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:
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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?
- 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.
It’s no secret that many of the procurements in federal contracting take a really long time. Collectively, we’ve built some very big and complex processes around the rules and so forth, and now we’re reaping the result of having to get through all these gates. At the end the contractors and the Government are not clear if we’re left with anything better (although the gates make sure certain elements of fairness are covered), but what we are sure of is that the process took an extra year or more.
Here is just one example: At TAPE, we had started to respond to an RFP. We had asked a bunch of questions and been through several RFP Q&A responses and RFP iterations. One of our questions had to do with RDT&E (Research, Development, Test and Evaluation) activities. Like other respondents, we were trying to get more information in order to successfully respond to that portion of the RFP.
Now, any official change to an RFP that goes out – including answers to questions – are reviewed by the Government’s lawyers. In this case, the lawyers said that since RDT&E money comes from a different part of the budgeting process (different “colors of money”) than operations and maintenance, these activities should not be mixed into the same RFP or contract.
And just like that, we were done. Two days before it was due, the Government pulled (cancelled) the RFP and estimated a six-month to one-year delay before it would be re-opened, while they worked on a way to split up these functions in some fashion.
As you can imagine, everybody went a little bit crazy. We had done all this work, talked to the customer, got our capture information, etc. When we talked to the agency’s small business people, all they could say was that they’d needed to reframe the RFP. True, but why couldn’t they have caught that in one of the iterations? This wouldn’t have necessarily saved us and our cohorts from the ultimate disappointment, but would have certainly saved some of our efforts.
For it to take six months to pull out section of an RFP, rejig it, and put it back on the street, seems an absurd length of time. We’re not talking about a complicated weapons system here, but something in the services realm.
Shortening the acquisition timeline is one goal of reform, and other is to address the “ginormous” amount of overruns – when the acquisition takes more time and money than planned or available.
In any RFP, the government tries to give you detailed specs to build what they want, ranging from a mousetrap to a huge missile. They try to gather a huge number of details – performance measures, trail of spares, logistics, necessities to maintain it, etc.
In one case with procurement of defenses against the improvised explosive devices (IEDs) encountered in Iraq and Afghanistan, the war effort was over before the outcomes and results of the acquisition process were finished.
The more detailed the specs need to be, the longer the process will take. And when things take longer they cost more. This is how a $10 screwdriver ends up costing $1,000 – because you’ve given somebody 100 pages about the exact screwdriver you want. That’s what we need to fix.
This is an ongoing movement, and the pendulum is swinging both ways.
This is a guest post by Eileen Kent, The Federal Sales Sherpa.
One of the biggest mistakes in federal contracting is to set up a keyword on FBO.gov and wait for the bid opportunities to land in your email Inbox and read yourself into them, “This is PERFECT for us!”
Another mistake is to consider writing a loser bid just because you think it’ll “Get our FOOT IN THE DOOR.”
But, the worst mistake in federal contracting, however, is to take a year of your time to fill out the GSA Schedule Application – when you have no proof that the agencies which buy exactly what you sell even use the GSA Schedule to procure your products and services! Even worse than that is to go through the pain of building this contract vehicle/bridge and waiting for the contracts to drive in the door.
Here’s a shocking fact: GSA drops contractors who are below the $25k minimum sales requirement after the first two years! Take a look at how they dropped 1,000 vendors off the IT70 schedule in 2014 as reported by Federal News Radio.
So what should you do when you see an opportunity that is a fit for your company?
First, comb the bid for names, numbers, addresses and locations and add them to your federal sales action plan or marketing database for your sales team to begin developing relationships for next time. You can find the contact intelligence at the bottom of the solicitation and sometimes you can find end user names hidden under the title of Contracting Officer Technical Representative.
Second, do your homework and take the time, before you write a bid, to make a rational bid/no-bid decision.
When everyone is seeing green and thinking “this is perfect for us” through an opportunity discovered on federal bidding website, take the time to perform a bid/no-bid decision and remember, the bid effort will cost you a lot of time and money.
Here are 10 questions to get the bid/no-bid discussion started:
- Who is the incumbent doing the work or delivering the products to that agency?
- Who is the Contracting Officer, the Contracting Specialist and anyone else involved in the process? What are their specific bidding protocols? What contract vehicle/hallway/bridge are they going to use? Do you have that exact contract and are you able to “reach” the bid or do you need to use a partner instead? Are they going to set it aside for a specific small business preference? Do you have it? Does a teaming partner have it?
