This is a guest post by Katie Bilek of Republic Capital Access.
Small businesses face a unique set of financial challenges as federal government procurement has evolved over the past few years. Here are some recent trends that stress small businesses:
Awards too large for a company’s financial wherewithal
The nature of the federal contracting environment has led to many out-sized contract awards to small businesses. It’s not uncommon for us to see a contractor win work that is at least 3 to 4 times the size of their existing portfolio of contracts. In many cases, this may be the result of desired efficiency, where a contracting officer chooses to merge multiple legacy contracts into a single vehicle.
More frequently, contracts are “flipped” from full and open to a small business preference (such as HUBzone, SDVOSB, etc.) to achieve set-aside goals, introducing the potential awardee to what was previously a large business task, most likely at the high end of their NAICS ceiling. It is important to have a financial institution that is prepared to triple or quadruple the size of your existing financing upon contract award.
Cost of pursuing indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity (IDIQ) and blanket purchase agreement (BPA) contracts
While multi-billion (or trillion) dollar contract ceilings sound enviable for any small business owner, IDIQ/GWAC and BPA contracts are merely a license to hunt. We have seen many small businesses expend nearly all of their resources and cash reserves to win large IDIQ contracts. When they finally pursue task orders and hire key personnel in advance of execution, many lack the capital to perform the work.
Focus on cash flow projections and choose a financial partner who can provide financing based upon the creditworthiness of your government customer and contract, not your balance sheet.
Requirement to have financing in place in order to be compliant with bid
We have seen increasing scrutiny on the part of contracting officers to make sure small businesses can demonstrate financial capability to execute the contract in compliance with the FAR.
Many solicitations now require a financial capability letter from a financing institution citing the solicitation, description and a financing facility equal to at least three months’ worth of billings in. Your financial partner should be able to provide this commitment letter at no cost for future contract awards.
Challenges related to financing joint ventures
Unpopulated joint ventures are a popular teaming vehicle, yet the unpopulated joint venture structure itself often struggles to qualify for stand-alone financing without significant capital contributions or guarantees from its participating partners. Even when the JV partners maintain their own bank lines of credit independent from the JV, those banks are often unwilling to extend credit to the JV as an external entity.
Find a financial partner who will underwrite the unpopulated joint venture without requiring capital contributions from either party. This is done via non-recourse receivables financing.
Surges and volatility of product procurements
For value-added resellers, the federal fiscal year-end results in the lion’s share of revenue. For our small business friends holding NASA SEWP, CIO-CS and other contract vehicles, a combination of receivable and vendor financing is critical to executing large product orders.
While vendor credit programs can be affordable sources of financing, not all small business balance sheets can support 8-figure product orders on vendor credit alone; the non-recourse sale of receivables to pay vendors and manufacturers completes the financing package that allows resellers to execute during peak seasonal times. Choose a financial partner with a vendor financing solution with adequate availability for your largest product orders.
Loan sharks in sheep’s clothing
The prevalence of online, financial technology (FinTech) loans is startling. These fast money products are basically like an electronic version of payday loans for businesses, usually priced well above 30%.
They dress their virtual storefronts up in any manner of ways: the jeans-and-t-shirt, San Francisco techies; the self-proclaimed veteran lovers invoking images of patriotism, the Buy by Midnight! used car salesmen and the not-so-subtle cash advance lenders.
All of these lenders hawk financial products that are priced higher than most small business government contractor margins can support. Beware of online lenders, and always read the fine print; even if they tell you “It’s only 9%!” share the proposal with a banker who can shed light on the real math.
Republic Capital Access (RCA) is a specialty finance company for government contractors. RCA’s product offering includes non-recourse receivables financing, unbilled (mobilization) financing, financial commitment letters, joint venture financing, term loans and more. Katie Bilek currently serves as senior vice president of Republic Capital Access. She is also co-founder of govmates and board member of the National Veteran Small Business Coalition. Katie lives in Alexandria with her husband Beau and son Jackson.
This is a guest post by Eileen Kent, The Federal Sales Sherpa.
1. Reach out to a Procurement Technical Assistance Center who can help your connection register with the federal government – it’s free, and SAM.gov is the site. If you want to learn more about it, listen to this episode of my blog talk radio show. It’s not rocket science – but it’s the first step a company needs to take first before approaching anyone in the federal government.
