After the past few weeks of triaging capability statements, I’ve learned that even after 13+ years’ experience – even the most successful contractors struggle with designing their capability statement to act as a marketing tool, rather than a response to a specific request (often by a specific agency.) In this blog, we’ll discuss the strategic ways to turn your federal business resume into a sleek and impressive marketing tool that will give your business an edge and make certain you’re noticed and communicating your value clearly.
Before we begin … To avoid overcomplicating it, please clear your mind of ALL the industry “noise” and close your eyes.
Are they closed?
No, seriously. I know you can’t read with your eyes closed but start with a clean white blank slate.
Now take yourself back. Back to the time in your life when someone you looked up to advised you, “Write your resume for the job you want.” I’m fairly confident that’s happened to everyone at least once in our lives.
How many versions of your resume did you have the day you decided to start your business and didn’t need them anymore? How many hours were spent developing resumes and modifying cover letters to advance your career? (Keep that number in your mind.)
Now fast forward to the day you started making moves to bring your business from concept to revenue-generating and you were getting to know your customer. Maybe you saw a need or a problem that existed? Maybe more of an innovative idea or an easier way to get something done?
Why should your customer buy your product/ service? What do they care about? What are their pain points? Will it save them time? Money? Resources? Are your prices more competitive because you found an easier way? Why should they buy from YOU over your competitors?
Now, what if I told you that this is EXACTLY. THE. SAME. THING. Nothing here has changed, guys. You’re just getting to know a new customer, is all. Replicating your marketing strategy for the federal contracting marketplace can be daunting but there is a way to set yourself up for success and still meet industry standards and on-demand requests with ease.
So now that our brains are back to the BASICS of selling, let’s talk about what is different about your new, federal customers. As long as you know what your customer cares about, you’ll have a much easier time communicating your value in your capability statement and letting it do some of the heavy lifting for you.
Goal: The goal of your capability statement is to make it easy for your customers to do business with you. How can you save them time? By hyperlinking EVERYTHING, wherever possible. Include your LinkedIn hyperlinked to the logo so that it’s a clear invitation to connect. Break that ice and build a relationship. To get there, however, you have to remember to keep it simple. At every step of this process, your sole mission is to get them to scroll to the next block, right? That’s all. There is no contract at the end of this process … yet.
Do’s … & Just Please Don’t
DON’T: Say “NO” to Word. It is a document application. Say it again – DOCUMENT. It doesn’t handle images well and causes formatting issues that present unprofessional, at best. Word is great for documents, this is NOT a document. It’s an aesthetically designed marketing piece that you will continue to use, develop, and optimize throughout the life of your business.
DO: Use a design tool like Canva, which we’ve adopted as our go-to design tool due to its ease of use and economical cost. There is a free version but at only $12.95/ month, even the Pro upgrade is kind of a no-brainer with the versatility it potentially provides your marketing team. Put some real time and effort into this, it WILL be time well spent.
DON’T: Please do NOT waste space by spelling out “CaPaBiLiTy StAtEmEnT” across the top of your prime, beachfront real estate! If you’ve strategically placed your information including your CAGE code and UEI, your reader will know exactly what it is. Avoid redundancy and repetition of information.
DO: Strategically place your “Corporate Data” (described in more detail later) front and center so that your federal codes are visible immediately upon landing. You don’t have to spell it out at all, it’s obvious what this is and your buyers aren’t idiots. Very much the opposite, in fact. Avoid the inevitable eye roll completely by simply excluding it.
Knowing Your Customer
In sales 101, we’re taught to understand our customer’s pain points and focus features and benefits on what they care about in their role. In marketing 101, we’re taught that we only have an average of 8 seconds to grab a human’s attention. Some will argue that these 8 seconds have decreased to just 6.
That’s another thing I want to point out. While you’re marketing to the government, please do remember one very important thing: They’re human, just like you and me. They react the same way to your content, your branding, and your marketing materials. Their eyes will be drawn to what you’ve strategically placed to direct their attention. Don’t forget the BASICS!