- Is it posted at GSA eBUY or through the Acquisition Gateway through another contract vehicle/hallway like SeaPort-e or SEWP? Do you even know what the Acquisition Gateway is and do you have partners who will keep an eye out for the opportunity for you? If it’s posted on FBO.gov, why is it posted up there, when they could have easily used a current contracting vehicle/bridge/hallway?
- Do you know the story behind the posting of that bid? Are they looking for something so unique it’s difficult to find or is it such a high-profile project that they need to show publicly that they opened it up for all to see? Is it a multiple award Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quantity contract (MA-IDIQ)? If so, this doesn’t guarantee business – it’s a contract bridge, or vehicle, or hallway — so they can run tasks through it for the next one-five years. If you bid an MA-IDIQ are you ready to handle the sales activities to drive business across that MA-IDIQ? Do you have a proposal team ready to respond to the multiple bidding opportunities after the so-called MA-IDIQ “win”?
- Did your sales team talk to the end user shopping for this service or product and did your team help at all in the client’s discovery meetings prior to the bid? If you don’t think you’re allowed to do so, read the mythbuster articleat the Whitehouse website. It says yes you can speak with people prior to the bid being released, according to FAR 15.201 which says the government is encouraged to discuss innovations with industry.
- How do you know you’ll win? Do you know their budget (also called the Independent Government Cost Estimate or ICGE)? Do you have exactly what they told you they wanted? Do you understand the scope of work and do you have any intelligence about the scope besides what is written in the bid? Can you deliver on-time, within budget and still make money?
- Are you filling in gaps in the bid on areas you don’t cover and trying to find a partner at the bidding point?
- Are you offering the name brand they requested or the equivalent?
- Are you wasting the government’s time by asking way too many questions and supplying a shoe-horn fit proposal because you don’t understand the scope of work? How is this making you look good for future opportunities? How is this getting your foot in the door? Why not, instead, book a flight to the agency, and stick your foot in their door? In other words, why not start making calls for next time, build some relationships, set appointments, perform capabilities briefings and get to know them first?
- How many of these answers are while you’re “seeing green” or experiencing “wishful thinking?”
Third, if you are puzzled by these questions, you need to learn the federal sales and proposal game so you can walk into this marketplace, visiting the agencies who buy what you sell with intelligence about their current incumbents and understanding the appropriate strategies to go after business well before a bid hits the streets.
If you’re blindly writing a bid that is “perfect for us” to “get our foot in the door” and you’re “seeing green” with every opportunity that crosses your screen – with no intelligence whatsoever – you’re going to lose not only the bid but a lot of respect and heart from your employees who spent late nights and weekends preparing the bid just to appease you. You’re going to lose a lot of time and all of that hurts the bottom line.
Implement a bid/no-bid process and you’ll begin the realization that you need to invest more on sales activities prior to bidding opportunities – and less time writing proposals.
And in 2016 – make this your motto:
Write Less – Win More.
This post was originally published on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/did-you-find-federal-opportunity-posted-fbo-which-think-eileen-kent and was adapted and reprinted with permission.
Visit Eileen’s website, The Federal Sales Sherpa.
This is a guest post by Staci Redmon of SAMS.
Is the federal government moving away from Lowest Priced Technically Acceptable (LPTA) procurements? Contractors that are in the people business, like my company, can only hope so!
When I say “people” business, I mean providing the government with people who exceed expectations in delivering operations, technology and facilities management services. In LPTA procurements, competitions in which the government selects the lowest-priced proposal that meets a minimum set of technical requirements, contractors are not rewarded, or even encouraged, for exceeding these minimum standards. This approach is not compatible with a corporate philosophy that stresses excellence in service delivery by people who are best qualified to do the job.
On March 4, 2015, Mr. Frank Kendall, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics (AT&L), issued a memorandum detailing the role that LPTA procurements should play in the Department of Defense (DoD) acquisition process. According to the Kendall memorandum, use of LPTA is appropriate “only when there are well-defined requirements, the risk of unsuccessful contract performance is minimal, price is a significant factor in the source selection, and there is neither value, need, nor willingness to pay for higher performance.”
The Kendall memorandum states that LPTA has “a clear but limited place” in source selection. The memorandum warns that if LPTA is not used appropriately, DoD “can miss an opportunity to secure an innovative, cost-effective solution to meet Warfighter needs and to help maintain our technical advantage.”
