COMMENTARY

Why you need to cultivate your customers now

While the COVID-19 pandemic has created challenges for the government contracting community over the past several months, there may be a silver lining on the horizon.

This summer, many believed that federal spending for contractor services would be fast with new RFPs being released rapidly. This reflects the fact that the addressable funds in the federal budget are the highest in 10 years.

According to a study from Market Connections, however, about two-thirds of procurement personnel went fully remote due to the virus, slowing down RFP releases. The report also found that 50 percent of respondents said the execution of new projects was put on hold.

This situation has created a backlog of RFPs that procurement professionals will be releasing during the rest of the summer. And we can expect a larger-than-usual “end of the year” push during this time frame.

This points to the need for the vendor community to help government customers and prospects work through this period of potential rapid procurement.

Time to Cultivate Relationships

The Market Connections study also found that 45 percent of government customers are looking to vendors to provide educational and consultative services, especially during the peak time of COVID-19. In addition, 41 percent stated that they wanted industry members to be nimble in providing both short- and long-term solutions and guidance.

Now is the ideal time to consider developing systematic plans to both cultivate and educate government buyers – especially since the pandemic continues today and will into the foreseeable future.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also made it very challenging to meet with government customers face-to-face. However, with or without the pandemic, the reality is that one chance meeting at an event would most likely not translate into a contract win.

A systemic plan to cultivate these relationships in the “new normal” should include thought leadership marketing, and other value-added content that can help with the education about your solutions.

The study also highlighted how government buyers are tapping into vendor webinars, research firm websites, contractor websites, and trade associations to become educated on the most cutting-edge solutions in the marketplace.

Sales and BD teams should be fully armed with all educational content, and use it as potential gateway tools to open doors to virtual meetings with government prospects. If you want to get the attention of the prospect, figure out a low-risk solution that will help them to do their job more cost-effectively.

An Ideal Time for Incumbents

It is common knowledge that government decision-makers are risk averse, and are more likely to engage with industry members they already know. In today’s business climate, incumbents certainly have an advantage when it comes to winning recompetes.

Though it’s all too easy to fall into complacency traps when re-bidding on business. Even in normal times, the incumbent contractors lose between 25 and 30 percent of their recompletes. It’s all too easy to lose an existing government customer, and even harder to win additional contracts to fill the void from the revenue lost.

The key is to recognize the customer’s culture and strategic goals, leverage successes and evidence from the existing contract, and engage with internal operations teams six months before the RFP is due to be published.

In addition, the pace of innovations moves so quickly, even if the government customer has not changed the SOW. Being able to show how your solutions have adapted to meet new needs will help overcome any ‘business as usual’ fears that evaluators may have about your company and offerings.

Ultimately, you want to plan to win the contract from the start by creating a complete contract story, developing the right processes, and staying fully connected with the customer throughout this entire journey.

Getting Prepared for Rapid Procurement

During this time of potentially rapid procurement, developing the right resources for winning new contracts or a recompete is vital – such as leveraging the right proposal teams that have the subject-matter expertise, understanding the buyer agency, and including everything from writers to graphic artists to orals coaches.

No contractor wants to miss out on an opportunity for business growth – especially with a potentially strong summer selling season in front of us. 

Being fully connected with the customer, providing ongoing educational resources, and not resting on your laurels when it comes to recompetes, could make for a prosperous time for contractors.

 

About the Author

Russell Smith is president of Organizational Communications Inc., a Washington D.C. area proposal consulting firm. He can be reached at rsmith@ociwins.com.

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