A Handy Guide to Meeting Federal Procurement Agents Face-to-Face
Meeting Federal Procurement Agents in Person Can the Key to Successful Government Contracting and Government Subcontracting
In our government contracting newsletters, we frequently emphasize the importance of meeting federal procurement agents face-to-face. This is an important part of government contracting and promoting your business in the long term. Over the past decade, government procurement agents have placed increasing emphasis on in-person meetings in order to win government contract awards. In many cases, RFP's (Request For Proposal) stipulate that project managers must meet face-to-face with government procurement agents to iron out details, establish credibility, answer questions, and develop rapport. This moves the sales process out of the hands of proposal writers and into the spoken words of project managers and production staff. This is potentially a good thing, because it gives different members of your team a chance to develop a working relationship with procurement agents. It is also potentially quite challenging for many members of your team who are not accustomed to the sales process. Think of it this way: many firms doing government contract or government subcontracting invest several months, and even six figures into landing their share of $500 billion in government contracting. It is worth investing a little time and effort into approaching the in-person meetings with government procure agents in the best possible way.
The Key Elements of Building the Right Kind of Professional Relationship for Government Contracting and Government Sub-Contracting
Narrow your targets
If there was one piece of advice that a salesperson doing government contracting should heed before meeting federal procurement agents face-to-face, it would be this. You must focus on the bid and agent at hand with laser-like precision, and customize everything to their specific needs. Don't market to every agency with a relevant RFP or RFQ (Request for Quote). In a typical month, government agencies will release nearly 90,000 RFPs and even more RFQs. It is easy to spread yourself too thin, and end up not landing any federal contracts. Focus and patience are keys to successful government contracting. This is where Govgistics can help. Using our database to narrow down the search parameters to the best options for your firm is much quicker than using government websites. Govgistics can help you to determine how often similar RFPs and RFQ are issued, because repeat business is more profitable than one-off orders. Those should be prioritized. Govgistics can help you determine the successful bids on previous federal contracts with the agency, so you can have an estimate of how profitable the business is, and if your pricing would be competitive. Find your niche. If you are having any difficulty narrowing your target, please call your Govgistics rep today, and let us help you to find the best places to spend your time and energy.
Have a clear and appropriate objective
You are not going to close a federal contract the first time that you meet a government procurement agent. That may be how B-to-B sales works (or at least how we wish it worked), but that is not how government contracting works. As such, it is best to avoid any "hard sell" tactics and any attempt to close business quickly. In fact, unless you at a point in the process where you have been asked to give a formal presentation, do not offer a presentation at all. Don't rely on slides or PowerPoint presentations. This is a dialogue not a presentation. Don't try to be memorable. Be effective. Avoid gimmicks. At times, sales professionals make the mistake of meeting federal procurement agents with the intention of leaving a lasting impression. This can backfire. This is not closing business. This is building a relationship that will eventually lead to sales opportunities. Your goal in an early meeting with a federal procurement agent should be altogether different. So what should your goal be when meeting federal procurement agents? We suggest some of the following:
- Discover the needs of the government procurement agent - They will often tell you what you need to know, but you must listen and ask the right questions. Remember, there are two ways a government bid can be judged. For a best value pricing (BVP) bid, decisions are based on a number of criteria including price, past performance, certifications, and your demonstrated expertise. With a lowest price technically acceptable (LPTA) bid, only the price matters. It is important to bear these things in mind when attempting to land federal contracts. How much emphasis should be placed on your cost and how much on other criteria? Ask about the evaluation criteria. As much as possible, try to figure out the needs of the federal procurement agent. Are they having trouble meeting goals for a specially designated category, such as giving 23% of their government contract awards to small businesses? Are they having issues with prompt fulfillment of federal contracts? In many cases, they will tell you their concerns, frustrations and what criteria are most important to them in making this decision.
- Build trust - The worst thing that can happen for a government procurement agent is not that they would end up taking a slightly inflated bid. The worst thing that can typically happen to a government procurement agent would be to sign a contract with a government contractor that does not fulfill the contract, either by failing to meet the time-line, or by supplying an inferior product or service. That creates problems within the agency, and leaves the federal procurement agent on the hook with their internal client. As such, these agents are very risk-averse. Their primary concern is proper fulfillment of the order. If you can establish that your firm is trustworthy and dependable, you have done a great job in your early in-person meetings with the government procurement agent.
