NCMA has been holding its World Congress since 1996, and each year it gets better and better. TAPE has been an exhibitor there for the past several years, and it’s interesting to meet contracting folks in a very different environment from the usual locations, or with their small business folk, etc.
I asked NCMA Executive Director Michael Fischetti: What’s new for this year’s event, July 26-29, 2015 in Dallas, Texas?
This year you’ll see some changes in the “interactive” nature of the event. Along with education aligned with the Contract Management Body of Knowledge (CMBOK), attendees will have increased opportunities to provide solutions to problems of the day as well as meet new colleagues in the field.
What are you most excited about?
Our fantastic line-up of key leaders and practitioners in the field, most of whom are new to our podium!
I see World Congress has a mobile app (search “NCMA Events” in the Apple App Store or Google Play Store) – what features does it offer for event participants?
The mobile app contains the A to Z of World Congress. It includes the full agenda (which attendees can customize based on what they plan to go to), speaker information, sponsors and exhibitors, social media tools, and more. There’s even a part of the app that provides detailed local information about Dallas, including local restaurants, directions, and airport information.
Who will benefit the most from attending the World Congress?
Anyone involved in contracting, whether they’re from industry or any level of government. Anyone who wants to network with others across the profession and the environment they work within.
Does the employee justification packet really work to convince employers to send people to the event?
Absolutely, and our attendees tell us they love it! World Congress is well worth the investment of time, and this packet provides answers to the questions that their training officers, leadership, or customers ask.
See you all in Dallas!
If you’re a contract management professional and you haven’t registered for the World Congress, click here to learn more. If you’re a business developer, this is a chance for you to meet contracting folks over a beer or soda between sessions. You’ll hear them discuss the issues relevant to you, like LPTA or small business. This year we’re sending our CFO, who’s also in charge of our contracts shop.
The General Services Administration (GSA) is launching something called the Acquisition Gateway, an online workplace designed to help simplify the acquisition process for government buyers, and reduce redundancies (hence the name “Act As One”).
The portal will initially cover three purchasing categories – administrative support, IT hardware, and IT software, with more categories coming.
This video from the GSA explains how the gateway works, and the rationale behind the initiative:
As Judy Bradt points out in her article for the Washington Business Journal, the risk here is that if your current and prospective customers enter this gateway, they will face an overwhelming number of choices.
To make the quickest and simplest decision, they may automatically look for the lowest price. Yet since vendors can’t access this portal, you’ll have no way of knowing how your price compares to that of your competitors.
Judy suggests you ask your customers what they think of the Acquisition Gateway. Their answer will tell you how loyal they are or whether they’re shopping around.
Read Judy’s full article for her two tips on how to make sure you end up front and center when your customers browse this new acquisition portal.
So what can you do, especially if, like many small businesses, the pricing strategy for Multiple Award Schedules (so-called GSA Schedules, like the IT70, or MOBIS), is to set “reasonable” prices and then discount in bids?
One thing is to add to your labor category descriptions a legend that indicates requirements matching is negotiable with the requirement. Another is to carefully screen customers and let them know in advance that bid prices may be adjusted/lower than Schedule prices. And finally, which I’m sure Judy would agree with as well because we’re preaching the same thing, build a relationship.
One more thing I’d recommend is to be sure your website matches the branding you use in your other materials. That’ll be a post for another day, but for now, just be aware that buyers go to websites, and often when you don’t even know they’re buyers yet.
In a small business like TAPE, our VPs need to be very hands-on in the day-to-day operations of the company. They’re responsible for business development, maintaining current customer relationships, building our repository of teammates and partners, and strengthening and maintaining those relationships, each for their specific line of business.
This “leaner, meaner” approach enables us to respond more quickly to opportunities and optimize our resources.
One of our VPs, Daria Gray, transitioned into this role from another leadership position in marketing and communications. I asked her to share her reflections on the challenges and opportunities of this type of change.
