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THREE THINGS TO FOCUS ON NOW: IS YOUR COMPANY READY FOR THE SECOND HALF?

Whether or not contractors realize it, we’re already into the third quarter of the federal fiscal year.  Here are three things your company should be working on now as we build toward the all-important Q4. 1. Fill That PipelineYour tracking radar should be full of hits by now, whether they’re potential projects, industry days, RFI’s, or even real solicitations.  This is the time of year to cast your development net wide and begin vetting the projects you have the best chance at winning.  Winnowing down the list can come later, but for now, you want a full pipeline of potential work. 2. Meetings With PurposeIntroductory “meet and greets” should primarily be behind you now.  While some feds may still be able to sit down and hear about your firm for the first time, it won’t be very long before they have to spend all of their time on actual business.  Your meetings with prospective customers should be about specific solutions to specific problems.  Ideally, they should be tied to opportunities you’re tracking as well (see above).  Always know what you want out of any meeting before you go, but also make sure you’re prepared to listen.  3.  Ramp Up Your Marketing:Many companies wait until the end of the year to market.  That’s a tough time to get your message heard – and will only likely have a tactical impact. The best marketing campaigns are strategic.  They tell your message, but also establish thought leadership, market presence and trust. These are key factors that can help you get that critical meeting or improve a vital relationship.  Get your campaign ready now so you can launch it May or June.   Essentially, your company should be building a solid foundation now so that you’re ready to roll when business really heats up.  Take these steps and you’ll definitely be prepared.       

WHY CONTRACTORS NEED TO KNOW WHAT FEDS THINK OF THEIR POLITICAL BOSSES

We’ve said it before, but it’s still true.  Whether doing business with federal agencies or anyone else, you’ve got to know the territory.  A recent article in the current “Washingtonian” magazine proves this point. Titled “I Fully Intend to Outlast These People”: 18 Federal Workers on What It’s Really Like to Work for the Trump Administration”, the article paints a picture of the attitudes of many rank and file workers with regard to their political bosses.  Despite the title, some of the interviewed career feds actually have nice, or at least neutral, things to say.  It depends on the agency and, likely, the role each worker plays in it.  Information like this is vital to developing a business approach to a federal agency.  What’s on the mind of the person you’re talking to?  What’s his/her concern?  Importantly, do they have one foot out the door, making your contact with them of potentially diminished use?  Knowing where your customer is coming from is part of being able to develop a relationship with that person and, at a minimum, helping you avoid land mines that could seriously impede your business development efforts in an agency.  Conversely, if you can be a pain-easer or problem solver, you’ve just increased your business chances, even if the problem you helped solve is only tangentially related to the business you came to discuss.  If you don’t know where your customer is on environmental issues like these, ask.  Remember that most people really like talking about themselves.  What they have to say may help you close additional business.  

SCHEDULES CONSOLIDATION JUST ONE PORTION ON GSA’S VERY FULL PLATE

Schedules consolidation, revamping OASIS and Alliant II RFP’s, electronic commerce, and continued work on Category Management are just some of the major, heavy lifts facing the General Services Administration right now.  Although the changes are generally well-intended, the sheer number of actions required are likely to place a significant burden on agency officials, potentially creating delays on various projects.  One area that could feel the impact is the Schedules consolidation project.  A delay here would not be inherently a bad thing, however.  Many contractors with which we have spoken are hopeful that GSA does take its time on Schedules consolidation to ensure that its own workforce is on-board with the project.  Contractors still have fresh memories about the TDR project and how many GSA people knew less about it than industry.  The changes from Special Item Number classifications to NAIC’s codes are just one area where contracting officers may need additional training.  Uniform contract clauses also need to be well-understood and, importantly, GSA leaders need to ensure that they have CO buy-in to ensure that uniform clauses stay that way without devolving into the localized changes that have resulted in the need for standardization in the first place.  It’s a lot for GSA leadership.  The bottom line for contractors is to expect delays ahead on major initiatives even as most day-to-day work proceeds.  Plan accordingly.

CANDID FED COMMENTS SHOW LIMITS OF CATEGORY MANAGEMENT

“People will pay more to have autonomy” was the key quote of one government speaker at an industry event just last week discussing the limits of shared services and the Office of Management and Budget’s continuing push toward Category Management.  While everyone likes to think that workers in various agencies will “do the right thing” and adopt shared services and acquisition methods, the reality is that these efforts are limited by agency culture and people.  This is potentially significant information for government contractors.  While acquisition policy people promote one way of doing business, officials closer to the front line know that the reality is different.  Contractors, therefore, should continue to promote the acquisition approaches they see as the best fit for a specific situation.  Similarly, customers will likely also want to customize solutions, even if they’re buying “standard” configurations.  Two officials on the event panel openly agreed that specific offices like to tweak solutions to meet their own missions.  Meeting the mission, whatever it is, is seen the highest priority.  As such, directives on standard solutions and acquisition processes will only go so far.  One take-away that does support Category Management, however, is the ability for agencies to conduct spend analysis.  Contract programs that offer this feature may continue to have an edge from that perspective, regardless of whether they’re labeled “Best in Class” or whether individual offices configure solutions to meet their specific needs.

NUMBER OF VACANCIES MAY SLOW BUSINESS

Normally we’d write about the absence of hundreds of political appointees in “permanent” roles at the end of an administration.  These, however, are not normal times.  Not only does the high-profile churn of senior officials at the Pentagon and DHS cause a distraction, the fact that many positions weren’t filled in these or other agencies in the first place has left sizeable holes in the fabrics of multiple agenciesIt’s an established fact that large numbers of feds in “acting” positions slow the pace of business.  Right now there are enough “actors” in place to film a David O. Selznick production.  While senior career officials know their agencies well and are generally quite competent, there is a limit to how much a person in a temporary position will commit their agency to.   This makes business more difficult to conduct, no matter how good your relationships are.  Unfortunately, though, there is no end in sight.  We’re in the third year of a four year presidential term and it is unlikely that a slew of new appointees are on the horizon.  More likely is that more and more appointees will begin to depart the closer we get to 2020.  Not only does this impact business, but positive change on policy and management issues that contribute to the conduct of that business. Experienced contractors may be able to find ways around, over, or under barriers to new business.  Make sure your GPS is tuned up.