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The Psychology of the Federal Sale

in Federal Contracting, Getting (and Keeping) GSA Schedules, Reaching Your Buyers, Understanding Your Market by David Lowe Leave a comment

The Psychology of the Federal Sale

Every single thing you do is advancing (or not advancing) a sale. Maybe it is selling the meeting, a follow-up or your actual product or service. The important thing to know is where you are relative to your buyer’s buying motives.

Think about the federal buyer for a moment… What are some of the stereotypes that come to mind? Write them down and you have a great foundation of the make-up of a federal buyer and what they need from you…

If you are a typical business person frustrated with government bureaucracy and inefficiency, did you know that you probably are projecting those negative thoughts in your phone conversations and maybe even in person?

How? We as humans “can’t not” project these things subconsciously because we believe them. That is why we need to be careful about our belief structures and what we are projecting. In fact, if we understand what makes the federal buyers buy, then we can project the solutions to that and they will receive these positive reinforcements to their buying motives- and it all happens subconsciously.

Hard to believe right? Well think about this for a moment… How is it that you and your best friend can finish each other’s sentences, move the same way, act the same way without any scripting? It all revolves around rapport and rapport starts, or doesn’t start within milliseconds of meeting or talking with someone. You know it happens because sometimes you just “click” and other times you can’t seem to generate a connection.

Now, when it comes to federal buyers, there are two important components to understand. First, where are you right now, and second where are they and what are their buying motives.  Federal buyers are not complicated, they are just like you – they want things to be easy.  That doesn’t mean they don’t work, they just don’t want to have to do extra work to buy from you.  So, if you can help them trim the work load, you are golden!

3 Golden Nuggets

Provide them with sample scopes of work that they can use in their next procurement.   Provide them with Sample Standard form 1445 filled out with the appropriate boxes filled, ready to go with item descriptions and all.

Provide them with your certifications- especially the ones that help them like small business, 8(a) and SDVOSB.

If you get into their world and understand what they do, you can positively change your belief structure and become more aligned with them – generating real rapport.

Key Contacts

in Federal Contracting, Reaching Your Buyers, Understanding Your Market by David Lowe Leave a comment

Every day I am asked about key contacts in specific industries.  Why? Because there are over 80,000 federal buyers with authority to purchase and there are probably a few hundred that purchase what you sell on a regular basis.  Your proactive efforts should be focused on key contacts that are in line with your capabilities and past performance.

When we started isiFederal, it was critical to me that we be able to identify high probability targets.  Sure, you can track an opportunity but that can take up to 5 years before that comes around again with that buyer.  What about the other 25,000 or contracts that will be executed in that time period?  Who handles those? How can you find them?

Great questions.  The answer revolves around power.  Power is money and budget is king.  Nobody in DC or anywhere in the federal government wants to lose a dime of budget.  It is clear in year end use it or lose it spending and it is evident in the contracts that you want to compete for.  If the agency spent $100 Million last year, they will do it again this year and who do you think will be spending that money?  That’s right, the same people as last year.

We have developed an advanced intelligence that sifts through the contract information and compiles a complete report of information that is pertinent for your company. Most importantly we cross reference the contracts with the contacts responsible.  This gives us the contacts in context with your company’s strengths and capabilities. Here is a sample of what we have done, see what you think…

Federal Opportunity Databases & Feeders

in Bidding Basics, Federal Contracting, Reaching Your Buyers, Understanding Your Market by David Lowe Leave a comment

We are all looking for ways to get ahead of the RFP and not be reactive to bids and opportunity databases can help us know what contracts are expiring and give us enough time to get in front of the key decision makers often a year or two in advance of the recompete. Recently I have been having a lot of discussions with folks who are looking into the opportunity databases like Deltek (now GovWin), Centurion and Bloomberg.

This is important because without some pre-proposal insight, it is often too late to have any influence or really understand the requirement fully once the opportunity hits the street. We have a rule around here, if we didn’t influence the scope, somebody else did. Sometimes that is the incumbent, sometimes it is a new player and if you have some connectivity beforehand, you can be that new player. The key is to focus on the people with decision making authority and influence.

Several of our clients have databases and monitor for opportunities. Here is the main issue they find… all of the databases concentrate on opportunities that are $500k and above AND once it hits the database radar, they let everyone know and because of the threshold. Now the big boys are paying attention and those big boys are well entrenched and have a lot more resources than most of my clients. This does not excite me.