The first question to ask yourself in designing your capability statement is:
“Is this for general purposes or a specific opportunity/ agency/ campaign/ goal, etc.?”
The answer to that question will guide you as to what you’re going to feature in the “ground zero” section of your capability statement, which in simpler terms is really just the first 2/3 of your standard 8×11 PDF (notice I did NOT say Word or .docx?)
This is often why market research is the best first step because if you don’t know who your customer is, how could you possibly be able to know what they care about? To avoid going down a rabbit hole, I’ll tell you generally where a Contracting Officer will quickly disqualify you quickly is when you draw a red flag in either of the following areas:
1) Cost and 2) Risk.
They do want to save money but it’s more important to make sure the QUALITY is there. If your bid is too low, it will also raise a red flag. With that in mind, if you’re in the services industry or have a product with a significant differentiator that your government buyers would find a value-add, they’re willing to pay more but have to justify. Don’t focus on being the “cheapest”, focus on being the BEST at what you do/ offer.
Leading with your core competencies and demonstrating your value is the next best way to get a federal contract, next to having to submit a lengthy proposal and getting lucky. They set you up strategically to capture low-hanging fruits like micro-purchases, SAP contracts, and smaller contracts that aren’t high-risk. Low-risk contracts get awarded often to “newer” small businesses. Once you get enough under your belt, you rinse and repeat to use that past performance for your next contract.
- Logo – This one is complicated and widely dependent on whether you have/ want a brick-and-mortar so to avoid getting into a different realm, I’ll simply say that your logo should be no more than 3 primary colors and consistent on all platforms, marketing, website, and especially your capability statement.
- Font – As with your website, your branding font should include at least two but no more than three fonts that look aesthetically pleasing together. Standards reflect your heading font, subheading font, and text font. Your branded documents should all be consistent in the same manner.
- Colors – Your logo/ branding should be comprised of no more than 2-3 base colors. These colors should again be aesthetically pleasing and applied consistently throughout any letterheads, documents, marketing materials, etc. (including your capability statement.)
Page 1: The first page of your statement should be formatted with enough information to act as a stand-alone marketing document highlighting the most valuable business traits. This is what I most typically use for early federal engagement, prime contractor engagement, teaming/ subcontracting, etc.
Sections to Include:
- Corporate Data – (include DUNS, CAGE, Primary NAICS, Secondary NAICS but not to exceed the top 5, Contact Information);
- Capability Narrative – (aka Mission/ Vision Statement, using keywords that are consistent with the way your buyers refer to your products/ services);
- Core Competencies – (What you are REALLY good at, not everything under the sun that you can do. If you work in different industries, you’ll want to have multiple versions of your capability statement to include only the core competencies of the industry you’re targeting.)
- Differentiators – (Why should the government buy from you over your competitors? Do you have special experience? Does your product or method out-perform your competitors? This is your place to shine.)
- Past Performance – (or Corporate Experience if you’ve never worked on a contract where the end-user was the federal government.)
Strategic Set-Up – This page is strategically set up to display my contact information, differentiators, and socio-economics/ schedules on a sidebar that will carry over to a second page when copied. And third, and forth. That way, my contact information, and unique identifiers are ALWAYS front and center no matter which page my reader happens to be looking at.
Page 2: Because SOME agencies state on their websites that they require a 2-pager, I simply COPY page 1 and remove the Capability Narrative, Past Performance sections and replace them with accentuating details or additional past performance. All except for the pertinent: Industry Codes, Contact Info, Set-Asides, GSA Schedule info, whatever would make sense to encourage a reader to take the next step.
Your unique company data is transferred over so this page can be more or less acting as a cover letter. This page will likely change, depending on who you’re engaging with. An agency might request specific information like your success rates, pertinent results-oriented details of past contracts. Whatever the case might be, use your second page to highlight project samples or site photos. The key to page two is simply to elaborate and showcase other unique identifiers that wouldn’t fit on page 1.
Use Case: For some novice contractors, I will use the second page to highlight a CEO’s professional experience as it relates to the experience they have that could help them in their business. Or any other qualifying differentiator that will demonstrate that this business presents a minimal risk, whatever that reason might be.
