Federal Business Development in a COVID World: Five things you might have missedPosted: August 5, 2020
This is guest post by Judy Bradt of Summit Insight.
The federal contracting landscape just changed dramatically. Now what?
I love pretty much everything about geology: The ancient stories in layers under our feet. The slow, relentless, way the earth moves and transforms every day, even when we don’t notice. The way relationships within ecosystems affect each other. And the sudden, dramatic, changes that take us by surprise when pent-up energy suddenly releases.
The pandemic sent shock waves like tectonic plate shifts through our federal contracting world. First, we heard and felt tiny rumblings. Then we were all shaken by unmistakeable, giant waves of change. And just like after an earthquake, we were left to make sense of the aftermath and understand the story that’s still unfolding.
As we get deeper into the pandemic, notice three things about the new federal contracting landscape:
- Some things are still standing: federal departments themselves. Extraordinary federal employees (and their contractors) activated continuity of operations plans to keep government functioning with minimal interruption.
- Some things are completely new: federal agencies are awarding contracts for products and services to carry out programs for pandemic response and recovery.
- Some things have been postponed indefinitely, and we don’t know when they’re coming back: including but not limited to the vast majority of in-person office meetings, conferences, and events.
All three represent opportunities to serve our country as federal contractors, and to thrive as business owners.
Here are five tips that, despite all the challenges and disruptions of life in a pandemic, are bringing wins to my clients right now, and might make a difference for you.
- Go narrow, go deep.
Know who the actual users and choosers are in your niche. Use the bounty of public information (much of it absolutely free) to identify individual federal humans that you know, based on their missions and their spend and your experience, that you know you are meant to serve. Pick only as many as you have the time to research and commit to really getting in front of, no matter how long it takes. Identify the end users, program managers, contracting officers and specialists. (HINT: 99.9% of the time, the Small Business Specialist is not your buyer.) Look ‘em up. Be like a detective: how much can you find out about them? Who they do business with? How they contract? What’s in their forecast? When are their contracts going to be recompeted?
- Federal buyers are answering their phones. Call them.
Federal buyers are working right now. In fact (like you, I’ll bet), many are working even longer hours now, especially those who have extra pandemic responsibilities. If you know you have a product or service they need RIGHT NOW, then put the name of that thing in the email subject and at the top of your voicemail. The phone is the single most overlooked tool for reaching buyers. Expect that it might take a while to get through. Dedicate yourself to persistence. Most people give up after two or three tries. Now you know better. When you leave voicemail, make your tone cheerful and upbeat, let them know when you’ll call again. The “two-fer” is working well these days: when you leave a voicemail, also immediately send a follow up email saying, “Hey, sorry I missed you when I called today. Here’s what’s up…”
- Show up with empathy.
Are you working from home? Got four-footeds underfoot? Naked toddlers zooming through your home office? Having a bad hair day and not enough domestic bandwidth for three online classrooms, two Teams meetings, and why is Aunt Marcie calling now? Your federal buyer is having that life, too. So when you reach them, take your time. Ask, “How ARE you?” and really care about the answer. Really listen. Don’t be in a hurry to sell stuff. Slow the heck down. Maybe what they need more than anything is a chance to just vent, or a reason to smile. Ask them what would make their day a little better. Keep a handful of cheery, hopeful pandemic memes to brighten someone’s day. As Dr. Maya Angelou said, “People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.”
- Help them shine.
Federal employees compete for promotions. Your federal buyers are heading for the end of fiscal 2020 with all the same professional goals they started out with last fall. The pandemic probably overloaded that plate. Which means they have all kinds of projects that falling off the bottom of their performance appraisals as “INCOMPLETE.” Even if the pandemic wasn’t their fault. How could you make a difference for that person? How could you change the promotion game for them? What could you help a federal employee finish or achieve by the end of September that would have been otherwise impossible?
- Up your online game.
Sure, in-person meetings and events and conferences and networking are up in the air at best. Many are cancelled for the foreseeable future. So get with the program. If your company isn’t located in or near cities with lots of big federal offices, cheer up: the playing field just tilted in your favor. NOBODY can get into those offices right now in person. Flip side: ANYBODY who has something buyers need and persists in making the connection can set up a video meeting. Not comfortable doing that? Invest in learning how to be an online meeting pro. You’ll get almost immediate, satisfying return on a modest investment in bandwidth, background, audio and video equipment. Then, find a couple of friendly feds to rehearse with, and work out the challenges. Find out what video platforms your target agencies use (it’s almost never Zoom), and master them. See details in this article by the National Security Agency on how agencies make their teleworking choices.
As for networking, get with the program. In particular, see which federal agencies and industry associations are holding online or hybrid events. Register early, and ask the organizers for a briefing on how to master the mechanics of whatever online matchmaking they set up. If you are matched, research in advance as much as you can about the person you’re meeting. Don’t try to sell anything or to recite your capabilities. Try to have two of you from your organization on the call. Get full contact info for the people you’re meeting with. Make your “ask” clear up front. Leave plenty of time (even if it’s only a ten-minute matchmaking slot) for conversation, and make your objective to secure a commitment for a specific date, time, and topic for a follow up call.
Judy Bradt helps established companies win more federal business faster, by getting you in front of your buyer waaaay upstream from everyone else’s pipeline! Find out more at www.growfedbiz.com or book a complimentary call today to find out how she can help you.