Whenever I use any kind of analysis tool I like to look at what I call “feeders”. Using construction as an example, look at the food chain of a construction project. It starts with planning, surveying and permitting – then architects and environmental engineers – then GC’s and specialty trades – then maintenance and grounds keeping. The person responsible for the build is often the same person who starts the planning and permitting. Get to them and you not only know of an opportunity way before everyone else, you can often influence the next phase of the process.

This works in almost all industries. A few years ago we began doing market research for clients to find the “under the radar” contracts and contacts associated with those contracts. It was a pretty cool expedition and we learned a whole lot in the process. We did research for industrial battery company and used pallets as a feeder because if a customer has pallets, they need a fork lift and half of the forklifts use batteries. This gave us hundreds of buyers that would never show up on FBO or even the individual agency monitoring sites.

If you want to see how it works, you can find samples here:

Market Essentials Overview Video

STEALTH Tactical Intelligence – SAMPLE EXCEL.xlsx

STEALTH Tactical Intelligence – SAMPLE.pdf

Now, this is a different approach than a bid database because it revolves around people instead of opportunities. If you know who the people are, then you proactively go after those buyers and PMs as you would any strategic account. A byproduct of this approach is identifying the firms/primes that are winning. Who could possibly be a better referral source than the federal buyer or PM who refers you to the company PM? It is a beautiful thing when you bypass all the vendor databases and get to the PM of the prime for the project. At least you have the chance to be on the short list…

What I like most is identifying the key contacts of the competitors so I can target them directly. Since most of the accounts are at risk at some point, being in front of the right people makes all the difference.

Federal Buyer Survey

in Federal Contracting, Reaching Your Buyers by David Lowe 1 Comment


       
Federal Buyer Survey

There are many things that affect the federal sales process. Tell us what you think of federal buyers and we will review the answers in our "How To Go Federal" Webinar series every 2nd Tuesday. We break these down so we can help you get to key decision makers and influence the process.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
After you submit you will be directed to a registration page for the  "How To Go Federal" webinar series where we will be reviewing the results.  For additional information, visit www.isifederal.com.

Drive GSA Sales

in Federal Contracting, Getting (and Keeping) GSA Schedules by isiFederal Leave a comment

Dave Lowe, CEO of isiFederal is guest host for the September Drive GSA Sales webinar series. This series shows how GSA Schedule holders can effectively market their schedules by understanding their market, identifying buyers and proactively marketing to them.

This month’s topics:

  • Everyday Marketing Materials
  • Capabilities Statements
  • Business Cards
  • e-mail Signatures
  • Websites

This webinar is hosted every 3rd Tuesday. To register for future sessions click https://www3.gotomeeting.com/register/697858502

“Getting Ahead of the RFP”

in Federal Contracting, Resources, Webinars & Events by isiFederal Leave a comment

CapturePlanning.com features Dave Lowe, CEO of isiFederal in webinar discussing “Getting Ahead Of The RFP”. Slides are available at http://proplibrary.com/files/file/22-webinar-slides-getting-ahead-of-the-rfp/

Influencing The Scope
Influencing the Grading
Positioning Your Company with the RIGHT People – People That Buy.

This session examined the buyers, especially contracting officers that are so important this time of year. Understand their importance, how they make decisions, their buying motives and what they need from you so you can win. Look at your market and the resources you need to be able to effectively reach key decision makers so they remember you when the time comes to purchase products or services that you sell.

Disaster Preparedness and Recovery

in Agency Focus, Federal Contracting, Reaching Your Buyers by David Lowe Leave a comment

Last Friday, a storm blew through Maryland with 80 mile an hour winds and several inches of rain.  Unlike any storm I have seen, the lighting was almost constant and the trees were being bent and twisted so much so that we lost several stout oak trees and branches were strewn all over the place.  At about 11PM last Friday the power went down.  The next day we saw the damage and it looked like a warzone.  We have 5 poles down in different places so we can probably expect another several days of running on generator power just to keep the freezer cold.

Governor O’Malley has requested federal assistance for this event.  This is a step short of Katrina where FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Administration) was called in to help with the emergency. Now, FEMA is an interesting agency.  They spend money quickly with pre-registered companies that provide specific services.

How can you tap into FEMA spending?

FEMA wants to know about you so make sure you visit [Link Updated: Doing Business with FEMA] and follow the instructions to register your company. If you provide Debris Removal you can register with the Debris Removal Contractor Registry https://asd.fema.gov/inter/drcr/home.htm.

Registering your company is important because FEMA responds to emergencies like hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and other natural and man-made disasters. If your company is known before the event happens, you will be in position to jump on an opportunity when the federal government is called on for disaster relief.

