It’s been almost a year since I retired from the Federal Government where I worked as an acquisition official for more than 34 years. During my year in “retirement”, I’ve been very busy consulting for Federal contractors, releasing a fictional novel and planning a fall contracting related workshop. Retirement has also provided some valuable time to stop and think, away from the hustle and bustle.
Thinking time has allowed me to sit back and determine whether the assumptions in my 2015 book, How to Market & Sell to the U.S. Government, A View from the Inside, were valid, considering I was a Government official when I wrote it. There were three key points based on my observations as a Federal official that convinced me to write it:
Assumption #1: The Contractor Community Doesn’t Know the Rules Pertaining to Engaging Agency Officials (FAR 15.201)
Looking back a few years, industry representatives weren’t familiar with FAR 15.201, Engaging Industry before Receipt of Proposals. All Federal and industry representatives should know this FAR clause. At my former agency, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, barriers are being broken down and information sharing and engagement are increasing as a result of various activities driven by the Agency and the National Contract Management Association.
That is the good news. The bad news, in my observation, is that changes to the Federal retirement system provide little incentive for senior officials to stay employed by Government. Many high ranking executives in their late thirties and early forties are leaving for higher paying jobs in private industry. The depth of institutional knowledge is decreasing and this, combined with young senior leaders filling the void, leaves a gaping a lack of understanding about the rules of engagement.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that industry is much different. Now that I am more focused on the contractor community, I see equally frequent change in business development and capture staff, which sometimes undermines the relationships a contractor has with clients.
What does all of this mean? In general, I’ve seen agencies working hard to become more transparent and industry trying to receive information to better understand their agency’s mission. However, the principles contained in FAR Part 15.201 are still not a focus. More communication, coordination and education is needed to truly break down the barriers between industry and Government.
Assumption #2: Government Contractors Don’t Know When to Engage Agency Staff
Although I’m doing quite a bit of consulting, strike me dead if I meet with a Federal official just to review a contractor’s capability statement. There are times when this can be done, for example, when a contractor is being interviewed for an 8(a) acquisition or meeting with a small business specialist. However, in my opinion, a contractor shouldn’t meet with a Federal official unless there is a benefit to that official.
There are many reasons to engage a Federal official that will help both the Agency and your company. I’ve categorized them into seven specific areas. Engage an agency official: If you can help them solve a problem; save money; or can educate them about new information technology or industry trends in your area of expertise. You can also engage them by: Responding to Requests for Information; Source Sought Notices; or meeting with an agency to provide them with solicitations other agencies are using, with a focus on the SOW, deliverables, performance metrics and evaluation criteria.
In general, my observation still holds true that industry can do a better job of considering what they have to offer prior to requesting a meeting with or engaging a Federal official. It is also important to define the reason for the meeting with the Federal official. If you consider one of the seven areas noted above, you will be more successful in obtaining a meeting.
Assumption #3: You Need to Educate Agency Staff on How to Get to Your Company
My third assumption in 2015 was that you needed to educate agency officials on how to procure services from your company in the most expedient manner. This still holds true. Agency officials, particularly those in program offices, are often unfamiliar with the “ins and outs” of a contracting vehicle that could be used to access your company. Prior to leaving their office, you need to ensure they understand the ordering procedures for your contracting vehicles. Particularly with new options such as those on GSA’s IT Schedule 70, it is important to ensure agencies know the ins and outs and benefits to them.
Since I’ve been retired, I have a new and more important observation: Contractors need a two-pronged marketing strategy mapped out prior to meeting with the Federal official. First: What can you do to get access to a Federal official? It almost always includes helping them in some way, shape or form. Second: What is your real goal for the meeting? What do you really hope to accomplish at the meeting?
What is your real goal in meeting with a Federal official? Do you want to influence a future acquisition by hoping they will use a contracting vehicle your company is on? Do you want to gather bits of information to make a go-no/go decision on a future procurement? Do you want them to get to know your company for future considerations? I could go on and on discussing what you might hope to accomplish at a meeting with a Federal official, but the bottom line is that your company’s individual meeting roles and responsibilities must be clearly defined to ensure you are not wasting time, on either side, and that you accomplish a clearly stated goal that the contractor teams know prior to entering the Government official’s office.
My observation is that, too often, the marketing strategy’s real goal is not fully vetted, developed or documented prior to a contractor stepping foot into a Government official’s office. This includes fully vetting the detailed aspects of how the company’s meeting goal(s) will be achieved i.e., who is going to say what and when. Contractors meeting presentation format, individual roles and goals need to be more structured and organized. You don’t want to walk away feeling unfulfilled by the results, because it is so hard to get on the Federal official’s schedule in the first place.
I wish you success and happy hunting for Federal contracts in FY 2019.
Brian Hebbel had more than 34 years of Federal contracting experience prior to his retirement in 2017. He was a Senior Acquisition Official (Group Director) at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Office of Acquisition and Grants Management. Prior to his retirement, he was the longest serving contracting official at CMS, having provided oversight to three contracting divisions awarding $1,500,000,000 in contract awards in FY 2017. Under his leadership, he provided oversight and guidance to acquisition strategies and schedules, solicitation requirements, source selection and resolving complex contracting issues. Brian is the author of “How to Market & Sell to the U.S. Government, A View from the Inside”. He very recently released a fiction literary novel, Painting Deception. He is also the President of BARC Business Advisors LLC, to Bring Acquisition Results to Contractors (BARC).