Tips on Effectively Engaging with Potential Government Customers
May 27, 2014
By: Eric Whytsell
One of the most interesting parts of the recent Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce GovConNet Procurement Conference was hearing from government procurement professionals and successful contractors about what works (and what doesn’t) when marketing to federal agencies. During the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Panel, Brian Hebbel, the Director of the Division of Quality Contracts in CMS’ Office of Acquisition and Grants Management, drew on his experience at CMS and shared a number of useful tips that apply when dealing with any government agency.
He was joined in this effort by Jean Drummond, President of HCD International, Inc.; and Jeanette Miller, Director of Strategic Alliances and Business Development Civilian & Health for Genova Technologies, Inc. The three panelists’ comments are summarized below.
- Take advantage of FAR 15.201, which encourages procuring agencies to engage with potential contractors. However, even with this FAR section, acquisition professionals will often not want to meet with you.
- If all you plan to do is introduce yourself and review your capabilities statement, you should stay at home. Agencies already have lots of capabilities statements like yours. They need to know what makes you different.
- In order to get the attention of a potential federal customer, you need to do at least one of three things: (i) save the agency money; (ii) solve an agency problem; or (iii) introduce the agency to a new technology. If you can do more than one, that’s even better.
- Among other things, this requires that you do your homework about the agency’s program, needs, baseline technology, etc.
- It also means that you need to work the relationship early and often. Not every meeting will lead to an award, but coming prepared and presenting useful information pays off over time. If you do that, an agency that doesn’t have any opportunities for you today will be more likely to remember you when they arise in the future.
- Focus on doing things that help agency personnel – and avoiding things that make their lives more difficult.
- Don’t assume that acquisition teams in all agencies are equally familiar with every contracting option or concept. They aren’t. If you want to make sales, you should be prepared to educate the agency’s people about programs and contract vehicles they can use to buy from you. Make it your job to make their job easier.
- Know your audience – and don’t assume all agency personnel think the same way. Develop one strategy for dealing with the contract personnel and another for your approach to the program people.
- Make sure you understand the policy underlying both general procurement rules and agency- or program-specific requirements. Then use those policies to help convince agency personnel to “do the right thing.” Demonstrating that a particular approach is consistent with established policy is often more than half the battle.
- After you win a contract, be sure to perform it well. High quality work and a problem-free contract are two of the most effective business development tools you can possibly have. Don’t squander the opportunity to use them.
No silver bullets here. You still have to work hard to develop and maintain relationships with agencies you want to sell to. But now you have some pointers about how to work smarter.
Eric Whytsell is the attorney responsible for the content of this article
© Jackson Kelly PLLC 2014