Pre-disaster registration is mandatory.  Just as important is pre-marketing your product and service offerings to buyers.  isiFederal can help you find and reach key decision makers before they start spending the money.  Companies that are known before the opportunity is posted are 5 times more likely to win.

By the way…

FEMA is an agency just like other agencies. FEMA’s published opportunities can be found at “New and Existing” but don’t stop there. FEMA is a DHS agency so there are many opportunities within DHS for you as well. Visit for details on doing business with DHS where you will find a link to the DHS forecast for DHS and all the sub agencies.

Understanding the September Buying Frenzy

in Developing Your Federal Strategy, Federal Contracting, Understanding Your Market by David Lowe Leave a comment

No matter what the federal budgeteers are doing, a lot of money will be spent in the next 90 days.  In fact, almost 20% of federal spendng will occur in 1 month – September.  That is nearly $100 Billion – all in a single month.

Why does this happen?

The federal budget is allocated and implemented (theoretically) each October 1st.  I say theoretically because it is often several months after October 1 when congress actually approves the budget for the current fiscal year. This causes continuing resolutions (CR) as they work through the politics of spending.  That being said, the nearly $500 Billion dollar budget eventually is approved.  All of that money must be spent within the federal fiscal year which ends on September 30th. Now, 3-4 months of the year the agencies are running on CR so they are generally spending on existing contractual obligations and even then the money slows because they are not sure when money will be allocated. Once the budget is approved, the agencies now know they can spend money again but it is often February or March before the money is allocated and new contracts are funded.

The next several months they are working at a relatively normal pace.  In June they start planning for the next fiscal year and by July, they are working through the details of what major expenditures they will have for the next year.  In August they are submitting their requests.  At the same time, the agency CFO’s are reviewing existing spending and finding areas where they have not spent the allocated money for the current fiscal year.

Memos go out to all department heads and everyone begins to scramble to find money that has not been spent.  Money may exist from a current obligation, or for a contract that was suspended, revoked or cancelled.  Maybe there was an initiative that was funded but challenged politically and the funds were held in limbo.  Whatever the case, the agency MUST find a way to spend that money this year or it will lose those funds.  Moreover, those unspent funds will also automatically reduce the budgetary allocations for that agency for the following year- before any budget cuts are imposed.

Result: The agency loses the money twice.

This is compounded because power in Washington is tied to budget. The more budget you have, the more powerful you are.

Result: Nobody wants to lose power so they spend every dime.

This is why September is a frenzy.  Everybody is trying to spend every dime. In order to get some of those dollars, you MUST be in front of decision makers before August 15th. Why? Because they start to become un-reachable as the deadline approaches.  By September 15th, they are almost completely buried by the events of the day and procurement is working 60-80 hours per week.

Your Federal Strategy

in Developing Your Federal Strategy, Federal Contracting by isiFederal Leave a comment

Once you have an understanding of where the money is and who is spending it, you can go through the process of establishing your plan for gaining access to those opportunities. Here are the primary components of a working federal plan…

  • Dedicate the internal resources to deal exclusively with the government sector

In order for your federal strategy to work, you will need to apply resources to the effort. It usually doesn’t work to have someone on your team pulled between commercial and federal opportunities. Human nature is that people gravitate toward what they know. So, if your rep doesn’t know and appreciate government procurement, they will gravitate back to commercial work every time. Another reason why companies fail in the federal sector is they take an average (or below average) rep and apply them to their federal pursuit. This increases the likelihood of failure for obvious reasons. First, it never makes sense to take a good rep off making money for your company.

  • Create (and fund) your budget for marketing.

There are many companies, databases, marketing books and search engines that claim they drive sales through a listing – not usually. Most people prefer to buy a product or service from someone you have met and like and rarely choose a point and click source – even for commoditized products or services.

  • Create Government Centric Marketing Materials.

This is critical and important for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that procurement folks use your marketing information to determine if you know how to do business with them. If your materials are full of “business terms” like “customers”, “profit”, “savings”, “bottom line” etc., you are likely to be rejected.

  • Develop Capabilities Statement.

A big part of your marketing will be a concise capabilities statement that clearly shows your contract vehicles, core competencies, past performance and reference projects. It is always good to have a working document that can be maintained and edited based on the audience.

  • Develop a One Page Slick

From the information on your capabilities statement, it is important to have a condensed one page version that provides an overview that is easy to read and understand.

  • Get Smart About Your Target Market

The federal government is huge. Before you take a step in any direction, take a look at each agency that you are interested in working with and segment that market for “best possible customer.” This will decrease your sales cycle time and increase your likelihood of success.

