Ten New Rules for Building Business with the Feds


Despite what many would have you believe, the Federal Government is changing drastically in how and what it buys. Granted this process is slow for some Agencies, but it is inevitable. This is more a response to the outside world than to internal recognition that change is good, but it is happening. As the “old-timers” retire, the new generation will define the rules [Note that I am one of those old-timers, but I have seen the future and it is our young ones]. The problem that constantly arises is the conflict between what “should” be done and what is “mandated” by law via the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FARs) and other regulations. Congress has determined what is best for us and it takes time to catch up with reality.

Having said that, I have developed the following list of “new rules” that I pose as a guide for businesses wanting to sell supplies or services to the Federal Government. There is no magic to this list, but it has taken me a long time to reduce my 17 pages of single-spaced, two-column notes to this list. I will expand on each in future articles. Here are the ‘Ten New Rules for Building Business with the Federal Government” from my point of view:

1. Take Inventory: To succeed with the Feds, you must know yourself, know your product, know your team, and know your clients. Every one of these has a personality. Note that I avoid the word “culture” which I think is drastically over used and misunderstood. A personality is base on many factors, some of which you can change, and some of which you cannot. I have developed “personality assessments” to help you evaluate your particular situation.

2. Don’t be a slave to process: This is probably my biggest peeve with companies. For some reason, we look for easy formulas that guarantee success. I understand that some levels of processes are necessary, especially as companies grow. However, we tend to overdefine the processes which stifles creativity and excitement. Learning how to work without formal processes is the way of the future, so you might as well get used to in now.

3. Make it easy for the Feds to buy from you: You must understand how the Federal Government buys and make it easy for them to buy from you. This means not only convincing the technical people who you have a product or service they need, but providing the mechanisms for contracting personnel to buy. I will discuss contract vehicles, pricing, set-aside programs, and other aspects of the Federal acquisition process that will allow you to simplify the process for your clients.

4. Build internal and external teams: Teams have been the foundation of my success. I have built both strategic (long-term) and tactical (single contract) teams. It is essential that your realize you cannot go it alone, either as an individual or as a company. Building teams requires many skills, including selection of members, communications, collaboration, and planning.

5. Treat the Federal Government as a unique client: The assumption that the Federal Government can be sold to the same way as commercial or State and Local (S&L) governments is the single greatest mistake made by newcomers to the Federal market. Not only must your sales approach change, but you must get to know the Federal acquisition cycle and understand that the Federal Government is not a single homogenous client, but many smaller ones with their own rules.

6. Don’t overanalyze – trust your gut: “Death by PowerPoint” is a common theme. I have worked for both large and small companies, and have shared many hours of boredom and useless presentations with my colleagues. Do not get hung up on sophisticated analyses or numbers. Sales funnels and pipelines are just distractions. Focus you attention on finding the nuggets for you. Do not try to emulate the “large, successful” Federal contractors.

7. Write as if you had to read it: How many times have you heard “I cannot write, but I will tell someone else what to write” or “just give me whatever you have, and I will have our editor trim it down” or “we have a standard template and boilerplate, so you just need to fill it in”. I have seen too many white papers, proposals, sales literature, and the like that are not readable and do not address your client’s issues. Pretend you are the client and must read the document you are writing, along with similar documents from your competitors. What will make you stand out and how do you get your team to deliver with the least effort?

8. Price to win, execute for profit: Cost and pricing are two entirely different specialties. However, so many companies treat them the same and assign this role to their accounting or finance group. Further, they assume that the competition has the same cost and pricing issues. This is a big mistake that results in major contract and financial losses. Know the difference between price, cost, and real world execution.

9. Follow trends and anticipate: Understand the technology cycle. New technologies evolve. If you can get in on the front end, you will be a leader and have the opportunity to make more money. As the technology evolves, it becomes a commodity with more competitors and slimmer margins. I have watched this cycle many times in both products (such as PCs and networks) and services, (such as information assurance, identity management, and cloud computing). Do not get stuck on single technology or you will be left behind. Likewise, sell the technology, not the agency.

10. Balance your approach: Although this is the last rule, it is one of the most important. Just like you would not put all your investments into a single stock, you should not put all your business development into a single channel. This theme will come up over and over in my writing. It applies to opportunities, team building, client identification, contract vehicles, and many other aspects of doing business with the Feds.

This is just a summary of what I will be discussion in future posts. Let me know what you think by posting a comment below and take my survey to let me know which rules you think are most important. I will link these rules to my posts as I develop them.

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Posted on September 29, 2011, in Attention to Detail, Balance, Collaboration, Communications, Personality and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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