the first in your niche to have one!

After websites, federal buyers consider webinars to be a leading, trusted, source of information from vendors. In fact, federal buyers are far more interested in webinars than suppliers realize.

The webinars don’t even have to be an hour; try a half-hour. Thirty-minute podcasts are particularly popular, because that’s often someone’s drive time (okay, in the DC area, someone might listen to three of them in a single trip, but you get the idea).

Pick topics for your webinars and videos that center based on their biggest concerns. Did you know…? Simplify complex concepts. Share actionable ideas. Vary the format: Invite guests, include an active Q&A, chat with a moderator or industry expert, share your screen.

Close with a call to action. What would you like your listener to do? Visit your website? Sign up for your e-news? Invite a deeper relationship: what’s the next natural step? You’ll want to have a solid, permission-based promotion platform and make sure you’re capturing at least name, email address and phone number when people register. If your content is good enough, people are willing to share information like job title and name of organization, too.

Stand out tactics:

  • Be energetic, focused, and authentic. Have some fun!
  • Go shorter rather than longer. Did you know that the vast majority of YouTube how-to videos are just two minutes long? What could you teach someone in two minutes?
  • Focus on content that emphasizes your best values: things that are quantifiable, and objectively proven.
  • Be sure to include a healthy Q&A period. Invite some of your best contacts or even current clients to ask the first few questions.
  • Get to know how the features of your broadcast platform work. Experiment ahead of time, learn how to get good lighting and audio quality. There are often many options, and that can be another reason to invite a partner or moderator to share the broadcast with you.
  • Take advantage of the post-webinar survey features to get feedback.
  • Use the chat windows as well as the ability to selectively unmute people in order to let everyone hear diverse voices. Then it gets fun! Ask people where they’re calling from and what they do before you get to their question, and remember to thank them afterward. If your platform lets you include a webcam stream, don’t be shy.
  • Record your webinar! Once you have the recording, you can share it with those who participated. You can also share the link afterwards to those who missed your event, post it on your website and social media, and have the content transcribed into later blog posts or articles, just for starters.
  • Finally, be generous as well as confident! Share handouts or links to follow-up tools like short checklists or more in-depth insights from you, your co-presenters, and others.

Key: these online educational channels offer a no-risk way to get to know you and connect.

Speaking engagements

Speak up about innovation! Thought leaders get invited more. Share your expertise and insight. Keep the focus narrow. Inspire conversations! Share highlights of case studies – including but not limited to those involving your own clients. Not all gigs will be paid, but some will be; expect a mix of free and paid speaking opportunities.

Great speakers make complex things simple. You might not ever give a TED Talk, but you can draw on these masterful tips offered by Chris Anderson, the head of TED.

Stand out tactics:

  • Memorable speakers come early and stay late.
  • Share fresh, meaty data, but don’t fill slides with busy graphs and tons of tiny-font text. Let images be the backdrop for your story.
  • Involve your audience, with quick polls, questions, and even the chance to talk with each other.
  • Talk about their problems and leave them with hope and ideas for solutions. Offer actionable next steps – besides suggesting they hire you! Let that come naturally, when they understand they could do it themselves, but they’d love to have you do it for or with them.
  • Own the room: treat the occasion as if you were the host, and each attendee were your cherished guest.

Key: Be the friendly expert: generous, personable, accessible.


About the author: Judy Bradt, CEO of Summit Insight, gives federal contractors the focus, skills and tools you need to transform your federal business and achieve the sales and partnerships you’ve always wanted. It’s easier than you ever imagined. Call her at 703-627-1074 or visit http://www.summitinsight.com and find out more.


Federal Sales Tactics for Q4 – Getting Close and Personal

Business people shaking hands, finishing up a meeting

© yurolaitsalbert – Fotolia.com

This is a guest post by Judy Bradt of Summit Insight. Judy and I recently partnered up for the webinar, Insights from the Mid-Tier: More Federal Q4 Tactics.

