When’s The Best Time To Start Your Government Business Strategy?
November 23, 2022 | Business Development, Government
Photo by Jess Bailey Designs: https://www.pexels.com/photo/close-up-photo-of-yearly-planner-beside-a-pen-1558691/
People have often asked me when is the best time to begin your government business strategy. My answer is always, “yesterday.” They often get annoyed with this answer–and I understand why. It’s annoying and unhelpful–even if it is true!
So, instead of giving you a sarcastic answer, I’ll share some data:
- Almost $4.5T in federal government spending was obligated in 2022
- The most (27.1% of what was spent in FY22) was spent in the 4th quarter (July-Sep)
- The quarter with the least amount (23.9%) of activity was Q2 (January – March)
This seems to indicate that businesses should start in Q4 and avoid starting in Q2. However, this is not the case. Let’s look at each quarter and some of the advantages of starting in that time period.
1st Quarter (October – December)
When I got my start in government contracting, I used to use this time to….well…goof off. Why spend any time working on strategy after a grueling season of RFIs, RFQs and awards? It appeared as if the government was doing the same since there were no opportunities on SAM. “With five government holidays in Q1 (Columbus Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s),” I wondered, “is anyone really putting in quality time?”
What I’ve learned is that Q1 is prime time for government agencies to put together acquisition forecasts for the upcoming year. They are defining what needs to be purchased and the dollar range for the procurement, and beginning market research to determine any set asides. So, Q1 is a prime time for small businesses to reach out to small business liaisons in each agency to discuss opportunities. Try to schedule a meeting, but don’t send your capabilities statement–at least not yet. Focus the introduction on them. Do your research beforehand and only ask questions during the meeting about information that can’t be found elsewhere. Also, find ways to stay connected with the small business liaison. Where are they located? What do they like? How do they work (in the office or remotely)? And definitely ask if they have any upcoming Industry Days.
This is also a great time to put together or refine your marketing materials: capabilities statements, a government page on your website, and your pitch, for example. But don’t let perfection in this area stop you from taking the first step of asking for a meeting. Your marketing materials will change a bazillion times in the coming year. Make sure they look professional, of course, and ask someone you trust to give you honest feedback, but getting it done is more important than getting it done perfectly.
2nd Quarter (January – March)
Anything you didn’t start in Q1 can be started in Q2 (or later, for that matter). There are other things that deserve attention, too.
This is an excellent time to attend Industry Days for the agencies who buy what you sell and even for opportunities close to what you sell but that you are not targeting. Why? Because either way, those you’ll meet at an Industry Day may buy what you sell and this is an excellent time to put a face with a name. If you are attending virtually, make sure you ask questions, turn your camera on if possible, and dress appropriately to make a positive first impression. Immediately after, follow up with a thank you note to each of the speakers, ask follow-up questions, or compliment them on the content they shared. If you learned you have anything in common with them, connect those dots. However, don’t pitch them in this message. There will be time for that later. Wait at least a week and then try to schedule a meeting.
In Q2, also schedule meetings with contracting officers and program managers. Hopefully, your small business liaison provided you with some possible contacts. You can also find the contact information for who buys what you sell in SAM. Like the meetings referenced previously, this isn’t a time to pitch them on your services. It’s time to get to know them, their agency, how they do business, and the challenges they face. Come to the meeting prepared by doing as much research as possible.
If you sell products or subcontract some of the services you sell to the government, you may be given a price increase around this time since most companies work on a calendar fiscal year. This is also a great time to negotiate your pricing with these subcontractors. Get creative. Ask if you can rescind the price increase if you agree to specific payment terms or specifically for government customers. Talk about opportunities in your customer’s forecasts and their willingness to provide special pricing for those opportunities.
3rd Quarter (April – June)
Continue to do everything outlined above. Make a focused last push.
Often, agencies have deadlines to submit their requisitions to contracting officers by sometime around June. Each agency has a different date. This means all the end user’s market research must be completed by then. You can help make their job easier by providing information, while also influencing the acquisition in your favor. Restate your capabilities. Restate your certifications. Don’t assume they know you have a GSA Schedule. Lay it out for them. Show them. Don’t wait for an RFI to do it either. Cite FAR clauses that might benefit your company: Brand Name or Equal, Sole Source Criteria, or Set Aside Guidelines, for example. Don’t, however, imply that you know everything and they don’t. Say something like, “This is how I interpret (insert FAR Clause). Can you share your thoughts?” Remember, the money the government obligates to contracts continues to grow while the number of contracting officers continues to diminish. Any way you can give them time back will be helpful.
Sometimes little actual market research is completed before a requisition is given to a contracting officer. Therefore, the contracting officer must release a Sources Sought or Request for Information. Based on last year’s SAM announcements, the most Sources Sought/RFIs were released in the 3rd quarter–almost 30% of the entire year’s total, in fact. The next sentence is very important to understand and execute if you want to be successful in your government business sales strategy. If you see an RFI and plan on responding to the subsequent RFQ/RFP, YOU MUST FIND A WAY TO RESPOND TO THIS RFI! Don’t say you’ll just wait until the RFQ/RFP is released. Are you saying you don’t mind if it becomes an open competition as opposed to some type of small business set aside? You don’t want any of the salient characteristics to be relaxed to be more inclusive of other brands including yours? You want to miss out on the opportunity altogether because the contracting officer decided to send the RFQ only to those who responded to the sources sought notice? You want to miss out on a chance on a sole source opportunity? I assume your answer to all of these questions is “no,” but not responding to the RFI in a strategic way is as good as answering “yes.”
4th Quarter (July – September)
The second busiest quarter for RFIs last year was the fourth quarter. This is contracting’s last push to do their research and find the easiest way to award their agency’s budgeted dollars. So it is important to continue your push to respond to RFIs. Find a way. Don’t miss them. It may be the difference between a contract award and missing the opportunity to submit a bid.
In some cases, even the most inexperienced contractors with little or no past performance might have the chance to win a contract. Simplified Acquisitions, which often have an award threshold of $250K, allow the government to purchase what they need quickly and benefit small businesses–especially those with no previous past performance. While some of these are evaluated in the terms of best value, where the government can choose the product or service based on criteria including price, these opportunities’ evaluation criteria often include Low Price Technically Acceptable (LPTA). This means if the product or service is deemed by the evaluation to meet the criteria/specifications, the lowest price wins. Look for bids where your competitor’s product is specified but where the government would accept equals. It is up to you, though, to identify how your product meets the specs. One option: use a matrix comparing the government’s specs to those of your product. Also, do your research and establish a competitive price range, and ask suppliers for their best quote if you don’t feel you will be competitive.
It may feel like we are coming full circle with my last recommendation: Reach out to small business liaisons–but not contracting officers themselves. In Q4, contracting officers are focused on awarding contracts quickly. Small business liaisons are more likely to be working on next year’s forecast. So if you aren’t super busy with bids, this may be the time to connect with them.
There are many opportune times to engage in specific activities, but most of these activities can be done at any time. However, sometimes it’s best to focus on specific actions at specific times. I hope this article has helped you understand what to do when–and moreover, that the best time to start your government business strategy is, well…..today!
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MYTH: Doing business with the government does not rely on relationships and does not require any marketing. All that is required finding opportunities on web sites and responding with quotes/proposals.
FACT: Having great relationships with government end users can provide more opportunities beyond RFQs/RFPs posted to government web sites. Some opportunities do not even require the government put it out for a competitive bid process so knowing someone could present more chances to do business. Furthermore, relationships also help build positive past performance history which is critical to winning future opportunities.