Mark Amtower


Developing relationships is key to success

I am not a fan of the phrase “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” For me, that is an incomplete formula.

“This market, any market, is all about relationships.” That was the first line of my first book, Government Marketing Best Practices (2005). In Selling to the Government (2011), I devote an entire chapter to relationships. Without a doubt, this is a relationship-driven market. Who you know and how they know you can expedite introductions, meetings, sub-contacting roles and much more.

So what kind of relationships are there?

  • C-level and managers to employees
  • Company rep to government client
  • Manufacturer to channel partner
  • Prime to sub/sub to prime
  • Teaming partners to one another
  • Company to media
  • Government to media
  • Peer to peer

And more.

Traditional venues for starting relationships include your office setting, professional associations, briefings and networking events, trade shows and other events and social networks like LinkedIn.

If you are consciously developing a career path, relationships are key. But these have to be two-way relationships – you have to bring something to the party. I was fortunate earlier in my career by the mentors I had and the relationships I developed with some very key people in the government market.

Federal Sources, the leading provider of contract intelligence from the mid-1980s through the late 1990s, launched in 1984, one year before I started Amtower & Company. I got to know the CEO, Tom Hewitt, a few years later and we would talk frequently. Throughout the 1990s, Hewitt was my LinkedIn – he knew just about everyone, and he let me tap into his network. My quid pro quo was tactical marketing advice and once each year we’d sit down for two hours or more in the morning and review his marketing plan for the coming year.

My relationship with Tom and a few others, like Dendy Young and Lynn Bateman, provided me with an inner circle with massive connections and market intelligence. Each was a wealth of information and connections, and each added to my knowledge base and my network.

Each of these people are part of my LinkedIn community and I still hear from each with some regularity. LinkedIn is how I stay in touch with most of those I have worked with over the past thirty-plus years, as well as those who have seen me speak, read my books or articles, listen to my radio show or are simply part of the government contractor community we all share.

My activity on LinkedIn allows those connected with me to see immediately what I am up to, be it interviewing the Alliant team on my show, posting news and opinions on my profile, or sharing someone else’s post or article. I get calls, InMails and emails frequently from those in my network because of my online activity. It also allows me to see what they are up to and reach out when I think I can help or support them in some way, or just to comment on what they are doing. I don’t like to see my connections unemployed and will help them find positions when I can.

The relationships you develop will be key to your success.  However, remember that these have to be two-way relationships – you have to bring something to the party. You need to add value to the relationship however you can.

My first mentor in the market, Lynn Bateman, taught me by example what has remained my biggest lesson: Honesty, integrity and the ability to deliver what you promise are the biggest things you can have going for you.

Once you are known for these, you will start building deeper, longer lasting relationships and you’ll end up with a network your competitors will envy.

It’s not simply who you know, but what you bring to the party. That is the full-circle formula.

Join Mark Amtower ​Aug 12, 8:00 am – noon for the program: Developing a Thought Leader/Subject Matter Expert Platform for GovCon.

About the Author

Mark Amtower advises government contractors on all facets of business-to-government (B2G) marketing and leveraging LinkedIn. Find Mark on LinkedIn at

Reader Comments

Mon, Aug 3, 2015

Some relationships endorsed may be elicit per the FAR, the statute, agency regs, and industry and government "custom." Beware out there.
Separately, the second July 20 comment appears, rather obviously, to be tongue-in-cheek.

Fri, Jul 24, 2015 Amtower

Comment #4 (7/20) - I know plenty of BD and sales people people who seem to get to know their customers, FAR notwithstanding. Comment #3 (also 7/20): thank you, and I hope these columns continue to help. Comment #2 (7/11): Relationships apply to all - even email services or other service vendors. The relationship offers the basis for trust - if you can establish the relationship. Comment #1 (7/9): Covered this before- nope, not on LinkedIn's payroll. I have frequently written negative things about LinkedIn (this is not the only place I write). If you want original, you are in the wrong place. I offer practical advice for companies that want to succeed in GovCon.

Mon, Jul 20, 2015

"The relationships you develop will be key to your success. However, remember that these have to be two-way relationships – you have to bring something to the party."

In other words, Mark, it is not what you know, but who you know, right? That is truly sage advice. And, I know you! Too bad the FAR is couched to snuff out any semblance of customer-supplier relationships. Your techniques, such as LinkedIn, really help to overcome such barriers. Thanks.

Mon, Jul 20, 2015

This is an impressive opinion column, which opened new horizons of thinking for my company on the Belteway. It has become required reading for all employees attending our twice a week hackathons. Much appreciated

Sat, Jul 11, 2015 Theresa Gallo

Mark, In regards to developing relationships, do you think this also applies to vendors that call or email agencies cold to introduce themselves or their products?

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