I could not agree more. Yet we continue to see startling examples of LPTA being used in highly questionable circumstances. For example, we recently saw two LPTA procurements being solicited by a major military hospital in the Washington DC metro area for emergency room and oncology registered nurses (RNs).
What message does this send to our warfighters and their families who are going to the emergency room or who need cancer treatment? Would the acquisition specialist who wrote this procurement or the Contracting Officer who approved it want to be treated by lowest price, technically acceptable medical personnel? In this situation the risk of unsuccessful performance is certainly not minimal.
We have also seen another Defense agency, who is responsible for information superiority in defense of our nation, using LPTA to procure cybersecurity experts. These are professionals who must have the highest-level clearances for work that is mission-critical for the security of some of our nation’s most sensitive assets. It is another situation in which the LPTA approach clearly does not make sense.
The reality of LPTA procurements is that contractors are spending a lot of time and money to deliver high-quality technical proposals that may never be read. Here is how the process works in the real world of government acquisition:
Once all of the proposals are in, the government contracting officer opens the bids and looks at the price proposal only. He or she then puts the price proposals in order from lowest to highest price. The technical proposal of the lowest bidder is then opened and compared against a checklist of the solicitation’s technical requirements. If that lowest price proposal meets all of the requirements and it is considered technically acceptable, that contractor can be awarded the contract. The contracting officer does not even have to look at the other technical proposals.
Of course, this approach may be considered more efficient from the government’s standpoint. No need to put together full selection boards. Not as many meetings have to be held. But what about the contractors who make a good-faith effort to deliver a high-quality technical proposal??
For SAMS, I have made the executive decision that we will not submit bids when the evaluation factor is LPTA. We have no desire to get caught in the crossfire of price shootouts and the subsequent fallout of not meeting contractual performance standards that can result from the “race to the bottom” LPTA approach.
The LPTA method may work when the government is buying pens, toilet paper, or office supplies, but not when it comes to buying people and their skills. As Mr. Kendall affirmed in his memorandum, the LPTA approach should be used only when technical requirements are well defined. As is the case with many professional services procurements, requirements are very rarely well defined.
When the government is using LPTA, any proposal that exceeds the minimum is not rewarded. That makes it hard to motivate people who are committed to developing or delivering an excellent product or service. Moreover, if your company’s core value is people exceeding expectations, how do you convince employees that you care about them and their families when you are willing to gouge their salaries?
For companies in the people business, LPTA creates a death spiral. If your company is known for devaluing salaries, you cannot attract qualified people. You cannot motivate the people you do attract, because there is no incentive for them to perform at an exceptional level. Since there are no government rewards for exceeding expectations, employees cannot be rewarded. Ultimately, you cannot retain them.
A way forward?
If agencies actually implemented and followed the criteria in the Kendall memorandum, there is some potential for LPTA. The challenge is giving well-defined requirements and balancing the risk of unsuccessful performance. However the way the LPTA “game” is currently played, someone always has the potential to underbid. In many cases, this underbidding is unrealistic.
Because of this, the government needs to do a better job of determining fair market value. Unrealistically low prices should be declared non-responsive and thrown out of the competitive range. Otherwise, LPTA procurements could be putting the government, warfighters, and the public at risk.
In the long run, the government needs to do the necessary upfront work when acquisition staffers are working with the program office to determine contract requirements. This is the only way the government can clearly define technical requirements and, more importantly, delineate the standard of proof that bidders must show in order to be determined technically responsive.
The bottom line is that businesses these days have limited resources. These resources may be even more limited in small and medium-sized businesses. We cannot support the overhead cost to develop competitive proposals if we are expected to operate in a price shootout environment with little or no return. LPTA has its place in the federal government procurement cycle, let’s use it when it makes sense and not as a blanket procurement method for trying to reduce costs.
This post originally appeared on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/lpta-procurements-lets-lose-sight-p-people-staci-redmon-pmp-mba and was reprinted with permission.
Staci L. Redmon is President and CEO of Strategy and Management Services, Inc. (SAMS), an award-winning and leading provider of innovative operations, management and technology solutions in a variety of public and private sector industries and markets. SAMS is based in Springfield, VA.
The best and brightest of your staff are the ones who will carry a company far into the future, and every time you promote someone, that act resonates through the entire organization.
