Many Federal contractors — large and small — mistakenly see their value as primarily the services or the products they offer. While competency in your capabilities is vital, we often have more value to offer than we realize! Our value proposition — whether as part of a team or as a prime — can include our technical, domain or market expertise and experience you have as well as our understanding of the customer environment where we propose to serve!
In this blog post, you’ll explore the sophisticated ways that winning Federal contractors show their value to their Federal agency customers and teaming partners…and discover four differentiators you can use to stand out in your next proposal.
The Value Proposition Challenge
As market conditions and customer demands evolve, understanding and creating your value proposition remains a continual challenge. Success requires differentiation beyond what you do and what you are selling, to rivet the attention of your Federal prospects and partners.
Federal agencies face constantly changing budgets, technologies and policy that can drive influence over procurements. So your customer knowledge, which takes many forms, can bring unique value to your offer if you already have experience anticipating how customer needs evolve in such complex, dynamic environments
What’s happening behind the procurement can be just as important as the procurement itself! Your prior customer experiences can bring valuable insights to a prime contractor as part of a bid team.
You may have been to endless matchmaking sessions, made countless phone calls, sent thousands of emails without getting the expected result. Have you incorporated your full value into those efforts or are you just placing a product or service in front of a buyer without really providing context?
Let’s start with your offering. In some instances, small businesses present a capabilities statement that only lists what areas of expertise, NAICS codes and competencies they have without expressing their offer in the form of a value proposition that encompasses their experiences and successes.
Does your offering include and illustrate the problems you can solve in the environments you might deliver them? Does it indicate where you have done this successfully? Have you identified the benefits both on the functional level and perhaps at an emotional level (what keeps them up at night..?) that can provide the results desired in both small and large-scale government organizations? Does your value proposition clearly differentiate what problems you can solve, how you solve them, or why you are the best (differentiated) solution through success stories and positive outcomes in those environments — despite the challenges and complexities?
How you solve these problems in complex environments with your unique approach and understanding of the dynamics in play is a key part of your value proposition.
Your elevator pitch and your value proposition need to start off with providing a potential customer a clear understanding of how you can help them solve problems and achieve their objectives within the organizational constraints they must operate. Fully frame your skills and background to form the approach you use to assist Federal agencies and organizations in achieving their objectives, overcoming challenges and solving issues. No one gets a clean plate to start with. Knowing the starting point is essential to success. Put yourself in the customer’s shoes to see if you can appreciate the offering you are making based on the environment—it is very much a part of what you are “selling”.
Your company may “do” IT or cyber or facilities management or energy assessments or financial services or provide a product or series of products as part of your offering—but that is not all of what you are “selling”. You are selling an approach to a challenge in an environment you understand that will result in a positive outcome with a benefit to the end user customer or organization that you have succeeded at delivering previously.
Part of your success was being able to understand, react to and deal with those complex organizational dynamics…and you need to wrap your capabilities statement around that concept as part of what your offering is. Rarely do capabilities statements and value propositions include that aspect of the offering. Including that value can make you really stand out as a teammate!
That value can be hard to express in a meaningful way. Your value proposition needs to showcase your ability to provide solutions while navigating the complexity of large-scale organizations, both DoD and Federal civilian. How should you frame it and what constitutes value?
Your stories have power! No one will remember your NAICS codes or your competencies or your list of qualifications, but if you made a significant impact and can tell that story, your potential customer or teaming partner is more likely to remember you.
The Solution: The “I’s” Have It!
If you are comfortable with your pitch, have solid expertise and an excellent set of experiences in dealing with those dynamics as a small business, then you almost certainly have relevant, memorable, stories that show your savvy. As you look at your past case studies, you might just discover that you understand more than you realized about your customer’s culture, organizational dynamics, and true needs and desires.
THAT’s where your true (and unique) value lies.
How to frame that story: Here are four simple, powerful ideas. We’ll call them the “four I’s”. (Thanks to Summit Insight’s TOPGUN coach, William Randolph for this juicy insight!)
Can you educate first…before you sell? Have you established yourself as a trusted advisor or do you have a relationship with a customer or similar customers in a dialogue about your capabilities that provides you with relevant information about their environment. If you do, you have something of value to offer, beyond what you are selling. A customer (government organization or a large business) may or may not have detailed domain expertise or information on up-to-date market capabilities.