  • Create, assign or hire your Federal Sales manager/VP and assign resources

Someone has to manage your federal strategy. While your VP of sales/Sales Manager should be in the loop, he or she will be just like a sales rep and gravitate towards what they know and what is easy.

Did we mention that Federal Strategy Development is included in the isiFederal Turn-Key Business Development solution?

GSA Schedule Development

in Federal Contracting, Getting (and Keeping) GSA Schedules by isiFederal Leave a comment

Doing business with the federal government requires a contract vehicle. There are many types of federal contracting vehicles for may purposes. For examples of different types of vehicles, visit our friends at SAIC.

GSA (General Services Administration) assists with procurement work for other government agencies. As part of this effort, it maintains the large GSA Schedule, which other agencies can use to buy goods and services. The GSA Schedule can be thought of as a collection of pre-negotiated contracts. Procurement managers from government agencies can view these agreements and make purchases from the GSA Schedule knowing that all legal obligations have been taken care of by GSA. This makes purchasing easier for contracting officers and is in line with the streamlining efforts put forth by the Whitehouse.

Schedule development is a time consuming task. Visit GSA for more information. The concept behind the GSA schedule is to find products and services, negotiate best pricing and provide the resource to “customers” (agencies) in the federal government.

isiFederal will assist you in developing your schedule and more importantly, negotiating with GSA to maximize your profitability. Click to download a list of GSA Schedules.

This process takes approximately 6 months to accomplish and we guarantee to work until you get on a schedule. Pricing for schedule development varies by product and service offerings. While the GSA schedule development is part of the isiFederal Turn-Key Business Development process, at the minimum we recommend that you perform a primary cometitive analysis before entering into the GSA process to get an understanding of which of your competitors is winning and why.

Contracting Officers – Know Your Customer

in Federal Contracting, Reaching Your Buyers, Understanding Your Market by isiFederal Leave a comment

Make it easy

Contracting officers are busy people. One thing all procurement people look for is an easy way to fulfill the obligations of the contract. If you don’t have a contract vehicle, that means a ton of work for the contracting officer. There are exceptions to this rule like an emergency contract or sole source for a unique offering but most of the time contracting officers will make it difficult to move through procurement, even if you have a strong relationship with an advocate. Read more

Honing your proposals with a “Formal Debrief”

in Federal Contracting by isiFederal Leave a comment

The federal government provides us with a great opportunity to understand why we didn’t win a contract. It’s called a Formal Debrief. Not only will you receive valuable insight into what you might have missed, if you are willing to listen, you will also be provided with inside information regarding the internal processes of both the agency and the contracting office. This is a rare opportunity to have interaction with a contracting officer that you have never met – and this can be extremely valuable.

Next time you lose, you have a choice of debrief by meeting, phone or writing so if at all possible, ask for a formal debrief in person. Anyone who has ever seen the movie “Hitch” will appreciate the significance of effective communication and being face to face is by far the most valuable. 93% of all communication is non-verbal, that means tone, body language and phrasing makes up the vast majority of what we receive from people when we communicate.

Contracting officers are always braced for hot headed, argument ready poor loosers that would love to meet them in the parking lot. So, instead of going in to argue how stupid they are for choosing someone else, reframe your mindset and go in as if this is a sales call – for the next opportunity. Be respectful, open and have a significant desire to understand his or her point of view. Ask open ended questions that provide opportunities for the contracting officer to provide additional information and watch their eyes for the “read between the lines” clues that they give you.

This past week I was in DC for a formal debrief with a contracting officer and a client on the phone. During the first 30 minutes, it was all business, straight forward by the book. If I wasn’t there in person, we would have missed some of the most important hints in body language and leading. More importantly though is what happened after our client said goodbye. The next 45 minutes was spent talking and getting to know each other better and building a relationship.

It was important because I knew that we were likely going to protest the award and as a result, potentially really irritate the contracting officer. For isiFederal and our client, it was very valuable and I appreciate the opportunity every time I can get it. No matter what, we have an advantage next time because the contracting officer knows who we are and that we respect them for what they do.

Isn’t that what everyone wants? To be respected, valued and accepted? You bet it is and next time you have the opportunity, use it to your advantage to build a new relationship with someone who can definitely help you in the future.

