October and November can be just as busy for government contractors as August and September, but for different reasons. If you’re wondering what we mean by that, here are three things that smart contractors are doing now:
1. Increasing Their Knowledge: Whether it’s through a training class or conference, the calendar is full of these activities and many contract and BD professionals attend more than one. This includes contract compliance and ethics training. These may not be glamorous, but they are absolutely essential if you want the government to write you checks without your having to write checks back to the government.
2. Networking: In addition to increasing your knowledge base, events are great for expanding your network. Whether it’s a key new contact with another company, a new federal face, or an opportunity for your own personal advancement, it is vital to remember that government acquisition is a relationship-based business. There is no better time than right now to build on your existing network.
3. Showing Their Customers Their FY’19 “Model Year” Lineup: The start of the fiscal year may be the best time to roll out new solutions and services. Think of it as your “2019 Federal Model Year”. Prospective federal customers often have more time to meet in the first and second quarters of the year – and they absolutely do want to know what’s new and innovative. Make sure you’ve got glossy new things to show them, in addition to the reliable stuff they’ll probably actually buy later. The bottom line is that this is the time of year you set the foundation for sales success down the road.
The impact of electronic commerce on federal commercial item acquisition continues to expand. Even as GSA works diligently to implement a sound platform in response to Congressional mandates, individual agencies aren’t standing still. E-commerce is undeniably the shiny new toy in this market, just as reverse auctions and LPTA were before it. That toy, though, may not always meet proper safety standards. If you’re facing a smitten customer, here are three questions to ask them: 1. Is the company you’re buying from authorized to sell to you? Unauthorized re-sellers are a real problem in e-commerce. Buy from one and kiss your warranty or return capabilities good-bye. No OEM will come to the rescue if you brought outside of their authorized distribution channels. Unauthorized sellers waste government money. 2. Are you sure you’re getting what you ordered? A 2016 CNBC story likened one e-commerce site to, “a chaotic, somewhat lawless, bazaar…”. If you’re not sure who you’re buying from, you’re not sure what you’re getting. Counterfeit goods = unsecure, compromised systems, even if it’s “only” a printer. Is putting your agency at risk really worth it? 3. Are you getting the best price? E-commerce sites may or may not offer the best prices for “quantity of one” items. The reality varies widely based on what’s being brought. How often, though, does your customer buy in quantities of one? Deeper discounts are likely available from established contractors, especially when there is good competition. These are hallmarks of the government’s acquisition system for a reason. The bottom line is that, while e-commerce can indeed be a quick and effective way for commercial acquisitions, agencies put themselves, and taxpayer dollars, at risk when they toss out the rulebook. E-commerce has a place in this market, but only when agencies remember to apply the same standards to those acquisitions as they do to others.
The Technology Modernization Fund (TMF) may get additional money after all, once Senate appropriators finish their work on outstanding appropriations bills. The Fund, a revolving account designed to encourage federal agencies to specifically replace obsolete technology, was originally slated to get $150 million extra for FY’19. That money, however, was stripped out by Senators who had concerns over transparency and accountability. Those issues seem to have largely been addressed now and Congressional supporters are optimistic that at least a portion of the $150 million originally slated will be provided. There are $55 million left in the fund from the original FY’18 appropriations, with much of that money expected to be obligated to specific projects soon. Contractors are being encouraged to play a role in promoting the Fund to their customers. While many federal agencies now about the Fund, some still do not. You cannot assume that your buyer knows about this unique source of funding. Make sure you know how projects can qualify and where to point your customers to in order to get additional information. Remember, too, that Fund money must be repaid by agencies that use it. Helping your customer to devise a business case to obtain Fund money is a good strategy that could pay-off for both customer and contractor.
We always recommend using the time immediately after the end of the fiscal year to work on networking. Most of the effort, properly, goes toward cultivating better relationships with government officials. How much time do you spend improving relationships with your small business partners and other team members, though? If you’re still using the same team as FY’15, it may be time to make sure these relationships are still serving you well. While there has been a net outflow of smaller businesses in the government market over the past several years, some that have entered in are uniquely adept at both offering new technologies and making use of innovative acquisition methods such as OTA’s (see above) or GSA’s Commercial Solutions Offering (CSO). Teaming up with these businesses can help broaden your reach in the government market by making better use of innovative acquisition methods while providing you with a technological edge. Certainly, existing partners need attention, as well. Good partners are worth their weight in gold. It’s never a bad thing, though, to look around and see what new entries may have to offer. When you’re in the business of providing cutting edge solutions to federal agencies, it’s good to have partners that can keep you sharp