She says the internal transition happened quite naturally, “Once I’ve made up my mind to do something and am committed, I want to put in the time and energy to succeed.” Yet for some of the people around her, it took time to let go of Daria being in that former role, and to allocate her previous functions to others within the organization.
She says this is an example of a lesson that holds true in everything in life, and that is that you cannot change others. “They are going to continue to do what they have naturally done, but you can change your response or your reaction to their behaviors.”
Daria said that by being firm in her own mindset about the path she was on, she could gently remind others that she was no longer performing those capabilities.” For others in this same situation, she suggests you “stay focused on your new role and kindly redirect people to others who can provide guidance on matters for which they are seeking assistance.”
For Daria, this has been a really positive move, and she’s enjoying the responsibilities of her new role – managing not just the work, but the people and all the new endeavors that have come with it.
As many small businesses transition to a more lean/low-cost/low-overhead environment in the Federal sector, these kinds of transitions will become much more common.
It is much better to take a current, committed employee, who has demonstrated leadership, and train them in a few functions gaps, rather than go through the hiring process and then guess as to whether you were right or wrong on your choices.
As your existing customers are your greatest source of increasing growth and revenue, so too, your existing staff may be the best to fill new leadership roles. Reach out and see if someone wants to grow in a (sometimes surprising) new direction.
I try to live by what I blog. This is a good thing, because I had a conversation with my staff people, and it seems as if they read my blog as well. After the posts about chasing squirrels and focusing our contracting efforts, they wanted to know what we were doing to chase fewer squirrels and narrow our focus.
Of course we do have a focus, and we talked a little about that. We also talked about how important it is to understand that your pipeline is more like a funnel than a pipeline, with a wide opening that’s full of squirrels. But not all of these are the irrelevant distractions Judy cautioned us against.
You see, if all of your capture management projects are sequential, one after another, then the inevitable delays that occur in government contracting are going to leave you with lengthy gaps when there’s nothing you’re actively working on.
Ideally the top of your funnel will be populated with enough potential opportunities that are far enough away for you to do the appropriate capture work and development, and then lower down in your funnel you’ll reduce those to the ones you’re actually developing.
The process by which you pare down those options is typically called a step review – where the business development people, the operations people, the technical solutions people, and maybe others all come together. “So we’ve got this squirrel,” they say, “Now how are we going to trap the dang thing?” Because that’s the key – we don’t want to be chasing after anything or anyone. We want to focus on getting the perfect customers to come to us.
The step review represents a moment in time when you make a decision about whether to keep attempting to trap a squirrel, or stop. As you let go of some of these squirrels, your funnel gets down to the narrowest point where you’re actually writing and responding to a manageable number of proposals. That’s when you apply the capture management and relationship building strategies we discuss on this blog.
In a step review, we ask ourselves three simple questions:
- Do we know the customer, the actual customer, the person with the money?
- Does the customer know us?
- Do we have a solution for the customer’s true problem?
A corollary fourth question might be: Is the customer willing to look at new solutions?
More information will be required as you get closer to the actual RFP, but if you can answer these questions in the affirmative, that’s a successful step review and you can move this squirrel down the funnel. The ultimate goal of the step review process is to leave with fewer total opportunities that we’re chasing.
Recently Judy Bradt wrote for us about the concept of chasing squirrels (opportunities). Let’s talk some more about how we decide to focus our efforts.
In the classic Shipley method of doing business development for contract award in the federal sector, we make a determination at the agency level how and what we’re going to go after. We must understand who we are as a company.
What are we selling? Information technology services? Cyber security services? Training? Leadership development? Logistics? Warehouse people? There is a whole host of possibilities. What exactly are the capabilities we’re selling?
Who are we selling it to? For example, a company might decide that they’re an Army contractor or a Navy contractor. But the Army and Navy are great big places. Be specific.