2. Find basic training if you’re dabbling in the market and doing it yourself. For a small investment (often under $100 and sometimes free), attend a few SBA-sponsored local events or PTAC-sponsored local events, or listen to some of my connections’ webcasts, podcasts, and webinars (including The Federal Sales Sherpa Show).
3. If you’re serious about this market, purchase one-on-one training from federal sales experts who have “been there/done that” – and can customize the material for your business and your services. This is only for those wanting to stand up a team member – or hit the ground running. It’s refreshing and time saving to hear a non-government sponsored training – because an expert giving you the training will tell you the realities of what it truly takes to win federal contracts.
My training is called, “The Federal Sales Game-How to Play to WIN!” but others have something similar. You and your team need to learn the difference between the goals of the contracting officer and your customer on the inside – the END USER – who will need what you sell. You need to find and capture their attention, imagination, pain, needs, and perceived solutions. You also need training on clearly understanding contracting vehicles. What is a GSA Schedule, IDIQ, BPA, GWAC? What are set asides, 8(a), SDVOSB, HUBZone, EDWOSBs? Know the difference and understand the power of having these contract “bridges” or partnering with someone who does.
4. Build a strong capabilities statement, with provable, quantifiable best values. Follow this document up with several past performance/case studies ready to present in a capabilities briefing, stand-up field meeting, or webinar.
5. Perform a competitive analysis of the data, which is available at your fingertips WITHOUT BUYING A SUBSCRIPTION. Know how to use all the tools available to you that can uncover which agency buys what you sell, from whom and with what contract vehicle, so you know who to approach, what to say and how to differentiate yourself from their current provider.
Only buy a subscription when you understand the data you’re looking at and you plan to DO something with the intel uncovered. One client of mine just got a renewal for a subscription which is $20k a year now for them. Stop the madness! Wrap your head around the intel and stop living in it. It’s time to take that intel and DO something with it, such as make decisions about which contract vehicles (like GSA, Seaport-e, GWACS and such) to keep and which to drop.
6. Build a federal sales action plan focused around the 3-5 agencies who buy what you sell. Stop stumbling around the public bid sites and randomly bidding on contracts you think are “perfect for us.” Start developing relationships and finding the end users and program managers making decisions about purchasing like-products/services as yours and execute that plan.
What do I mean by execute? Simple. Call. Email. Ask for directions. Call again. Email. Email. Call. Email. Visit. Present. Follow up. Call again. Check in. Follow through. Ask for referrals. Email., Call. Share an article or a whitepaper. Call again, and again, and again. Develop comfortable relationships with federal clients who start to share with you what’s really happening, and whether or not they need you now or later. If they don’t need you now, who would they call on if they were you? This is a long-term process of relationship building and you can’t hire a 100% commission sales person or a consultant to do it for you. This needs to be someone who is involved with your company – invested. You need the A-Team out front. Customers don’t want to talk to someone who represents you – they want to talk to YOU.
7. Train your team on proposal writing and have a standby proposal consultant ready to help if you have a sudden need to respond to an RFP/RFQ. But understand the process so you don’t waste a dime on misunderstandings between you and your proposal team. You need to have a strong bid/no bid process so you don’t waste a minute on a loser. You need to understand win themes, evaluation criteria, the past performance you need to submit which fits the opportunity perfectly, the technical, and more. If you don’t, get training and find a strong proposal team. Put this statement on your wall: We Only Write Winning Proposals.
About the author: Eileen Kent is The Federal Sales Sherpa and helps companies one-on-one with training on the federal sales game, a deep dive competitive analysis on who buys what you sell from whom and with what contract vehicles and then she builds you a custom federal sales action. If you’re serious about this marketplace and ready to hit the ground running, contact Kent at 312-636-5381.
This is a guest post from Tonya Buckner of BucknerMT Management & Technology, Inc.
One of my fellow scholars from the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business Program called me recently to inquire about the difference between the 8(a) Program versus GSA Schedule, and why BucknerMT recently elected to get a GSA Schedule instead of pursuing the 8(a) Program. Below is what I shared with her:
8(a) Program versus GSA Schedule
It is important to understand that the 8(a) Program and GSA Schedule serve two totally different purposes. The first is a business development program to assist in growing your business and the second is a negotiated contracting vehicle for the government to purchase their services.
Both are great tools to grow your business. In fact, the SBA encourages 8(a) contractors to consider participating in the GSA Schedules program to increase their sales.
