My 7-year-old daughter, when working on a puzzle, knows to glance at the whole picture first, before starting to assemble the pieces. So, her process is to study the picture, and then find a corner piece to which she then starts adding pieces.
We, as adults, sometimes forget to take a step back and look at the whole picture first when we solve our own puzzles: how to grow our company, how to get a contract, or how to bring in revenue. This is why an important tip for winning government contracts is to step back and take a few minutes to ponder the full life-cycle of business development. This way we can be better at putting the pieces together.
The several steps below shows a typical business development life-cycle for a government contracting company.
Step 1: Strategic business development planning is the corner piece of the puzzle. It is necessary because it becomes your beacon when you start looking at a universe of opportunities. Businesses often fall into a trap of working without a plan, or writing the plan once, and then leaving it to collect virtual (and physical) dust while they are engaged in the routine day-to-day operations. The trick here is to stick to the plan that you keep up to date, and avoid jumping at every opportunity that may have nothing to do with the plan but seems attractive at the moment.
Step 2: Market research is the next step. It goes hand-in-hand with your strategic business development plan and makes the whole planning process somewhat iterative. In order for you to plan, you need to know which vertical markets you are going to go into, and who are your ideal customers. This leads you to more detailed research, which then feeds your planning process.
Step 3: Pipeline development is the natural outcome of your market research. Now that you know which agencies and which areas you are going to explore, you will need to zoom in further and develop a list of opportunities that you are then going to narrow down further and further as you learn more about them. These opportunities will be in the near term with a request for proposal coming out in 1-6 months, the mid-term – with an opportunity expected to open up in the next 6 months to 1 year, and long term – 1-5 years out. Some of the large and important opportunities may then make it into your strategic plan – and you may start calling them strategic bids or must-win opportunities. Marketing to the federal government is related to the overall effort of attracting customers to your company, and creating awareness of your brand and offers.
Step 4: Opportunity identification narrows down the list to the select few pursuits that you decide to dedicate a significant effort to pursue. Each of these individual opportunities then enters the capture phase.
Step 5: Capture management. Capture (yes, it’s what it’s called in the professional business development circles) often is the longest step in the business development life-cycle. It has to do with positioning yourself pre-proposal for a specific opportunity. A proposal usually has a short deadline, whereas capture may take years. It doesn’t necessarily mean years of someone doing it full time. It means years of deliberate activities all leading you up to the victory. For example, I once ran a capture effort for 2.5 years for a billion dollar plus pursuit, but only spent $50,000 on my time and the time of an entire team of specialists during the first two years. It was not until the last 6 months of the capture effort that we had to focus a lot and start spending more money.
Step 6: Proposal management. Proposal management (or proposal preparation) is essentially just that: managing the development of a winning proposal document to deliver it by the deadline. It is an iterative process that usually involves multiple contributors and a set of reviews to check quality and progress. Here are some of the most important characteristics of a winning proposal, majority of which stem from a well-run capture effort:
– Matching the solution with the customer’s wishes and vision through a solid capture effort.
– Great process that gets you to the deadline without undue stress and allows you sufficient time to polish your document.
– Targeted features and benefits, with a clear value proposition.
Step 7: BD during implementation. The reason contract delivery is part of the business development life cycle is simple: once you have a government contract, the ground is ripe for adding scope (what is called “an up-sell” in sales).
Your people who work on the project with the customer are your eyes and ears if you train them correctly in the capture process. They can find out about the need for additional work, and inform your business developer. Your business developer will pay a visit to the government representative, learning more about the requirements. They can then use this information to submit a white paper or an unsolicited proposal. This may result in adding scope to your existing contract.
Your staff on the ground can also tell your business developers about other requirements they may be hearing about that may not yield themselves to adding scope. These are new additions to your pipeline – but these additions are infinitely more valuable than others because you get to hear about them early, they are from an existing customer that bought from you before and therefore trusts you more, and you already have a relationship.
During implementation, you also generate past performance track record that you can leverage in your next proposal. On the other hand, if you don’t do well, then you get to tarnish your record with the government very quickly – and this record proliferates from this customer to other government agencies through various past performance databases. It is important that once you have won a contract, you do a great job. Do whatever it takes to deliver and please your customer.
So, now you have the big picture, and know how all the pieces of the business development puzzle are supposed to fit together.