Nov 042014

Dr. Earl R. Smith II

At The Federal Circle, we work with government contractors. Most are mid-market companies with annual revenues of less than fifty million dollars annually. There are patterns of perspective which we regularly find when we initially engage with clients. Here is one of the most common:

Focus on the technology: Many companies with very good technologies have difficulty in getting traction with federal clients. In fact, the best technology almost never wins out when it comes to government contracts. That may sound strange until you drill down into the process and begin to come to terms with the other factors which are involved.

  • The People Judgment: Many technologists are anti-humanist to the core. They would rather spend their time at a computer or with others who would rather spend their time at a computer. In some extreme cases, I have watched CEOs openly denigrated their potential clients – sometimes to their face – contending that they ‘just don’t get it’ or that they are ‘operating in the stone age’. That leads the decision makers to a judgment on the company. A good rule is that people do business with people they ‘know, like and trust’. Knocking one leg off that three-legged stool is not a good way to advance your chances of getting the business. If you are failing the people judgment, there is little chance that you will win the business.
  • Their Associates: Many companies do a very poor job of seeing the process through the eyes of the decision maker on the other side of the table. One mistake is to assume that ‘our technology and team will win the day’. It is important to remember that the person who will give or deny you the business is in the role of a risk taker and that taking bad risks will be bad for their career. Most decision makers are conservative and rely on people outside of the management team that they know and trust for references. In my book, Business Development the Right Way, I describe how an Advisory Board made up of very senior and well connected people can significantly increase the chances of winning larger chunks of business. The core message of the book is that gate-keepers will often respond more positively to the people who advocate for your company than the management team itself.
  • Following Protocol: A good many companies fail at federal business development because they do not take the time and make the effort to understand the rules. Federal decision makers operate within a highly ritualized and regimented environment. Laws and regulations have been put in place in an attempt to assure that the process is fair. These rules have a major impact on what a federal employee can and cannot do. They also tend to dictate the pace and structure of discussions and decisions. One of the major side benefits of the Advisory Boards that I describe in my book is that teams, that may not have a lot of experience in such an environment, can be mentored by members of the Board. Avoiding mistakes can substantially increase the chances of winning the business.
  • Branding: Federal contracting is a very small community and decision makers regularly share information about companies that approach them. Many CEOs miss the fact that every action, contact and communication with one of these professionals directly impacts the brand of their company. Further, it is very likely that the experience – particularly if it is negative – will be widely shared. Negatives are not limited to mistakes or holes in presentations. A company that advances an antiquated value proposition will be branded as out of touch and unaware. One that is not completely aware of the competing value propositions will fare just as badly. Much like venture capitalists, these people have seen almost every variation. One fault is particularly insulting to decision makers – a sense of entitlement or manifest destiny. Telling a contacting officer that you intend to change the world as we know it will lead that officer to conclude that you know nothing of the world you want to change and are most likely to end up on the scrap heap.

© Dr. Earl R. Smith II

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