What if you’re perceived as average even when you’re not? What if your prospective customer does not see what makes you different? What if you look like everyone else? In a competitive market like government contracts, average is a bad place to be. That’s because the deciding point between offerors who are average is, you guessed it, lowest price.
If your customer is ill-informed, they are going to perceive most companies word for average and you’ll end up in a knife fight over price.
So, what to do?
If you read my blogs, watch my webinars, listen to my podcasts, or attend my training sessions, you know that I pound the table on the topic of targeting. The two most important factors in your success as a government contractor are your ability to TARGET, and your ability to apply CONTEXT.
I’ll tackle targeting first. Stay tuned for how to address this with context in a future article.
I got to touch a lot of source selections as a CO. For the purposes of this article, I’ll put these source selections into two groups:
Group 1. Goods and services I easily understood how they worked. Examples are grounds maintenance, personal security, project management, dry suits, ATVs, and so on. I could tell “good work from bad”, right?
Group 2. Goods and services where I needed help to grasp the intricacies of how they worked. Examples are software development, radar telemetry, aircraft maintenance, training simulators, counter intelligence, cyber security, and so on. I needed help to tell “good work from bad”, right?
Group 1 seems like the ‘easier’ one because I could understand when someone had met the requirement in their proposal (or not). Group 2 would be more difficult for me to discern good from bad since these source selections tended to be more complex, take longer and have more engineers, scientists, and government experts involved in helping me make a source selection decision.
However, I found that it was equally difficult to tell good work (or great work) from bad in both groups. Even for the less complex requirement (a commercial ATV for example), it was difficult to tell the key differences between the ATVs. They all met the requirement. So the default comes down to price. Ouch.
As the CO, I had to translate how the ATV met the users’ requirement through what was in the proposal. Without glaring differentiators, it was difficult to choose the ‘best’ over the good enough.
So what to do?
Target those agencies and opportunities where you have an advantage; where your strengths shine like diamonds. Focus on the opportunities where the customer will inherently know what makes your solution great, as opposed to just good enough.
As a CO, the times when I saw this done well (like how we help our members’ write their proposals now) is when the company behind the proposal is targeted to that specific requirement. Because those businesses were focused on doing these few things in my RFP and doing them very well, their great work showed because:
their language was more crisp (no fluff!)
their evidence was more compelling (with actual numbers, examples, and photos!)
their past performance was more relevant (and aligned with our specific need)
And as a bonus, their story was compelling and shorter! As an example of how this applied to a Skyway customer, we helped a client win a $62M contract with a 27-page proposal – and the page limit was 30 pages. How does someone create a winning proposal in 10% less space? By being hyper focused. They could show what great work looked like in less than 30 pages. As a result, they stood out and won. When you’re targeting, your ability to do great work is much easier to explain.
Of its many values, targeting ensures you focus your limited resources and energy on finding the best ways to show how your solution is great, not average. It’s how you show your prospective customer good work from bad. By contrast, if you throw a wide net throughout your many NAICS codes and chasing lots of opportunities that are ‘good enough’ you risk looking like everyone else and being ‘good enough’ (read: average).
To show that I’m not just preaching, this applies to Skyway too: Of all the people we could help, we target only those people who are already working with government contracts. That is a fraction of the people who are looking get a government contract.
Because those who are already in the midst of managing a contract (or subcontract) fully appreciate how helpful (or frustrating) the CO’s perspective can be. Those many, many people who are just Googling “government contracting” without looking for more context are not a fit for us. As a Skyway member, you know we bring a different level of solution. However, the majority of people who just ‘want a government contract’ do not. They can’t tell good work from bad. By intentionally not targeting those companies, we are able to unleash our value on those who really understand it – those who work with Contacting Officers and want to do it better.
NOTE: Please don’t think I’m a savant here. It took me the first three years of Skyway to figure this out. We’re only been targeting like this for the last two years. Coincidentally, I’ll bet you became a member in the last two years…right?
Targeting works, and helps your customers know good work from bad.