Buy Lines: How to talk your way into government business

Bob Dickson

Teams of industry and government experts gather every day to address requirements and solve problems in the federal acquisition process. That process increasingly involves performance-based contracting approaches in which contractors make oral presentations for both market research and contract negotiation.

The quality of those oral presentations plays a critical role in source selection. Companies that have earned an opportunity to participate must be prepared to put their best foot forward and increase the likelihood of an award. To do so, they also must understand that there's a big difference between an oral presentation for market research and one for contract negotiation.

Market research involves sharing information with government agencies that have not yet started the procurement process. Agencies are fact-finding, taking their high expectations and discovering how the marketplace is addressing similar needs.

It's important to remember this type of session is not a sales presentation. Brief overviews to provide a framework for discussion are helpful, but elaborate "pitches" and slick presentations are not. Because the agency likely is still working to identify its future needs, it's risky to sell a solution for a problem that hasn't been defined.

Therefore, most of the oral presentation should be reserved for a meaningful dialog about how similar problems are being addressed elsewhere. If a company shares its experience, the value proposition of the session increases for both parties. When a company can make a positive impression in a highly competitive world, the experience is worthwhile.

Oral presentations during contract negotiations are much different. In one sense, it's the ultimate sales opportunity, designed to convince a government agency that your company should be selected for award. Here's your chance to demonstrate your knowledge and understanding of the agency's objectives and your proposed technical approach. This is also the time for discussions about related management approaches, past performance and questions about your proposal.

Oral presentations are recorded in some way, and many agencies videotape them. You might try your own videotaped dry run. Often, company teams find there is much room for improvement. It's better to identify and correct deficiencies during practice than on game day.

The government will try to take full advantage of the opportunities that oral presentations provide. During the market research phase, they have the opportunity to consider new ways of doing things, the impact of technology transition and changes in the competitive marketplace. They also can consider leading practices in other government agencies, countries and state and local government.

During the contract negotiation phase, the government should require that the proposed project manager and key personnel demonstrate their understanding of the requirements. It's also an opportunity for the contractor to demonstrate how their key players and subcontractors will work as a team.

Cooperation and partnership between businesses and government in the federal acquisition arena have improved in many ways. Oral presentations build a sense of partnership, which is essential for the success of these new performance-based approaches. There is great reward for companies that meticulously prepare oral presentations in a performance-based environment and adopt leading practices in this area. Agencies that encourage and promote this approach will benefit as well.

Bob Dickson is vice president of Acquisition Solutions Inc., Chantilly, Va. His e-mail address is bdickson@acqsolinc.com.

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