Looking for marketing strategies to ramp up your fourth-quarter federal sales? These five ideas are important year-round. For now, focus on the ones you’re already using, and take a look at how you can move those into high gear. Save the others for your FY2017 plan!

  1. Personal contact and office calls

Time after time, companies say that these are the most effective marketing strategies, if you can get in the door! Looking to break down barriers? Remember to reconnect with something as simple as sending thank you notes to your federal contracting officers and end users, and writing their managers to let them know what a great job they do.

Office visits are easier to get in October through May. But whenever you can get there, make sure your briefing is short – less than 15 minutes – and isn’t a sales pitch or a standard capability briefing. Share highlights of your expertise, best practices, industry findings and case studies. Always say yes to a walk-about or site tour, and be sure to ask what they like best about the vendors they’re working with now. Explain, “We only want to team with the best!”

Stand out tactics:

  • Make sure the business owner attends. That reinforces that everybody in the company is not 100% billable; you’re established enough to have time and resources for business development.
  • Become the “go-to” resource. Say, “Make me your first call. Even if I don’t do that, I’ll find you someone who does. Call my mobile, nights, weekends, no problem. I’m here for you!” Show them you’re looking out for them!
  • Share links to articles or resources on things you know they care about. This is a personal, one-to-one email, not a campaign newsletter. While you might run across something about industry best practices, also keep a lookout for a great recipe if you remember he loves to cook, or maybe a local canine agility event if you noticed how much she likes dogs.

Key: Show you care about what matters to them. Become their first call.

  1. Association memberships

Show up! Participate regularly, not just once in a while. Have one or more members of your federal team become active, visible members. Show up in force at their meetings and events – that makes a big impact – and don’t all sit together. Reach out to individual members to follow up.

Stand out tactics:

  • Submit content to organization newsletter or magazine.
  • Make a commitment for a whole year.
  • Designate a senior member of the company, especially the owner or VP, as your flagship representative.
  • Volunteer for a couple of the group’s committees that relate to things you care about and enjoy, and benefit you and your company, personally and/or professionally. Golf tournament? STEM Scholarships? Use your creativity. Maybe you focus on something you think SHOULD happen and isn’t being done, or could be done better.

Key: Value comes not from paying your fees…but from paying your DUES.

  1. Assessment, white paper, or limited free product trial

Consistently offer a minimally-priced or possibly even free short assessment or product trial through drip email campaigns (a pre-written series of emails sent through an email service responder like MailChimp or Constant Contact). Be sure not to give away a service you normally sell! You can also offer a white paper, a reading list, or checklist.

An “assessment” can be a simple half-hour chat about needs. Be sure to make it a conversation; don’t turn it into a sales pitch. If, after the half-hour, someone wants to explore working with you, you can always book a follow-up call – ideally, including colleagues or managers.

If a custom, one-on-one, assessment is feasible and is a service during which you would share substantive professional expertise, pricing it below $3,500 will let your federal buyer engage you sole-source and pay you immediately. What’s not to like?

Stand-out tactics:

  • Offer a quick quote. Do a walk-through and some commentary (though remember to first validate what they’re already doing, then educate them on the latest and greatest). Maybe offer an informal design sketch of what an installation or project might look like.
  • Draft a short white paper outline – literally, a project description on white paper or a document with no author information listed in the document properties – that a buyer who really likes you and is hoping for fiscal year-end money can turn around into a fast statement of work and hire you in a hurry.
  • Put together something for the ‘Budget’ – a quick needs analysis/scope of work.

Key: Get something on file for Q4 “Wish List” proposals.

About the author: Judy Bradt, CEO of Summit Insight, gives federal contractors the focus, skills and tools you need to transform your federal business and achieve the sales and partnerships you’ve always wanted. It’s easier than you ever imagined. Call her at 703-627-1074 or visit http://www.summitinsight.com and find out more.

Stay tuned for Part Two of this post, where Judy reveals two more federal sales tactics for Q4.


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