One of the major challenges for mid-market government contractors – particularly ones that have graduated from the program and are no longer considered small businesses – is finding ways to go head-to-head with larger companies. This challenge has become more daunting as the economy has turned down and major contractors are competing for smaller and smaller pieces of business.
I recently had drinks with a friend who was experiencing this pressure. He was running a federal contracting division of a larger commercial company. The division was doing fairly well and had built up to roughly forty-million dollars of annual revenue. Earlier that day he had been informed that a piece of business he was confident of winning was awarded to a much larger competitor. “It was such a bizarre experience”, he said. “These guys never used to bother with such small pieces of business.”
A Matter of Intelligence: As we talked about what happened, the conversation focused on the fact that he was blind-sided by the results. He got quiet for a bit and took a sip of his drink. “I guess I should have had one of your advisory boards”, he offered.
- Advisory Boards that work: He was referring to the Advisory Boards that I build. I wrote a book describing the approach – Business Development the Right Way: A Revolutionary Approach. I noticed that he had his copy which he handed to me. “Would you mind signing it for me,” he asked. “I think we better talk about your building one for my division,” he said.
- Critical Knowledge: My Advisory Boards are tasked with helping to drive the run-rate of the company. Part of that process involves providing accurate and timely intelligence about the pieces of business that the company is pursuing. Without such intelligence, the company is flying blind. There is no substitute for knowing such things. Only gamblers like the odds of being uninformed and a gamble is a poor offering to the people who have decided to bet on your ability to make the company a success and their lives better.
- Quid Pro Quo: It is easier to say that you need such information that to actually obtain it. In this ‘socially networked’ world, you would like to think that all you have to do is ask. Life may be for the simple-minded but success in government contracting is not. Every successful transaction – including the provision of critical intelligence – requires an appropriate quid prop quo. Much of my book focuses on the nature of the relationships that support such exchanges.
- Taking the Shortcuts: It’s funny how some memories stick with you. When I was young I remember crossing a stream – walking across a concrete bridge. My sister was behind me. She noticed what looked like a way to get ahead of me – a green mass – and stepped off the path. Well, down she went and my father had to reach down and grab her by the hair. The memory came back to me as I listened to a CEO describe how he had attempted to build one of my Advisory Boards and had failed in the effort. As he described the effort, it became clear that he had neither the experience nor range of contacts to be successful. He was taken back when I became upset at his story. “Look, I believed your ideas and tried to put them in practice”, he objected. “And you would cheer for the man who painted a moustache on the Mona Lisa”, I shot back. Most failures come from taking shortcuts or attempting journeys that you are not capable of making successfully. Blame it on bad luck if you must, but professionals know that bad luck is most often indolence posturing.
- The Coin of the Realm: The core is the nature of the relationships that support a process that increases your chances of success. It’s not about the technology or the value proposition – it’s about building relationships that help to carry the day. Learning how to build those relationships is not easy. Most learn it from a mentor who guides you through the process until your reflexes take over. If you don’t have an experienced mentor, you will tend to make it up as you go along. Not a good idea when you live in the complex world of government contracting.
© Dr. Earl R. Smith II