As you determine the next step for your business, here are a few things for you to consider:
- The 8(a) Business Development Program is a business assistance program designed to assist small disadvantaged businesses compete in the marketplace. It is a two-phased program over nine years – a four-year developmental stage and a five-year transition stage.
- 8(a) program participants are consistently encouraged to “ensure you build a pipeline prior to entering the program.” Meaning, it is to critical to build relationships with both potential clients who may use your services, as well as graduating 8(a) companies who are potential partners. The goal is to maximize your time in the program.
- Having a GSA Schedule contract simplifies the acquisitions process because terms and pricing are negotiated up front. That makes it the contracting officer’s vehicle of choice. Getting a GSA contract gives you that prestige of being an approved vendor.
- The greatest benefits of being a schedule holder are that there is less competition, access to exclusive eBuy opportunities, and the average award period is two weeks. As well, GSA Schedules can be negotiated for as many as 20 years with step increases in rates.
- As a GSA holder, you will receive a listing in GSA Advantage and GSA eLibrary. However, you must also actively market your schedule to potential buyers, i.e., put it on your Capability Statement and all of your company’s digital media, and notify current and potential clients, your peers, OSDBUs, etc. We also shared our news in a blog post.
Both the 8(a) program and a GSA Schedule are great tools to grow your business. We are positioning BucknerMT for the 8(a) program, however we made a business decision to pursue the GSA IT70 Schedule first. This decision allowed us to position ourselves for prime opportunities and, most importantly, it is the method by which our target clients purchase their services. In the meantime, we are focusing on building our pipeline to maximize our time once we are in the 8(a) program.
Lastly, it is critical to understand and remember that both the 8(a) program and the GSA Schedule give you a license to fish, but neither guarantee opportunities. Working with the government is complex, but if you are willing to put in the effort, it is also very rewarding.
Tonya Buckner of BucknerMT Management & Technology, Inc. is the Chief Executive Officer at Buckner Management & Technology, BucknerMT and TAPE are teaming together to find new business for our two companies.
I asked Tonya to contribute some thoughts about life as a subcontractor:
Last week at a BrewtonMos Procurement Readiness luncheon, TAPE CEO/President Louisa Jaffe spoke on a panel and shared the following pearls of wisdom:
- Be passionate
- Have a clear vision and mission
- Clearly define your brand early
- Learn about contracting
- Master the proposal development process
- Start with vision
I just finished reading Three Feet from Gold by Sharon Lechter, a book about turning your obstacles into opportunities. The premise of the book is in line with what Mrs. Jaffe shared today:
- Have passion for what you do
- Find your own personal success formula
- Choose good counsel, and above all:
- Never give up
Although the above relates to entrepreneurs in general, I believe it is that entrepreneurship spirit that also allows you to be a successful subcontractor. For specific lessons about being a subcontractor, I’ll close with the “BucknerMT 20 Commandments,” which is a list we created based on our own experience as a subcontractor. We use them as internal guiding principles.
- Always remember when you are working with the client, you represent the prime so do everything in your power to make them shine.
- Be comfortable with being uncomfortable. You have to stretch yourself past your comfort zone.
- Constantly look for value you can contribute to your teaming partners (e.g., participate in proposal efforts and/or bring new business opportunities).
- While subcontracting, strategically position yourself for prime opportunities.
- Focus on building your corporate reputation while building the past performance.
- Focus on providing high quality business solutions.
- Understand the culture, clients, leadership and systems.
- Be committed to excellence.
- Strive to foster and maintain positive relationships with each and every client (both internal and external).
- Equip yourself to succeed in business (develop/maintain a growth plan).
- Consistently seek innovative ways to assist your client in meeting goal.
- Make continual education/training a priority.
- Never compromise your principles.
- Set a corporate financial base in which you want to maintain. Try not to put all your eggs in one basket; the work is NOT guaranteed!
- Be flexible.
- Be ready.
- Be reliable.
- Be responsive.
- Be patient.
BucknerMT Management & Technology, Inc. (BucknerMT, Inc.) is a verified service-disabled veteran-owned small business (SDVOSB) and woman-owned small business (WOSB). From service strategy to continual service improvement, BucknerMT have deep domain knowledge and experience in information technology and supply chain management.
Since 2007, BucknerMT have supported the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) by providing services that include engineering, integrating, and sustaining critical military platforms and systems.