Federal Government Forecasting Links

in Federal Contracting by isiFederal Leave a comment

Excerpted from Doing Business with the Government Handbook by Dave Lowe

A friend of mine was asking how we can get an idea of what is coming down the pike for opportunities with the federal government, so I decided to post these for everyone. While the best way to know what is coming is to have a relationship with contracting officers and program managers, the agencies do list forecasts and some of them can be very helpful. We update these regularly and links do change so be sure to check back from time to time.

http://dodbusopps.com/
http://server-mpo.arc.nasa.gov/Services/Proc/ProcDocs/forecast.tml
http://www.apps.dol.gov/contract_grant/contracts.htm
http://www.bop.gov/business/index.jsp
http://www.da.usda.gov/procurement/
http://www.epa.gov/oam/
http://www.fda.gov/AboutFDA/business/ucm134069.htm
 
http://www.hud.gov/offices/osdbu/4cast.cfm
http://www.justice.gov/jmd/pss/index.html
http://www.sba.gov/smallbusinessplanner/manage/forecast/index.html
http://www.ssa.gov/oag/
http://www.unicor.gov/fpi_contracting/
http://www.usmarshals.gov/business/index.html
http://www2.ed.gov/fund/landing.jhtml
https://extranet.acf.hhs.gov/hhsgrantsforecast/
https://www.vendorportal.ecms.va.gov/eVP/FCO/fco.aspx

For more links, download the Doing Business with the Government Handbook by Dave Lowe

The isiFederal Team

Learning from mistakes…

in Federal Contracting by isiFederal Leave a comment

Ever gotten an e-mail response back like this one?

“Thanks for the information. I wish that I had known about this company last month, I just awarded a ARRA GSA Delivery order for 2.15 Million documents.

It's good to see that there is another small business listed on the GSA schedule for this type of work. I will definitely keep you in mind, as I had limited response on the initial posting on FBO.

One question back to you. Does this company do any programming work, I have a requirement that will come out soon working with "Dashboards" to track our progress with meeting the SBA requirements. If the do I would be interested to see what they can provide.

Thank you much

v/r

Contact Removed

Purchasing Agent

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers”

The fact is, I only spoke to this person once over 10 months ago and I missed getting him on my ping list – I dropped the ball. Sometimes we feel like we can’t reach out because they won’t remember or they are too busy. The answer: Do it anyway. When I found his information earlier today, I shot him an e-mail with an introduction and this was the result. Ouch!

There is another story to this e-mail… Notice that there was “limited response to the listing in FBO.” This was in Alaska, so the competition was greatly reduced. Had I had him on my ping list, he would have remembered me and we would have had a great opportunity at a win. Ouch again!

Did I lose out? Sure we lost on one opportunity but remember, contracting officers buy EVERYTHING. Even though I missed, I have a new opportunity because I hit on two potential opportunity competencies of my client: 1) Records Management and 2) Custom Computer Programming. I will also be dialoguing on other opportunities that will undoubtedly lead to business for other clients who don’t mind doing work in Alaska. Interestingly enough, I spoke with an architectural firm this afternoon from Washington state that wouldn’t mind doing work in Alaska… Hmmmm.

Getting back on track – Remember, when talking to any prospect, ask “how often should I touch base?” because you want to be persistent right up to the line of being a pest (without crossing over). I shared this story because we all make mistakes and drop the ball. When we learn from our mistakes, we can improve and often learn something about ourselves or the situation that we might have missed.

In the process of this improvement, I just discovered Alaska has gold again…

Dave Lowe
CEO
isiFederal, Inc.

Federal Construction News

in Federal Business News, Federal Contracting by isiFederal Leave a comment

Last week was no April fools. In the first 5 days of the month, 368 contracts were awarded in 47 states for a total of $414,815,821.60 – all under ONE construction NAICS classification 236220.

That is one amazing week.

It was lead by the release of Recovery Act Stimulus funds – but that isn’t the whole story…

Breakdown:

  • $107M went to Tocci/Driscoll Joint Venture with design services provided by Klingstubbins. The project is the Peter W. Rodino Federal Building in Newark, NJ and was a GSA executed contract spending Recovery Act dollars. That same GSA contracting officer is responsible for 318 construction contracts since he started in 2004.
  • $55 M went to Grundley Construction out of Maryland for 12 different contracts ranging from $196k to $37M.
  • 320 were less than $1M, 236 were less than $100k and eligible for Small Business Set Aside.
  • 208 of these contracts never hit the street for public bidding opportunity.

More Recovery Act projects are scheduled to be released over the next two years in every region – on top of all the construction projects in the planning stages through 2015. There couldn’t be a better time to get in and expand your presence.

Sign up for "Friends of the Firm" updates here.

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