“OSDBU event! Veteran Business Owners Conference! Sources Sought! Vendor Outreach Session! HUBZone Day! Industry Day! Site Walk-through! Draft RFP! PTAC Briefing! SBA Matchmaker! Prime Vendor Meet-and-Greet! And there’s this guy you should meet, maybe they need a teaming partner like you. And, whoa, did I see an RFP deadline sail past? Where did that go?”
The fact of the matter is, often we’re too broad in estimating our capabilities. While we do want to stretch ourselves into new opportunities (that’s what marketing and business development is all about), it’s important to start where we are.
How can you turn something you’ve already done into something that you’d like to do? Who are the nearest neighbors to your existing customers and the function you’re performing?
For example, let’s say I’m supplying warehouse logistics people. Well, it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to get into supplying the folks who assemble the components that will be stored in the warehouse.
If I’m working for the Navy’s SPAWAR warehouse in Charleston, maybe I should go talk to a nearby GSA warehouse. From there, maybe I’ll bid on a GSA warehouse in Virginia. It’s a different location, but I’ll have good GSA references.
The best new customers come as referrals from our best current customers. That’s why when we break down the work we do in our business, at the top of the list is taking care of current customers. We never want to lose that focus.
We may have a strategic plan that lays out our capabilities and target agencies, but what’s key is to build relationships that support that plan. Because it’s from those relationships that will come information about new opportunities, and new functions we can perform within our scope, whether that’s for existing customers, or their nearest neighbors.
Recently we were approached by a magazine in an industry somewhat related to what we do, with the idea that we would be one of their honorees for the Top 20-this, Top 50-that list, whatever it was.
At first, it sounded really cool. It’s always good to be honored in some way. But the reality was, and we had to investigate in order to really nail it down, first you had to sign up for a full-page advertisement, and then they make their shortlist from those advertisers, and then their final selection of honorees. The more you advertise, the more likely you are to be honored.
This was not necessarily a terrible thing. It was still a reputable magazine, and it would still be an honor to be on their list, but in these situations it’s always important to have a fundamental understanding of what it is that’s being sold. Are you really being honored, or are you being asked to buy a full-page ad?
When push came to shove, we declined the offer because buying a full-page ad in this particular publication would not have paid off for us.
Has this ever happened to you? How did you handle it? Would you do it differently the next time?
I recently reconnected with someone I had worked with when I was with another company. I always liked his style, so we stayed in touch. Our conversation turned to a particular thing we’re dealing with at my current company, and he had a definite opinion about what we should do. I won’t get into the details; I’ll just say this is not a trivial matter.
When I brought his comments to the person responsible for this area, they let me know they had already decided their path and wouldn’t be pursuing what my friend had suggested.
The question became: Should I listen to the insider who’s doing this work for us on a daily basis, or the outsider who has the benefit of his own experience? Both people are quite knowledgeable in different ways about the subject matter at hand.
As business owners we’re often faced with these dilemmas. We constantly get unsolicited advice from all of our friends, especially those associated with our industry. We’re paying somebody to do something, and then we get a piece of advice from the outside that may contradict what they’re doing, and may even be completely out of left field.
Ultimately we have to decide as business folk which is the right approach. And I’ll say for the record, sometimes we’re going to be right and sometimes we’re going to be wrong, but it is our decision.
I don’t have the final piece of advice that you must do it this way or that way, but what I ended up doing was asking the insider to at least consider the suggestion. Any advice that sounds reasonable should be explored, even if your insider says they’ve already chosen to go another way. It’s still overall your responsibility as the business owner, not theirs.
A banking relationship is the same as any other relationship; you’ve got to work at it.
As I said in a previous post about banking relationships, there are multiple players in a bank. There is your account representative, who you can think of as the marketing person for the bank – their purpose is to sell you a loan. There is also the credit department, the people who do the evaluation to see if you qualify.
