Eileen Kent, our federal sales sherpa, told us, “When I was at a trade show in 2010, I was sitting at a breakout session and I overheard two federal contracting specialists behind me discussing a large procurement. One CO said to the other, “I really would rather not put that out on FBO (fedbizopps.gov, the public bidding website), because it creates too much noise.”
Steer clear of the noise
What do you think they meant by ‘noise’? Kent believes it meant a variety of things:
- “Noise could be their phones ringing off the hook from vendors who know nothing about federal contracting, but have a thousand questions about the bid.
- Noise could be all the rustling of paper and unpacking of hundreds of responses – from vendors who don’t have the qualifications, but they have to consider nonetheless.
- Noise could be all the angry losers protesting the winning bid and holding up the project.
If I were in contracting, I’d want to eliminate the noise too – wouldn’t you? That’s why there are GSA Schedules, IDIQs, BPAs, and sole source contracting vehicles to avoid the public bid process.”
Become a known angel
Another great quote Kent heard while in the field was, “We’d rather do business with a known devil than an unknown angel.”
“Basically,” she explained, “They were telling me that even though I could prove my service was better, they didn’t know me. They would rather stick with the company they know, with all their quirks, than risk their project on a newbie – no matter how good I was in the commercial world. So I needed to start to become a known angel to these federal clients.”
How do you become a known angel? Kent advises to:
- “Stay in front of the federal client and help them with issues that are too small for the incumbent to even notice or care.
- Be willing to refer a partner who is an absolute subject matter expert on areas you are not. It’s better to pass on a project that doesn’t fit than to try to dance around an issue. If you don’t perform perfectly, it will reflect on the client’s record, so only work on projects that are in your wheelhouse.
- Always deliver perfectly and on time.
Eventually, they’ll put your phone number on their speed dial, and they’ll start to call you for more and more tasks. In a year or two, you could be kicking the incumbent out. Now you’re the known angel.”
Know – or hire – your competitor
While on a military base, Eileen heard a fellow cold-calling contractor tell the CO that his father had served. “We like to take care of our own,” was the response.
- “Hire a vet if you plan to sell to the military, it’s as simple as that.
- In this industry, it is very possible that your competitor legally hired a retired employee and it’s been past the employee’s official waiting period and they’re able to sell for your competitor – back to the agency. This is a reality of the business, so be prepared to out-perform them, go sell to a different agency, recruit that retired employee, or build a teaming arrangement with your competitor.”
Speak up as soon as problems arise
“Problems don’t age well like fine wine, tell us about them immediately,” a project manager once said to Kent. This was a great piece of advice, as federal project managers would rather work beside you to solve a problem then be surprised by a problem you knew about for a while but could not resolve without their help.
The key to landing the work
Kent’s most favorite quote comes from a retired CO who had a say in developing some of the acquisition rules during her 35-year career. This retired executive attended one of Kent’s federal sales classes and told the class, “Unless they know, trust and love you, they are not going to work with you.”
Kent’s response? “Class dismissed.”
Eileen Kent has trained over 10,000 in federal sales, proposals and GSA Schedule Contracting. Her woman-owned small business has helped organizations win tens of millions in federal contracts, through teaching federal sales strategies one-on-one and in team training. For more information, call 312-636-5381 or connect with Eileen on LinkedIn (http://www.linkedin.com/pub/eileen-kent/1/a48/a80).