- Establish your expertise - Federal procurement agents only want to work with experts. In early meetings, you need to prove to them that you have what it takes to help them succeed. If you have any proprietary products or systems, you should emphasize that. If you have won any awards or hold any relevant patents, these are certainly worthy of attention. Be prepared to prove your expertise. Free samples that comply with FAR (see below) regulations and demonstrations of innovative technology in action can be effective, if properly framed. Again, all of these things must be related specifically to the project at hand. You must show how your expertise can help the government procurement agent to solve problems and fill needs within their agency.
- Show yourself to be a willing negotiator – Some may be thinking that since they are bidding on an RFQ, negotiation skills don't matter. They are mistaken. Yes, there is a fundamental difference between an RFQ and an RFP. (An RFQ is a simplified acquisition procedure, that does not call for negotiations. These are almost all under $150,000, with the average order size being less than $5,000. An RFP, on the other hand, by it's very nature lends itself to negotiations. These tend to be larger and more complicated acquisitions.) Even if the contract you are seeking in the short-term is an RFQ, it makes sense for your firm to begin setting the stage to deal with RFPs in the future. Federal procurement agents are looking for long-term partners they can rely on to fulfill a variety of government contracting needs. That means they are ideally looking for vendors who can potentially fulfill both RFQs and RFPs. Be showing yourself to be a willing and helpful negotiator that the government procurement agent enjoys working with, you open the door to a greater realm of possibilities.
Perfect Your Elevator Pitch Before Meeting Federal Procurement Agents
Most early meetings with federal procurement agents will only last about 15 minutes. This gives you a small window in which to cover a lot of ground. Your elevator speech should be 30 to 60 seconds long. It should focus on the key differentiator that separates you from your competition. That key differentiator must be relevant and specific to the agency and/or federal contracts you are trying to win. For instance, claiming that your firm has been in business for 20 years is not a key differentiator. By that line of thinking, a firm that has been in business for 21 years would be superior. Instead, you could say that since you have been in business for 20 years, you have developed proprietary products or processes, or that over 20 years you have developed quality assurance steps which guarantee higher quality and timely delivery. Mention your core competencies as they relate to the specific federal contracts you are pursuing. Include any certifications your firm has that would be relevant to the federal contracts you are seeking. Be sure to include past performance indicators and any scores that boost your profile. Most of all, focus on how you can solve problems for the agency. For example you may say your company provided X goods and services to enable the effective use of A, B and C, reducing costs by Y number of dollars for another business or agency. Be prepared to give references that can confirm this. Point out specifically how these differentiators will benefit the agency or government procurement agent. Are you struggling with this? Think about why other government agencies, or your largest clients, have chosen to do business with you, and how that can help the agency you are talking to. Your differentiator must separate you from the competition and must tie directly to the objectives of the government procurement agent. Again, that's why listening and knowing what an agency's goals are is so important. You have researched the history of their federal contracts in the Govgistics database. Look for trends. For example, maybe you noticed that rather than placing a single 5000 piece federal contract, the government procurement agent creates five 1000 piece federal contracts. This must be more work for the government procurement agent. Why are they doing it that way? Are they having trouble getting timely fulfillment of orders? If so addressing timely shipping could be an important differentiator. Are they trying to meet multiple goals, such as having both SBA and woman-owned businesses receive federal contracts? If so, and you can meet multiple criteria they are trying to achieve, your firm may be eligible to land a larger share of the business and simplify things for the federal procurement agent. If their concern is quality, show how your quality control team can consistently eliminate that problem. A little research in the Govgistics database, and asking the right questions, can help you understand the needs of the agency, and meet them. Finally, every member of your team needs to be able to communicate the basic elements of your elevator speech. This includes understanding the goals for your meeting. Don't let one team member undermine your effort by being unprepared.
Explore Government Subcontracting
It can be very difficult to break in with an agency or government procurement agent who has spent many years developing a strong working relationship with a competitor...so don't. Rather than trying to break down that wall, circumvent it through government subcontracting. If you can find a trusted prime contractor working with your target agency, do government subcontracting with them. This will allow you to begin to establish a positive reputation with federal procurement agents of that agency. Moreover government subcontracting may afford you the opportunity to be part of the team that meets these that are procurement agents, especially for RFPs. Government subcontracting is an incredibly effective tactic for getting your foot in the door. Government subcontracting is also one of the most underutilized tools for this purpose. Use government subcontracting as a way to introduce yourself to the agency and government procurement agents you wish to target.
Develop an Effective Capabilities Statement
This is a fundamental component to setting the stage for a meeting with federal procurement agents. We will delve deeply into this in an upcoming newsletter, but if you don't have an effective capabilities statement, you are missing opportunities.
