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How “Automatic Thinking” Can Impact Your Government Sales Strategy

September 28, 2022 | Business Development, Government

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio: https://www.pexels.com/photo/photo-of-man-holding-black-eyeglasses-3760137/

I recently read about a phenomenon called “automatic thinking.” If you’ve ever heard the old adage “to a carpenter, everything looks like a nail,” you won’t be surprised to learn that it reminded me of doing business with the government. (What can I say? I think about work even when I’m not working.)

First, let’s define automatic thinking: and it’s best understood through an example. Consider the thoughts you may have after someone looks at you “the wrong way.” You might race down the rabbit hole. “They’re angry at me,” “They don’t like me,” etc. The truth is, there could be nothing to it, and your thoughts may be completely inaccurate–but it nevertheless may affect how you relate to other people and respond to the situation at hand.

So, how can automatic thinking impact our response to government opportunities? Here are a few scenarios that may sound familiar:

    • You review an RFP with requirements that may be a stretch for you to meet, but you perceive the incumbent, which has had the contract for 10 years, can easily meet them. You also know the incumbent has a personal relationship with the government customer. Contracting doesn’t offer answers to questions in the detail we would have expected. Where can our automatic thoughts go? “This RFP is wired!”
  • You continue to struggle to get sales for a specific product. You have a couple of small contracts but don’t see very many opportunities on SAM for the product. Your competitor just got their GSA schedule. What does automatic thinking tell you? “We have to have a GSA Schedule to win government sales!”
  • You’ve been pursuing government business for six months and you haven’t won any contracts. You check SAM every day, cut your prices, and have called contracting officers a couple of times with no response. What is your automatic thought? “Government sales only works for groups that have special interests, like large businesses, or people with specific socioeconomic backgrounds.” 

How do I know that you may have these thoughts? Because I have them, too. And if I’m being honest about the root cause of thinking, it all comes down to fear–fear of the amount of time it would take to respond, that is–and ultimately have it all be in vain. However, it’s critical to recognize when we are making business decisions based on emotion. Now, emotion isn’t a bad thing but it can stop us from thinking clearly. If we look at the truth in the situations outlined above, as opposed to our emotions, we may come to different solutions:

  • It is true that incumbents lose contracts often for a handful of reasons, so we never can know if one is “wired.” Using your go/no-go decision matrix–a rational, more objective approach–is a much better guide. 
  • Look up GSA data and see how many of the products you sell were bought on the schedule. If multiple contracts appear, pursuing a schedule may be a good business decision. You also may find that they buy off other contract vehicles much more frequently. Being reactive and following your competition, therefore may not serve you and may cause you to miss out on larger opportunities.
  • Last year, over 20% of all contract purchases were awarded to small businesses, not just those with socio-economic statuses. I recently spoke with an agency that said they are on pace to award almost 80% of their contract dollars to small businesses. If you aren’t a large business and don’t have a socio-economic status, follow the data to find who buys the services you sell from traditional small businesses and develop relationships with them. Two phone calls to a contracting officer does not a relationship make. See when specific contracts assigned to a contracting officer expire. Reach out to the small business liaison and ask who you need to be talking to. Search previous RFQs/RFPs for other contacts that may be an end user of the products or services you sell. Do the homework. 

Automatic thoughts can cripple our thinking in our personal lives–and in our government sales strategy, too. When you have an automatic thought, take a step back, notice the emotions and thoughts that go through your mind, and refocus on the facts. And if you need an objective opinion, contact me at [email protected] or connect with me on LinkedIn. There’s a good chance I’ll already be thinking about government business.


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MYTH: Companies cannot do business with the federal government if they aren’t connected politically to the party in power.

FACT: The federal government’s procurement process is designed to be one of the most objective, transparent processes in the world of business. Contracting officers are forbidden to award federal contracts based on politics. Furthermore, elected officials are forbidden to interfere with the agency’s contracting process.

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