Mark Amtower

COMMENTARY

Need outside help? Here are critical questions to ask

Scenario one: Recently I helped a Fortune 500 company selected a federally focused communications firm for a targeted marketing campaign. I reviewed the criteria, the scope of the project and the potential audience and selected two firms for the client to review. We received proposals (written and oral) from both, an as I expected, both were very much on target.

Scenario two: Phone rings, I answer. I get a long story about “how my company registered at SAM.gov, got a call a few days later from ‘an expert’ on all things GSA, signed an agreement and paid thousands for a GSA Schedule. But now nothing is happening.” I have had over 100 of these calls in the last ten years.

You got a call, were sold a load of BS, you “bought it,” and you did not vet the caller?

Lucy, we gotta problem here…

In the government contracting world there are service providers for virtually anything: outsourced business development, marketing, sales, capture and proposal development, bid services, headhunters, obtaining a GSA Schedule, market intel, back office support, lobbying for your contract, events and event producers, human resources, legal, accounting, insurance, finance and so much more. There are service providers that are excellent in their respective niches, then there are generic service providers that claim expertise in B2G predicated on knowing a few acronyms, then there are scam artists preying on those thinking GovCon market entry is simple.

When it comes to selecting outside services, how do you make the choice? What are your criteria?

First and foremost, if you have a decent personal GovCon network, ask around. If a company is good, you should be able to find out. If a company is not so good, you should be able to find out faster. But you will never know until you ask around.

After asking around, here are a few thoughts to help your selection process.

Look at the people and company on LinkedIn. Are the key people at the company experienced in this market? I have looked at the profiles of some alleged GSA Schedule advisors only to find they were either selling real estate or burgers six months back. Have they been out of the market for several years and just now coming back in? Endorsements and recommendations on their profiles will help, as will the number of connections you share. I heard one PR firm claim to be the leading PR firm in B2G, only to find they were not connected to any reporters or editors at any of the trade publications.

Referrals from past customers is another way to vet outside services. Admittedly you will only get people to contact who are likely to be positive, but ask hard questions when you speak to them. When did the work occur? What were tangible results? How long did it take? Was it within budget? Ask for references. References have their own reputations to worry about as well, so most won’t be misleading.

Have some basic (or detailed) criteria for any outside service.

Comparison shopping is always good. Have a team on your side review at least three outside services, then brainstorm your results. A white board brainstorm session with your team discussing the pros and cons for each provider is a good way to make the final cut. But don’t be afraid to toss all three of the companies reviewed and look for new ones if there is not a solid fit.

Here are a few questions you might want to ask any outside service provider:

  • Tell me about yourself and your business.
  • What is your approach in working with your clients?
  • What is your preferred way to communicate with clients?
  • What additional support or services do you provide?
  • What are your company’s strengths?
  • Who is my main point of contact and who else will I be working with?
  • Tell me about a particular client project (without divulging confidentiality) and the outcomes achieved.

Not all outside service providers are created equal, and size is not an indicator of talent

Caveat emptor!

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 www.linkedin.com/in/markamtower.

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