This is one such of the “million stories in the Big City” – a Junior PM job opened up, and we promoted a billable supervisor to an overhead PM position. The following is a first-hand story about that transition, and what we as senior staff and managers can do to help the folks going through a similar transition.
Meet Ken Geary, retired Marine, and newest PM on the TAPE block.
What was the biggest change going from being a supervisor to being a project manager?
“I would have to say the scope of management. I went from directly supervising a relatively small team of five individuals performing a task that I was intimately familiar with, to managing a much larger group of people through delegation and direct communication.
Also management is no longer my sole responsibility. I work to not only provide exceptional service to our customers but also focus on business development, seeking to grow our current contracts as well as procure new ones.
I see this as a general trend, where business development is less one person’s specific role, and more rolled into all program management roles.”
A year later, what would you tell yourself when you were about to start?
“Keep better notes and to-do lists. When I first started in the program management role, I was assuming I could continue to just remember everything I needed to do, as I did when managing a smaller team and wasn’t being pulled in so many directions.
Now that I’m often switching from one project to another, I’ve found that writing everything down helps me to ensure that I complete all of my tasks. I can quickly see the current status and be reminded of the key points that are relevant when working with different contracts.”
What do you think are the most important traits of a good project manager?
“When I was in the Marine Corps we affectionately changed the slogan from semper fi (short for semper fidelis – Latin for “always faithful”) to semper gumby (“always flexible”) and I believe that holds true here.
As a program manager many things fall into your scope of work and you need to be ready to switch gears instantly, manage multiple things, and perform those tasks – proposal writing, performance reviews, and anything that comes along in day-to-day program management.”
What are the biggest benefits to having a project manager in place?
“One of the major benefits of putting a program manager in place is to provide a single point of contact for any issues. This is something that benefits our employees as well as the government points of contact by delivering to provide accurate information effectively and directly.
I can work with them to solve a problem directly, or find the answers for them without them having to get passed around. I know when I call up to get answers or solutions it can be frustrating to get passed around from one person to another.”
Is there anything else you would tell a new project manager?
“Ensure that you are asking questions daily. There is a lot of information to learn and if you don’t ask when you have questions people will assume that you know and understand the information and tasks that have been delegated to you.
If you’re not sure about acronyms or other shop talk, say so. Don’t be scared to ask questions, you need to make sure you understand everything.”
So there you have it – Ken’s story, a year later. Without blowing up his ego too much, he’s done a superb job. What he didn’t tell you is that several of our contracts were coming to a close and needed bridging, and his relationship skills with the customer saved TAPE a lot of problems that would or could have surfaced.
Well, the folks behind the Contracting Officer Podcast have definitely shown some real focus, by targeting the concept of targeting (bad pun is entirely mine). I introduced hosts Kevin Jans (Skyway Acquisition Solutions) and Paul Schauer (CACI’s National and Cyber Solutions) in a previous post about the true cost of proposals.
The real issue with the topic of targeting is the law of large numbers. For example, the folks at Skyway Acquisitions target companies and that means their reachable market is all 500,000 companies registered in the SAM database (the Federal Government’s System for Award Management).
If they pare that down to target privately owned companies with over $500,000 in annual revenue, with five or more employees, who have won at least one government prime or subcontract in the last three years, that would still be 250,000 companies! As my millennial friends would say, “OMG!” that’s a lot of companies. “That’s a lot of phone calls, man,” Kevin jokes.
He says to also consider your weight class, “the right size of an opportunity that you can afford to win or lose without derailing your company.” This goes back to one of the three critical questions we talked about in the previous post: Does your company have the capabilities to win this job? What resources do you have available to solicit and deliver this potential contract?
Now for TAPE and many of you, our market is the Federal Government. I don’t know how many total buyers there are, or buyers plus KOs and contract specialists, and lions and tigers and bears, oh my, but I know there are a lot.
So how do we narrow down the targeting? It’s really quite simple. Start with who you already know. Who’s doing things in areas you already know how to do? Instead of sending out 25,000 pieces of junk mail (heaven forbid), we need to focus on where we can get in the door.
We can contact our 25 closest friends in the business, and then in our follow-up, ask, “Who in your agency might be needing our ABC services?” If they have no direct need, or their contracts don’t come up for years, or if they like their current support, then what about one of their neighbors or sister agencies?
