Revisiting the 3 Rs for GovCon success

Research, resources and relationships are the building blocks for success in the federal market. Here's why.

As time permits, I occasionally go back and read my blog posts, LinkedIn posts and my Washington Technology articles. I do this for several reasons: to see if the “rules” are changing, to see if I was right or wrong about something, and to see the evolution of the market and of my thinking.

Back in July 2011, I wrote a column in WashTech on the “Three R’s of Government Contracting”: Research, Resources, and Relationships. The article was adapted from my book, Selling to the Government and these three R’s still remain basic building blocks for newbies and pros. While there are other things that must be done, the three R’s should be at or near the top of your list.

Nearly every week I will get a call from someone with the latest, greatest tool, product or service, something without which the government might not survive.

My first question is always “do you know who the competition is, who the major players are in this category?”

The responses fall largely into two categories: We are so superior it doesn’t matter, or, this is a new category so there are no competitors.

Conversations with online training companies illustrate this well.

In one case the company said the “name” of the company would create the marketshare necessary. The name of the company includes the name of the founder, a player in B2B IT, but not in B2G. They wanted help “getting the word out” but assumed their newly minted GSA Schedule would sell itself once people knew they were here.

Needless to say, when I checked their GSA sales a year later, they were still at $0.

Another company simply told me their IT training was the absolute best, hands down, and that sales would occur. Like the other company, they just wanted help “getting the word out.”

I passed on both gigs because I don’t like to take money when the prospect of marketshare is slim to none. Why?

First, in both cases, they had not done the research, were not going to devote the resources, and neither had the relationships needed to get started -- nor did they seem to think they would need them.

The research would have shown that there are entrenched players in the IT training arena (I have advised three of them over the years) and each had more than a GSA Schedule as a sales vehicle.

The research would also have shown that each of the main players had grown incrementally over the past 24 years (it was around 1994 when IT training started to become widespread: see footnote), and that none was an instant success.

Second, neither company was going to devote much in the way resources to this effort, assuming that either the company name or the (alleged) quality of the training would carry the day. No real dedicated sales or BD staff, no inclination to partner on other contractual vehicles, no real understanding of how to get traction.

Third, when I looked up the key people from each company on LinkedIn I could see that they were not connected to this community. While it may seem arbitrary, I rate someone’s connectedness in our market by how many connections we share. With these two companies, it was minimal at best.

Management Concepts is a major player in B2G training, and while I have not worked with them, I share 199 connections with the president, Steve Maier. I have 7 first degree connections at Management Concepts and share 1,331 connections with those 7 people. As a company they are well-connected with the government contracting community, feds and contractors alike.

Can a company successfully enter the IT training space today? Certainly, but there will be no immediate traction. They have to be prepared for the long haul.

The two companies seeking a quick, lucrative entry into this market faced a rude awakening.

I told them what they were facing, but neither believed.

Research, resources and relationships- don’t go to market without them.

(Footnote: In 1994, CompUSA had the first IT training offering on GSA. They had classroom training for things like WordPerfect, Lotus 1-2-3, basically shrink-wrapped products. Learning Tree International followed around 1995 offering higher level, certificate-based training. Global Knowledge soon followed. I am not sure when Management Concepts got their first contract but it was certainly there at that time.)

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