To satisfy the market research needs of federal buyers, many IT firms in the federal sector create marketing materials and presentations that are often nothing more than introductions to the firm, the firm’s capabilities, and little else that fail to discuss the one thing that is important to the customer: How will you solve my problem?
The one-on-one meeting is an excellent opportunity to present these materials and differentiate your offerings, specifically a business case or a position paper. The goal is twofold: (1) leave a lasting impression, and (2) make a successful argument to help shape the request for proposal (RFP) in your favor.
Do not waste the government’s time with standard marketing materials. Instead, focus a position paper and these materials on the problem in terms the customer understands, highlight the pain points and the gaps, explain the company’s position on the needed changes to the RFP during this market research, and most importantly, why those changes benefit the government.
The government is under no obligation to make any changes to the RFP, of course. However, an effective case may just change the government’s position, and provide needed market research information that not only improves the RFP but improves the chances of your firm is better positioned to win.
When preparing a position paper or attending a marketing meeting, keep these issues in mind:
- Who should present? – One of the worst mistakes that IT firms make is to send just engineers, or just business development people, to these meetings. There needs to be a balance of personnel such that issues are explained in a fashion that clearly articulates the position and the problem, but more importantly, how the government benefits. Further, determining who will participate in the team, such as key subcontract project managers, is another consideration.
- Who should receive our paper? – That question is answered by answering another question: “Who is the decision-maker?” Often, the government’s project manager will be the target audience, since the issues and problems tend to be of a technical nature. However, if the issue is a contractual matter, then the contracting officer might be the best recipient.
- What do we present? – As previously mentioned, less is best. Provide information in a clear, precise, accurate, and easy-to-understand manner. Government personnel is incredibly busy, and they simply do not have the time to guess at your solution, or worse, be forced to make assumptions that create unnecessary risks. By taking these measures, the message has a much better chance of being understood and received, explained to others and shared, and acted upon. Further, the goal is also to have the government see you as a possible trusted partner to solve a problem. Nonetheless, remember that this information will more than likely be shared, so keep that in mind regarding your intellectual property or other information that might get in the hands of competitors, to your detriment.
- Make precise recommendations – Remember that a position paper, or information shared in these meetings, is an opportunity to educate the customer, so make specific recommendations, such as specific RFP language changes. This way, information can be acted upon without further development to solve the problem. You want the government to keep your firm’s solution in mind, not simply place your information in the pile building on the corner of the buyer’s desk.
- Be realistic – Nothing is more frustrating to government personnel to have their valuable time wasted taking these meetings, or reading these position papers, to find out the problem raised by the firm cannot be solved, or that regulations and policy dictate a certain course of action contrary to the firm’s position. Firms need to do their homework and ensure that the problems be addressed, and more importantly, the solution can be resolved within the constraints of the environment the customer operates.
As stated, the most important thing you want is the customer to understand your position and act upon it. Do your homework, differentiate your offerings, don’t waste the customer’s time, and present your position such that the government’s best interest is to follow your advice and counsel, and help shape the RFP in your favor.