This is a guest post by Staci Redmon of SAMS.
Women entrepreneurs own 10.6 million businesses in the U.S., and employ 19.1 million people, who account for $2.5 trillion in sales. But according to the Kauffman Foundation, women represent only 35 percent of startup business owners, even though they represent about 46 percent of the workforce and more than 50 percent of college students.
So why aren’t there more women entrepreneurs?
One study, conducted by the University of North Carolina and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania (and reported by National Public Radio) looked at 90,000 entrepreneurial projects launched on the crowdfunding website, Kickstarter. The study found that men are much more likely to be overconfident than women. When their project failed, they were much more likely to keep trying, while women tended to give up. Also, when women succeeded, they were more likely to feel that they just got lucky, while men feel that they are “geniuses.”
There is help for women entrepreneurs just starting out. The SBA set up its 8(a) Business Development Program to assist economically-disadvantaged women-owned small businesses (EDWOSBs) to compete for federal contracts in industries where women-owned small businesses are underrepresented. Women and minority-owned businesses can get access to specialized business training, counseling, marketing assistance, and high-level executive development. The SBA also offers guaranteed loans and bonding assistance for being involved in the program. SAMS has benefited from its SBA designation, and has also become part of the Mentor-Protégé Program which helps other women entrepreneurs through one-on-one mentorship.
Building a business is not easy, and many women cite the same characteristics as helping them to achieve their dream.
Gayle King of CBS news talks about persistence as a trait helped propel her to achieve her goal. She advises would-be entrepreneurs to “surround yourself with people that are better than you, because it forces you to up your game. Most importantly, never take no for an answer.”
When Staci Redmon founded SAMS, it was important to her to develop core values, which still remain at the heart of the company. These are commitment to employees, commitment to the client, and commitment to the community.
Staci started SAMS out of sheer frustration. As a veteran and a civil servant, she watched as vital equipment for our warfighters was denied funding. She used her determination and commitment to service members to fuel her drive to create an organization with the vision to measure impact not by the bottom line, but by the difference it could make. Since its founding, SAMS has won numerous awards and has been hailed repeatedly as one of the fastest growing companies in Virginia.
Another entrepreneur, JK Rowling, also relied on persistence to overcome adversity. Her literary agency sent the book to 12 different publishers before it was accepted. Rowling says, “I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was and began to direct all my energy into the only work that mattered to me. I was set free.”
As women entrepreneurs continue to pursue their dreams, the path to success, while never easy, becomes clearer and less uncertain by following in the footsteps of those who came before.
You can find more about SAMS and Staci’s 2020 Vision for the Future on our website http://www.getsamsnow.com.
This article originally appeared at http://getsamsnow.com/blog-post/whats-preventing-women-becoming-entrepreneurs/ and was adapted and reprinted with permission.
Any company that is just trying to stay in business and “keep on, keeping on,” will not be profitable in the long run. When you really think about it, you know contracts will end and you will have to move on – what is your plan to replace those contracts?
The process for this is to have a pipeline of potential income. Think of your pipeline like a funnel. At the outer edge up at the top it’s very wide, because at first glance there are always many possibilities. That’s why the first and most important step is qualification, that is to ask:
- Does this customer have money?
- Does this customer have a problem that we can solve?
- Does the customer know that our company can solve their problem?
If you can answer those questions with yes, then you try and capture the work, which is to say shape it so that you are more qualified than other potential competitors (your OSDBU office may be able to help). Thereby (through this capture) you learn the things you need to do to bid successfully.
You always want your pipeline to be full at every level, so there is a mix of some opportunities you’re qualifying, some stuff you’re capturing, and some proposals you’ve already written and sent, that may or may not come to pass in various time frames. Flexibility is essential, as new things come along that may bump aside a well-qualified, or even well-captured opportunity.
So your pipeline will be filled not with oil or gas, but with a continuum of opportunities. Some might not become proposals for a year or even more from now, some things you might start writing in the next three or six months, some things you’re writing now, and then things you’re waiting for awards on.
The most important question is how to fill the top of the funnel. Of course we’ve talked many times about how relationships with the people you already know are the heart of your capture process. Even if a customer doesn’t have more work, they have friends in other agencies and contacts in other places they work for.