There Are Amazingly Helpful Resources Waiting for You
Get a mentor or an experienced resource to serve as a sounding board. Your Govgistics rep can provide great insights on bidding history and patterns, and may be able to help you develop insightful, helpful questions. The GSA, the APTAC and the SBA all offer mentoring programs for small businesses that can be extremely helpful. Do not let these resources go untapped.
How to Arrange An In-Person Meeting with Government Procurement Agents
There are a number of ways to arrange a meeting with government procurement agents, including conferences, vendor outreach sessions, matchmaking events, one-on-one meetings, and joint meetings as a government subcontractor. Here are several helpful online resources to get you started. (Read More…) The federal government provides a list of upcoming conferences and events, including acquisitions matchmaking. If you qualify as a small business, the SBA has a series of events, and also facilitates what is called federal procurement matchmaking. These are efforts to get small business representatives to meet the appropriate procurement agents in an attempt for those small businesses to grab a larger proportion of government contracting. It is also important to note that the Give Me Five initiative to give woman owned businesses has created new opportunities for firms that meet that criteria. Do not underestimate the significance of these SBA and Give Me Five matchmaking services. Not only will you have a relatively well-known and dedicated professional working on your behalf, but government procurement agents will know that anyone walking through the door will help them meet their goals for small business procurement and women-owned business procurement. This is a win-win for you.
Highlight any Specially Designated Status in Government Contracting
To that end, if you meet the SBA definition of a small business, operate out of a HUB Zone, are owned by a veteran, service disabled veteran, woman, or racial/ethnic minority, be sure to mention those things during your time with the government procurement agent.
Other Helpful Tips When Pursuing Federal Contracts
Your sales approach
- Be clear and concise.
- Specifically tailor your message to your target audience.
- Focus heavily on the benefits to the federal procurement agent.
- Show your passion for your company's results.
- Talk slower than usual.
- Maintain good body language and eye contact.
- Either practice with a colleague, or record and critique yourself.
- Along the way, ask a small series of questions that elicit affirmative responses from the procurement agent. Close with a question for the government procurement agent to engage him or her.
- Do not try to close the deal. Use a "soft sell" approach.
- Dress the part. It should go without saying, but you must dress professionally and appropriately for these meetings. A surprising number of small business representatives have disqualified their company simply by wearing inappropriate attire.
Triangulate When Government Contracting and Government Subcontracting
Networking is, unsurprisingly, about building a web of interconnected relationships. As you build relationships with federal procurement officers, mentors, and prime contractors, it is smart to leverage those relationships to build new ones. For instance, the government procurement agent that you have been developing a relationship with for several months may be able to facilitate an introduction to another federal procurement agent within the same Department who is in charge of federal contracts you wish to bid on. That is pretty well understood. What is often overlooked, however, is capitalizing on relationships when doing government subcontracting. Using government subcontracting as a tool to build new relationships is a terribly under-appreciated strategy. Do good work for company X as a subcontractor. Build a strong working relationship with them. Ask them to make introductions, or even let you sit in on presentations with government procurement agents. Use this relationship to meet other government contractors that might be able to use your expertise in government subcontracting. Spend time with these folks at conferences and other events. Introduce yourself to their circle of professional contacts. Every once in awhile, ask them for help in networking. It is one of the fringe benefits of government subcontracting. Finally, be sure to leverage your relationship with any mentors you have whenever possible. The aforementioned mentoring programs can be great assets. In truth, mentors can be very hit-and-miss. Some will refrain from making introductions. Others will go out of their way to make introductions to federal procurement agents, government contractors, and government subcontractors. This is an avenue worth pursuing.
Two Key Things to Avoid When Doing Government Contracting and Government Sub-Contracting
- Don't waste money on print mailers. First of all, they are largely ineffective. Additionally. many federal agencies reject unsolicited mail, particularly after the "anthrax scare" of 2001. Focus on your verbal communication skills, your elevator pitch, and your capabilities statement in stead.
- Know what you can and cannot give a federal procurement agent. FAR (Federal Acquisition Regulations) explicitly prohibits government employees from soliciting or accepting, directly or indirectly, any gratuity, gift, favor, entertainment, loan, or anything of monetary value for personal use. Government procurement agents may accept samples of products if their only use would be for government purposes and not personal use.
When it comes to government contracting, and government subcontracting, it is difficult to overstate the importance of meeting federal procurement agents. Follow these tips and you will be much more effective and successful when meeting federal procurement agents in person.