Know Thyself – A Key to Winning Government Contracts

I recently came across an article from The Public Spend Forum and Frank McNally about how to win government contracts. Mr. McNally is a former Contracting Officer, and it is a well written article that I advise federal business development personnel read.

He lists “seven mistakes”, (although Ben McMartin, also with the Public Spend Forum, discussed an unusual eight):

Just when you thought you had seen it all…

Anyway, I wanted to focus on mistake #4 – “Not being realistic about capabilities”.

…Identify your product-market fit and then focus on finding customers that need what you offer. Not only will this help you find high-quality, viable leads, but you’ll also be more attractive to those large companies looking to diversify their proposal team with uniquely differentiated small businesses…

This is excellent advice. However, Let’s take a step back and focus on what is necessary to understand your differentiators by answering the question:

“What is it exactly that we do?”

I was very interested in the timing of this piece, as I have received an uptick of meeting requests and messages from industry asking to meet to discuss their capability. However, many of these messages are missing key pieces of information:

  1. What is it that you exactly do?
  2. Why do I care?
  3. How are you going to solve my problem(s)?
  4. Do you know my organization?
  5. Where can I access your capability statement and materials such that I can see how your service may be of benefit?


When I ask these questions in response, I almost never get a reply.

Approaching a federal prospect without these questions answered is unlikely to get you very far. As an aside, the same issue will also occur if you, as a small business, approach a large business hoping to create a teaming relationship. You have not answered the main question: “So What?”

Focus your messaging to make me want to talk to you through targeted messaging that allows me to gauge how talking to you is of benefit to me. Simply telling me you have an agile platform and we should talk is a quick ticket to the delete button.

Customize your message to me, my problems, and the challenges I am facing, and you are more likely to make a connection and get me to respond.

Simply put, the messaging needs to be focused on the federal manager and the issues she is facing, and how you might solve them.

Once I am confident that it is worth my time, then I will respond. Make me want to respond. Then, come prepared with the knowledge and strategies pointed out in the article, and the chances of winning business are much greater.

Winning government contracts is a very challenging prospect, but it is made significantly more difficult with the self-inflicted wounds of not being prepared, or knowing exactly what is it that you do.

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