You may find that your section titles on Page 2 might vary whether you’re sending it to a government agency or a prime contractor. Each end-user has different value propositions and each is motivated differently.
Communicating your Experience/ Past Performance Appropriately
Display your past performance as you would on your resume. Include the DATES of the contract, a TITLE (contract number, if applicable), your role (Prime/ Sub), and a description for each you’re highlighting. I recommend choosing the top three contracts that produced bragging rights and/or results that your target would find most appealing. Make your description results-focused and provide data like numbers and dollars-saved, whenever possible.
When it comes to the use of logos, this one is tricky because there are so many rules that say you can’t use the agency’s logo. What they are implying on their websites is that it is a federal offense to impersonate a federal official or agency. Believe it or not, the use of agency logos will help you more than hurt you and it’s appreciated by the humans that work in the roles that make this contracting thing function. You’re saving them time. Use them. You’re not trying to pretend you are the government, therefore the risk isn’t the same. You’re demonstrating that you’ve performed work for them.
Therefore, don’t just slap an agency logo – provide context and be clear about your role on the contract, whether subcontractor or prime. Accompany it with a results-focused description of the work done, and hopefully, it relates to the work you’re pursuing.
Well, it goes back to human behavior. Rather than reading a paragraph of words, an agency logo will allow your reader to quickly conceptualize that you have FEDERAL past performance, encouraging them to read on. Remember, people are very much visually stimulated so to avoid overwhelming your readers, try simplifying by cutting out the fluffy text and conservatively using logos and icons that will accommodate your more visual learners.
This is NOT the case with business relationships. Nor am I a lawyer, so where business relationships are concerned, it’s best to C-Y-A and gain the consent of the prime contractor/ company in which you performed the work, before using their branding for advertising purposes. If you’re a certified reseller, this is probably in your agreement somewhere, but do be advised that businesses vary in their policies to its best practice to check first and never assume.
No Past Performance? No Problem.
You’ll still need a capability statement, though. You’ll just have to do some re-wording, is all.
If you’ve had any city/ state/ local government contracts, lead with those. It’s okay to use their logos.
The next best would be any fortune 500’s, commercial experience, and so on. It’s also important to know that the government does not consider it to be past performance UNTIL the end-user is in fact, the federal government.
If the above applies to you, label this section “CORPORATE EXPERIENCE” instead … just for now. Again, you should be constantly editing this thing and optimizing it, continuing to improve with each new fact learned.
Here is an example of a great way to format and display your information to meet these guidelines, with all the elements mentioned above (we’ve even hyper-linked the prime vendors’s website to our statement since as a certified reseller of the software solution, it would be to our advantage):
No Two Are Alike
I know this is much more than what you bargained for and you’re probably looking at your black and white Word document written out as a white paper, cursing me and everyone who’s ever seen your capability statement right about now. It’s okay, that’s normal.
I wish there was more clarity as to what this document is intended to provide, and more literature out there from more credible resources confirming as much. This ultimately has more to do with strategic sales than it does any federal expectation, template, counseling advice, or standard.
Every agency is different.
Every business is different.
Every sales strategy is different.
Your end-user may even be different, depending on the agency. It never ends.
For this reason, I’ve come to no longer consider myself a “Subject Matter Expert” in government contracting because, at the end of the day, this isn’t about government contracting. It’s about SALES and interpersonal communications.
Having had a hand in developing the format the government has grown to know, love, and accept as “standard” today, this is one area where regardless of what any “expert” out there says – I can confidently disagree with any one-sided perspective that doesn’t come from a place of first recognizing that EVERY agency is different.
I personally know some contracting officers who didn’t realize how well they were being marketed until well after the fact. True story. I have a sneaking suspicion that with the opportunity to all get on the same page one day, we’ll be unstoppable and should all start to see a positive shift for the better, as a result.
At the end of the day, nobody knows your business better than you do. This is your baby. Templates are not unique, your business is. Make a great first impression when you get the chance because sometimes, you only get one. This space is too competitive to not get creative with your marketing.
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