What I particularly loved in this podcast episode was their focus on having a mindset of abundance, which Kevin explains as being able to think, “There’s more opportunity for me than I could ever chase, so therefore this one that doesn’t fit, it’s okay to walk away from it and keep going.”
It is indeed an abundant universe. You have resources like this blog and the Contracting Officer Podcast, you have friends, you have people you did good work for in a different situation, and now’s the time to test that abundance. But target the things you know and can do, and leave the rest of the abundance for me and other of my readers!
In The True Cost of Proposals, we talked about the effect of ambiguity on the capture and proposal process, and how contractors shouldn’t waste time or money writing proposals unless they can clearly answer three questions:
- Does this customer have money allocated to solve this problem?
- Can your company solve this problem?
- Do you have the capabilities to win this job?
I asked Bo Nak, a sales engineer at TAPE, to talk about how TAPE navigates through this process.
How do you see these three questions fit into the capture and proposal process?
At TAPE, our capture process really begins after we’ve identified an opportunity – through a government proposal site, third-party analyst, word of mouth, etc. Our first step is talking to the customer, learning what kind of problem they’re trying to solve, what they’re trying to do.
This really goes back to building a relationship with that customer. No one wants to do business with people they don’t know. You can win business [with strangers], but it’s a lot more difficult. Building that relationship is probably most important thing you can do.
That leads into TAPE’s bid/no bid, gate review process. Our own self-critique of our odds of winning that opportunity. Answering those three questions is going to increase our PWin (“probability of winning”) percentage. Whatever we can do to increase that, we should.
If you don’t have a good PWin percentage, you probably won’t or shouldn’t get to the proposal writing stage.
To answer Bill’s second key question, “Can your company solve this problem?” take an honest look at yourself and your company. Is the potential work within your company’s capabilities and will it take you in the direction you want to be going?
The third question follows along the same lines and asks us to take a hard look at our own company and team. Do we have the manpower? Do we have the time to put forth the proper effort into the proposal?
If you don’t have the people or the time, do you have or do you know of other companies you could bring on to form a team? Obviously you want to find strong partners for your team to build the strongest response and proposal.
Note from Bill: Also consider whether your company should act as the prime or sub.
Sometimes we have a relationship with the customer, but no bandwidth to be the prime contractor, or the size standard (NAICS code) is too small for us to be the prime. So we seek partners, also those with whom we have a long-term relationship. Knowing how they will allocate staffing afterwards is a critical issue for choosing a prime contractor.
How does TAPE manage their proposal writing costs?
It’s true what they said in the podcast, that capture and proposal writing starts long before the RFP or RFI comes out. That’s really where your costs start to accumulate. As in most companies, our CFO and company leadership form annual budgets, and its our job to match our spending to that.
Obviously that means we can’t chase after every opportunity out there, so we make sure to put our time and effort into the proposals we have the best shot at winning, ones that match our company’s capabilities and direction and that we have a realistic chance of winning.
What did you think of the podcast about how much proposals cost?
A lot of the messages in the podcast and Bill’s post were things that seem like common sense, but that some contracting officers never calculate or see. There are a lot of costs attached to what we do as part of writing proposals that aren’t necessary considered by the government.
Ambiguity leading to mediocrity was a huge point that needs to be reiterated. And this goes back to one of the podcast hosts saying that questions aren’t necessarily a bad thing.
Industry wants to create a great proposal and put their best foot forward, that’s why we ask questions. Getting back answers in a timely manner and getting the answer sufficiently answered is highly important to us AND the government.
I can’t tell you how many times the same question was asked four, five or even six times in the Q&A section of an RFP, where the government gave a canned response, didn’t fully answer the question, or took forever to answer. This really puts a strain on our ability to write a good proposal.
Hopefully contracting officers in the future will be able to take that part of it more seriously and make more of an effort to help industry and contractors by giving them the answers that they need. It comes around full circle – the better answers you can give us, the better response we can give the government, saving taxpayers more money in the long run.
As they said in the podcast, putting an hour of effort in now can save many more hours on the backend. And that’s certainly something anyone would want to do.
Bo Nak is a sales engineer at Technical and Project Engineering, LLC (TAPE). A graduate from Virginia Tech with a BSE degree in industrial and systems engineering, he has worked as a sales engineer for over six years developing solutions and proposals for private, industry, and government customers. He focuses on developing credible solutions and proposals, building revenue, and driving organic growth opportunities.
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.