This topic is surrounded by more questions than answers for small businesses. Many small business owners try to skip the foundational process to reach the ultimate return on their investment. So often, we tend to want to register our business, followed by DUNS and then SAM, telling ourselves, “I’m ready!”
Not so fast. If you haven’t yet listened to the 2021 update of “Marketing to Government Agencies and Prime Vendors”, presented by Govology Co-Founder Carroll Bernard, you may not be as ready as you think. The first question might be, “Have you developed and proven a repeatable marketing and sales process?”
For those of you who weren’t able to attend, here are the cliff notes and my “2 cents.”
The Big Picture
Before you can tackle that first question, you must first understand HOW the government buys what you sell. What is THEIR process? At the end of the day, remember – they’re the customer. This part is no different than in your commercial business. You’ve got to know your customer.
WHO buys what you sell? There are so many different roles and titles within each federal agency; how can you tell which one you should be marketing to? After all, they all do business differently.
HOW do they buy? The answer is – several ways. Within the handouts section of the online e-course are the presentation slides. I mention this because I love the Acquisition Pyramid, which does a fabulous job of segmenting each of the contract vehicles into its own category, and I often refer to it as a “cheat sheet” of sorts when analyzing federal data.
We all start at the bottom – Open Market, which includes purchase orders, purchase cards, and definitive contracts. This stage does have very low visibility for opportunities (or, as industry so commonly drools over, solicitations) since many are going through contract vehicles. These long-term contract vehicles are only re-competed every 3-5 years, depending on the contract and agency. Additionally, opportunities under $25k are not mandated to be posted publicly. So, where are they posted?
Market Research: Getting the Facts
Anyone who knows me knows I’m a full-blown contract data nerd, so this part was my favorite. Carroll spoke first about those who make the oh-so-common mistake of getting immediately on a GSA Schedule. Most often, this comes from a sales call upon registering in SAM, often with a high-pressure sales pitch that leads you to believe that you won’t get a contract if you don’t have a schedule. This is NOT accurate.
What those sales tactics do not tell you is that if you don’t reach a certain amount of sales on your schedule, GSA will take it back away from you after just two years which has led to a plethora of waste on behalf of small businesses.
Two types of market research are covered: Quantitative and Qualitative. There are several free resources publicly available to take a peek into your federal market without talking to anyone.
- Historical Spending Data (my personal favorite being usaspending.gov)
- Agency Websites (helpful but time-consuming, in my experience, so perform a historical search first so that you’re not spinning your wheels)
- Opportunity Portals (you’re probably already familiar with the most common, beta.sam.gov)
When you do talk to someone, here is the information you have the potential to capture:
- Department-Level Decision Makers
- Contracting Staff
Your endgame to market research will tell you what agencies buy what you sell, where they’re buying it, who they are buying it from (competitor analysis), what they are paying for it, and when the next big contract opens up for competition. The harder of the lot is identifying where YOU fit into that and who your MVP is. To take that a step further, finding out what your end-user values most and how you approach them is key.
If you’re having trouble performing market research or if spreadsheets and data diving aren’t your things, don’t worry – there are resources out there that will help you.
- Your local Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) can often help, and at no cost to you. If you aren’t yet a client of PTAC, you can find one here.
- Suppose you’re the type who prefers the “DIY” approach to government contracting. In that case, Govology has a ton of content to assist you in walking you (or the designated member of your existing GovCon team) through the process.
- You can opt to engage a subject matter expert (SME) for a fee. Duwel Dev is one provider of customized market research analysis and reporting for small businesses.
Before you begin marketing, be sure you’ve identified to WHOM you’re marketing to be sure you’re not wasting any time, money, or resources chasing the wrong rainbow, so to speak. The bottom line is – don’t sit around waiting for a solicitation if you are serious about getting a contract. Your competitors aren’t.
Some ways Carroll suggests connecting with your end-users are procurement conferences, industry days, your OSDBU small business liaison could provide an introduction, agency site visits, COR/COTR interviews, LinkedIn, association conferences, or maybe you land a micro-purchase or similar small contract.
Whichever method is easiest for you to get in front of your buyers, do it. It may take a combination of the above because, never forget, every agency does business a little differently.
Marketing Tools & Assets
While these are important, I agree with Carroll that market research is the most important. There IS a perception tied to your marketing tools and methods. I personally believe that making a good first impression is crucial to your government contracting relationship success.
- Keep your business cards simple and easy to read. Use quality paper, standard size. Include your company logo. Listing certs are not required on your business cards, though you may opt to do so.
- Ensure you have the right NAICS/ PSC codes on your SAM registration. Self-certify for set-asides you qualify for (be sure to start the certification process, however), and don’t misrepresent!
- Don’t be lazy! Be sure to complete the Dynamic Small Business Search (DSBS) profile hosted by the Small Business Administration (SBA) on the last page of your SAM registration. It allows you to enter keywords and a robust capability narrative to be searched by buyers, agencies performing market research, primes, subs, etc. Be sure to enter your website URL correctly to include the “HTTPS://” and enter ALL information it asks for, when possible. If you don’t enter it, you cannot be found.
- Have some sort of web presence, whether it’s a free website or a landing page. It’s important to have an online presence. The key is to make it easy for your buyers to find and engage with you. Carroll absolutely suggests making sure someone picks up the phone. Check out your competitors’ websites and ask yourself – what do they have that I don’t?
- A capability statement is your primary marketing tool in federal contracting. Many agencies require them to be one page in length. You should also have a 2-3 page statement that elaborates more on your past performance and statement of qualifications. You may even have to create a custom statement to respond to a sources sought notice or RFI, so it’s best to have one replicable. If you need help developing a capability statement that is replicable, contact Duwel Dev for a quote.
Leveraging Web & Social Media
At the very least, if you don’t have a website, be sure your business has a LinkedIn page. Be sure you can be found if someone is looking. Duwel Dev also assists clients in developing their online presence, so if you’re unsure how to do this – it costs $0 to ask for help.
Marketing to Prime Vendors
- Fix your SBA DSBS Profile since prime vendors use it as well (you can do this from the very last page of your SAM registration.)
- Once you’ve done your market research and have identified your targeted market, you should visit each of their websites and utilize any existing process for getting into THEIR database.
- Understand their thought process when selecting subcontractors.
- Know who the key decision-makers are and build relationships!
- Ask good questions. What are their pain points, and what struggles do they have in finding qualified subs?
- Build and communicate an outstanding value proposition. What can you do for them that nobody else can?
- Be willing to modify your business to provide solutions to their challenges.
- Invite them to partner with you on small business set-aside opportunities.
- Stay visible and check in periodically.
- Get additional training for advanced strategies. Carroll suggests the following Govology courses for this section: “Advanced Teaming Strategies to Accelerate Small Business Government Revenue” and “Convincing a Prime to Put You on Their Team” to help you accelerate your subcontracting and teaming strategies.
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