Mike Parkinson


4 ways to win during sequestration

Time to diversify, differentiate, design and stay focused

Expect fewer opportunities and stiffer competition in 2013 for government contracts. Layoffs, budget cuts, and price shoot-outs will be commonplace. To win in 2013, you need strategies. Consider this “4-D” approach:

1) Diversify.

Can your existing solutions help commercial companies? If so, refocus (and rebrand, if needed) your products and services to support small and large commercial companies, nonprofit organizations, and educational institutions. There is likely an underserved niche or an unanswered challenge that you can solve with your existing solutions.

Consider this strategy to change your pricing. Rob Ransone of Ransone Associates supported the Army's Light Observation Helicopter proposal. Hughes Helicopter Co. underbid the competition with the understanding that some of the technology developed could be used in a commercial version of the helicopters. It was a win-win-win: The Army bought helicopters at cost and saved money. Hughes Helicopter won the bid and used the research and development to make a commercially viable product. Commercial businesses had access to a new, innovative helicopter.

2) Differentiate.

 Clearly define why your company and solution are different so your customers can picture these differences in their minds. Showing your superiority shouldn’t be the main focus of your marketing; showing your uniqueness should be the top objective. Humans pay most attention to that which is different. Contrast is key. When your customers think of you, what immediately pops into their minds? Is it clearly different from your competition? (If you don’t like your current differentiators, change them. It takes time but consistent exposure coupled with validation will help your new differentiators stick.) Many Government contractors will advertise their IT services, systems integration, or innovative solutions. These are not differentiators if these services are similar to their competitors. Once you define your differentiators build it into your brand. Better yet, make it your brand.

For example, what pops into your mind when you think of Google, Apple, or FedEx? Compare those companies with their competitors. Look at FedEx versus UPS. Each company does an excellent job differentiating their brand even though they offer similar services and products. Visit their websites to learn how these companies spread distinct messages.

3) Design.

Design is the first thing influencers, decision makers, and evaluators see. It quickly differentiates us, communicates our professionalism, increases recollection (38 percent—Harvard University) and understanding (200 percent—University of Wisconsin), and is proven to influence decision-making (43 percent—University of Minnesota School of Management). For example, the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab asked 2,440 participants how they evaluated the credibility of websites they were shown. Almost half (46.1 percent) said the website’s design (color, graphics, layout, etc.) was the number one criterion for discerning the credibility of the presented material. Design is the fastest way to communicate characteristics of your solution and company. It influences perception, and perception is reality. (The first chapter of Billion Dollar Graphics details more research and provides real-world examples.)

4) Direction.

 Focus on capture/sales to influence the direction of the RFP, RFI, RFQ, TOR, and so on. Influencing the direction of the RFP greatly impacts the likelihood of success. This strategy is far from new. In fact, many RFPs are directed (biased) toward a specific solution or solution provider. Meet with and listen to your government contacts. Give them relevant whitepapers and other educational materials that help them develop an informed RFP. (For ideas, check out this list of 24 Ways to Influence RFPs.)

About the Author

Mike Parkinson is a partner at 24 Hour Co., which specializes in bid proposal graphics.He can be reached at mike@24hrco.com.

Reader Comments

Fri, Apr 12, 2013 Omnivore

Sure. Graphics can help, and it is the business of the (heavily conflicted) author of this piece. But a site won't help you if your product is a total commodity, your people perform at the mediocre level, and the govies think you are one of them. You could make more money with certificates of deposit. Your key question has become: do you really want to be in this "industry"?

Wed, Apr 10, 2013 gino NOVA

Good article. I think differentiation is the key element. Easy to say, hard to do.

Wed, Apr 10, 2013 John E. Bredehoft Anaheim, California

While sequestration serves as a reminder of these four pieces of advice, they would apply even if the Federal Government were running a surplus.

Tue, Apr 9, 2013 Ronald Redden Plano, TX

(3) Design: I definitely agree with the 46% of respondents who say a company's website/ web design is the #1 criterion for discerning the credibility of the presented material. Taking short-cuts here will put you on the long-path to success. Glad to see that substantiated through research :->

Tue, Apr 9, 2013 Jeff Nay Tysons Corner, VA

Timely article - and useful. Excellent advice regarding design, and thanks for the first chapter of your book.

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