But your own contacts can only get you so far; sometimes you also need outside help. Along with proposal consultants, you can also hire people just to do the research and uncover new potential customers for you. There are always opportunities that you’re not going to hear about that these people will uncover.
Now if you’re only pursuing opportunities from these data sources, you’re probably not mining your own customers enough. You really need to determine if such a service would be worthwhile for you to have, and if the benefits outweigh the costs.
Having a full pipeline means when one contract ends, you don’t have to worry where the next job is coming from. The capture process for that one, and many others, is well under way.
In a previous post, we looked at the Small Business Administration’s FY2015 Small Business Scorecard for how federal agencies did in meeting their goals to set aside a specific percentage of contracts and award them to small businesses.
So one of the things we can see is we’ve got five departments that achieved 40% or more: Agriculture has 50%, Interior 55%, Transportation 51%, State 44% and Commerce 43%. In addition there are several in the 30s.
Five years ago, none of that would have been the case – departments issuing 30-55% of their total acquisition for the year to small businesses was simply unheard of. Today there is a true migration towards more and more activity, including very robust contract sizes, being awarded to small businesses. This is clearly represented in the scorecard.
I think this trend will continue, and there are several things that growing and mid-sized small businesses need to understand to be ready. As it always comes back to on this blog, it’s all about relationships. Here are some specific relationships to think about:
- Large business partners and bigger small business neighbors – When they are awarded some of these robust contracts, they are going to want to flip them to other small businesses. They’ll keep a share, of course, and though they can’t get more than a 49/51 split, this still gives them a piece of the revenue and can be a win-win-win for all sides (you as the small business, the bigger business, and the end customer).
- Potential mentors and/or protégés – Another thing that we are tracking is the emerging regulations on extending mentor-protégé joint venture arrangements to all specially certified businesses as well as regular small business, where this was previously limited to 8(a) businesses.
- Small business partners – It is important to build early and often good solid relationships with your competitors that are doing the same kind of work. In fact, if one of your partners already has previous relationship and experience with a customer, that will count towards your joint bid for new business with that customer.
- Seemingly limited departments – Use the scorecard to focus on the departments that are clearly moving more and more work to small business. For example, Interior and Agriculture may have awarded small amounts compared to the giant amounts spent at DoD or Homeland Security, but when you look at the percentages these are no longer less desirable prospects. It is possible to design a robust portfolio and pipeline of opportunities from agencies you may have previously thought of as limited.
As you do your strategic planning, look at these entities and percentages and make some decisions – not just about who your prospects are but who your partners are. Consider whether you will build a true mentor-protégé partnership with bigger companies, and also whether you’re in a position to mentor another small business or mid-sized small business.
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.
It’s that start of the year reflective time again, and a recent conversation reminded me that the fundamentals of strategic planning come down to two things:
- Focus on what you do well.
- Organize to support your customers.
From that, opportunities will flow, and the right outcomes will be there
For example, we were talking to this large company, one of the big integrators. A couple of years ago they were organized by customer, e.g., Navy, Army, Justice, which meant that there were functional departments (e.g., IT, security, training) in every one of those lanes.
Now they’ve transitioned to being a functional organization, which means that their business units are organized by function. There is an IT unit, a training unit, and so forth. That makes a big difference to how they use sub-contractors, and so in order to do business with them we need to organize and plan our outreach efforts accordingly.
We’ve had many conversations over the years on this blog about focus, and about building relationships that have depth and quality to them. The same principles apply to your capabilities, so that you focus on doing a few things well as a small business and not try to do all the things that come your way to produce revenue.
I know this is easier said than done. Frankly, the hardest thing to do is say ‘No’ to potential revenue when it doesn’t fit.
Focus helps improve the P-win (Probability of Win) because you will have done the work to have a customer relationship, and you’ll have the functional capabilities that match the customer’s need.
But this recent conversation illustrated another aspect of focus – organizational structure (customer versus capability sectors). Quite frankly, this is an age-old dilemma. Customer focus is where you laser in on the relationship and get it really deep, and then there’s a foundation to build. Capability focus is where your SMEs are all working together and humming on the work they do.
I wish there was a single answer that always works for every company. Probably it changes with time and portfolio mix of customers and/or capabilities. The dilemma is that in either case, some set of people will be matrixed across sectors. If you’re capability organized than it’s the customers, and if you’re customer organized it’s the SMEs.
Think about which is right for you, and then stick to your guns.
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.