This is an important distinction. Just like how when we do a bid, the business development person is not necessarily the capture person, the person you initially work with to arrange a loan is not the one who makes the final decision.
Other people will be involved on your end as well. Your lawyers will need to talk to their lawyers, and your accounting people will also be involved.
To keep your credit intact you’ll need good relationships with all of these parties, and that means keeping communication open whether the news is good or bad.
Let them know if bad news is coming
If you’re losing a contract or bid, or something else isn’t going as planned, let the bank know as soon as possible. It seems contrary because we always want to hold back on bad news, but bad news doesn’t need to mean the end of your banking relationship.
For example, let’s say you’re no longer able to make a covenant. You can still continue on together, the bank will just need to waive that covenant. Partner with them to get all of that worked out.
Share good news, but not the hype
Also talk about good news. But remember that the bank is lending to you based on your current situation and your current cash position, not on any hype that you may feel about your future.
There’s nothing wrong with talking to your banker about your prospects and what you’re bidding on, but never forget that whatever you bid on could be lost. The bank certainly won’t forget that. So don’t hype things that don’t really represent the true reality.
Every relationship takes care and feeding and your banking team is no different. Be honest and keep the lines of communication open. Help them to help you, because ultimately when you succeed, the bank wins too.
This is a guest post by Judy Bradt, CEO of Summit Insight LLC.
By the time federal small business contractors start to have some success, they’ve gained a certain amount of self-awareness. Which is to say, they often know what’s wrong, they just don’t know how to fix it.
“We need to stop chasing squirrels.”
That is the most common woe I’ve heard recently, from executives in industries that span professional engineering to facilities management. My response? Yes, you do!
What are the squirrels they are talking about? Why, opportunities, of course. And, boy, if there’s one thing the federal government has no shortage of, it’s opportunities.
OSDBU event! Veteran Business Owners Conference! Sources Sought! Vendor Outreach Session! HUBZone Day! Industry Day! Site Walk-through! Draft RFP! PTAC Briefing! SBA Matchmaker! Prime Vendor Meet-and-Greet! And there’s this guy you should meet, maybe they need a teaming partner like you. And, whoa, did I see an RFP deadline sail past? Where did that go?
On any given day, there may be no fewer than a dozen brand new top priorities landing in your inbox or delivered face to face. Of course this is on top of the priorities that came along the day before. And they’re all opportunities. Every one of them. For someone.
How can you tell which opportunities are really for you, without missing out?
First, relax. It’s time to accept a couple of simple truths.
Whether or not you run after everything, you’re probably going to miss some things.
The good news is that very few of these things are a once-in-a-lifetime federal contract opportunity that is gone forever.
The better news is that if the opportunity is truly a good fit for you, you’ll have plenty of notice; the buyer who knows you, likes you, and really wants to see your offer when she’s ready to buy has also let you know what to watch for and when.
Next, you’ll get the most value from any federal outreach event when you’ve had time to research the host agency or prime contractor, find out what they buy, and given some thought to what problem your company’s products or services might solve for them.
If you haven’t had time to do your homework before attending one of those events, and are just so hungry for business that all you have time for is to cruise through and do some brute force networking, you’re not just wasting your time once. You’ll waste it twice: first by attending the event in the first place, and, second, by following up with dozens or even hundreds of people who aren’t any kind of prospect for you at all.
There is an easy antidote to a squirrel infestation. It’s called focus.
Do you know which three federal agencies represent your best prospects? Write those down. Then, when anything outside of those three agencies crosses your path, set it aside for a time when you can think clearly about how or why straying from your focus is justified.
Next, think about lead time and relationships. Just because you feel desperate for business and cash flow does not mean that the right answer is to go crazy writing proposals until something sticks. Exactly the opposite is true. If you’re feeling a cash flow crunch, then carefully marshaling your resources, including staff time that goes into bid and proposal, is absolutely critical for survival.