They more than likely have some knowledge, but if they are talking to YOU as an expert, potential bidder, or just as a SB interested in the market about best practices trends and technology use in that domain, you have valuable information about their concerns. Are they challenged in execution, do they understand the changes taking place in the market or what the future holds in that area? In understanding what they have today and what are the problems, you can offer information to a potential prime or a SB team.
You may have information about infrastructure, environment or the resources involved in a customer space beyond what the prime or SB team or a competitor has. If so, you provide more than just a product or service when you can explain (to a prime or a customer) how to use that domain information.
You may know a customer’s (or set of customers) trends or objectives. You may have insight into what the political forces are, or the goals set by the Agency or customer and how they are trying to achieve them—the setbacks and the path forward, the political dynamics and budget priorities. Maybe you were part of a partner organization, previously supported the Agency or organization as an employee or contractor
If so, you may know many or most of the players at all the layers in the formal organization chart and even have connections there today.
Don’t forget to “work the white”!
On an org chart, the boxes and lines define the formal structure reporting chains. “Working the white” means to look between the lines, and suss out the informal reporting and “dotted line” or uncharted relationships that exist in real life.
That intel is priceless. Even better, your insider experience has shown you how things get done and what it takes to move forward on ideas and concepts relative to the opportunity. Your intuitive understanding could be even more valuable to a customer or a prime taking on a bid than your actual technical expertise! You have something of value to offer that could be traded for workshare on a contract or provide you a differentiator.
This is information that may not be widely known, but through research diligence and focus–you have it. You dug into Federal opportunity databases, you went to Industry Day, you engaged in the “one on ones” with the program team, you assessed and analyzed the RFI’s and the responses to questions. You have bid this organization’s opportunities before and have proposal scars and “debriefs”. This is more than the information about the environment or the insights into “players and layers.”
This could be the intelligence surrounding the acquisition strategy preferred by the organization, the potential Source Selection Authority, the buyer preferences, dependencies on critical decision-making steps, funds availability and timeline. You understand and have access to at a very important level to some data driven intelligence that is available to the public–but you did the homework! This is all completely ethical: it’s a matter of leveraging opportunity and gaining the advantage of information available through diligence and determination. Such intelligence can be vital to a potential prime and their ultimate ability to win the bid!
Probably one of the most important aspects of the government contracting world is the quality of communication within the right relationships. Bid teams are often trying to achieve customer intimacy—understanding the customer at their needs level. Customer intimacy is not necessarily about the depth of personal friendships or the breadth of your relationships.
It’s about your ability to communicate honestly and deeply about the issues and challenges that matter to a specific player at their unique “layer” or role and within the context of their responsibilities. You can have customer intimacy through a series of conversations, and you can lack customer intimacy even though you have had many conversations.
The number of times you engage with a customer is ultimately less important than the quality and timing of that engagement: whether they are willing to take your calls when it matters; whether they listen when you engage with them; whether you truly hear what they have to say. Do you have credibility with a government customer or a prime contractor capture manager in understanding their needs at a deep level? That is intimacy! That is value!
Being able to combine these information areas into a solid story of success to demonstrate your value to a team is a key part of your value proposition. If so, you have VALUE beyond the capabilities you offer. No one remembers a list of NAICS or just a technology competency, they will remember a story—especially one that puts your value in the context of their customer. Develop a story around your offering and your value.
Then seek chances to tell your story so you can hear, “you add value, welcome to the team”.
Ready to put these ideas to work on your next proposal? Boost your win rate: Check out our power toolkit, Building Blocks of a Winning Proposal
Meet the Author: Kevin Hoey, Former Senior Director, Programs and Business Development Executive for General Dynamics Information Technology where he planned and directed efforts to drive growth and business development operations focused on Space and Missile Defense community, US Army Corps of Engineers, US Marine Corps Requirements generation, Space and Missile Defense Command, Army Aviation and Missile Center, Army Materiel Command and Missile Defense Agency in a wide range of professional, IT and engineering services. Developed comprehensive business plans defining potential market share and opportunities for growth in Missile Defense, engineering services, IT and Energy markets. Influences the development of relationships with business partners, potential customers and prospects within assigned technical and business areas. Mentor and Business Coach for the Women’s Business Center of North Alabama. MS from the Industrial College of the Armed Forces as well as DOD CIO, IA, IO and EGov Certificates from National Defense University. MS from Florida Institute of Technology. Colonel, USMC (Ret.)