If the first time you find out about an opportunity is on an electronic noticeboard, it’s almost certainly too late. Paradoxically, these are some of the juiciest, biggest distractions. “We could throw in a proposal and maybe we’ll win,” is one of the biggest distractions of all.
Instead, ask yourself two questions:
- How well do I know this customer and this agency?
- How well do they know me?
If you are fitting into an agency where you don’t know the people, and they have never heard of you, your proposal looks to them like a great big ball of risk. Risk, in case you weren’t clear about that, is a bad thing, and certainly a disincentive to favorable consideration of your offer.
In short, pay attention to the “squirrel” instinct, but not perhaps for the reason you have been. Instead of thinking about that distraction as a reason to run off in a new direction, think of it as a warning sign to slow down, stop, and figure out why you are thinking that way, and what kind of response is best aligned with your focus and your goals.
This post originally appeared at http://www.summitinsight.com/blogs/got-squirrel-brain-get-fast-cure-federal-business-frenzy and was adapted and reprinted with permission.
Judy Bradt is the CEO of Summit Insight LLC and author of Government Contracts Made Easier. For 25 years, Judy has worked with her clients on business strategies to win government contracts. Judy blogs at http://www.summitinsight.com/blog.
This is a guest post by Matthew T. Clarke, Vice President, Modeling, Simulation & Training (MS&T), Strong Point Research | Division of TAPE
Dr. Leonard Hobbs is a quiet professional. He seldom appears agitated and never raises his voice, but he easily stands out as someone of presence and authority. Within five minutes of meeting Leonard you conclude that he is competent, he is capable, and he is a leader. You understand you could follow him with confidence and that if you do, you will achieve something greater than selecting an alternate path.
There are thousands of books that explore leadership and attempt to produce the specific characteristics and practices of exceptional leaders. You could read them all, but at the end of the day, there is no cookie cutter solution. Leadership is an art and people are unique. You must find your own formula for success. Most never do.
Individually, Leonard’s leadership traits are subtle. However, he uses them with poise and élan that bring about a very strong cumulative effect.
- He is a compelling speaker. He is energetic, enthusiastic, and always well-prepared.
- He knows how to use humor and audience involvement to gain and hold people’s attention.
- He is an exceptional listener.
- He is a strong supporter and champion of people’s innovative ideas and works to secure the resources needed to achieve outstanding results.
- He is passionate about follow through and meeting commitments to ensure customer satisfaction, and expects others to be the same.
- He sets achievable but challenging goals.
- He is self-aware, with a clear understanding of what is expected.
- He is dependable. You can count on him to meet deadlines.
- He projects an enthusiasm that motivates others.
In October 2014, Leonard was named as a 2014 Leaders Portfolio Award winner, recognized in the category of Rising Business Leader of the Year – National. He also recently had his first book published at Xulon Press – Inviting Jesus Into Our Families Will Bring Healing and Restoration in our African-American Families.
He says that many of the skills he uses at TAPE – his interpersonal skills, and his management of personnel, skills and processes – can be linked to that part of his life. “In the book,” he explains, “I identify a bible-based foundation that has worked for thousands of years. Once you set a foundation from the Word of God you can do almost anything.
A company like TAPE needs and has unity, vision and purpose. If there’s no vision you won’t have success. How can people walk together unless they agree?
If you have a vision, you have to be able to share and articulate it to others so they can buy into it. When another person can understand your vision, they can comprehend their purpose in their company and how they can help you turn your vision into a reality.
We all have our individual goals, but they still tie in with leadership and the objectives of the company. There can only be one leader. When TAPE bought Strong Point Research, I had to understand Bill and Louisa’s vision and where they were headed. Ultimately I came to see that they truly did have our interests at heart.”
Leonard is capable, compelling, passionate and trustworthy. But even more so, Leonard understands that leadership is not the same as the authoritative use of power. He has that unique ability to get people to follow him even when they have the freedom not to do so.