Are you willing to do the work to get in front of federal buyers for the win? If so, it’s closing time.
Yes it’s September, but it’s still not too late to close more federal contracts
Welcome to the home stretch of the Federal Fiscal year end, your last chance to close contracts before the new fiscal year gets underway.
At this point, you may be waiting to hear back on the last of your submitted proposals. Or you could be pushing through the final review of proposals that need to get out. You might even be in the enviable position of madly taking orders for year-end purchases.
Either way, there’s still time for you to bring home more of the federal wins you’ve worked hard on for months.
If you’re a seasoned govcon, you already know what those new to the industry are just finding out: Federal buyers are often just as motivated to spend money as govcons are to win their business.
This spend-at-year-end mentality is due to a unique facet of government buying, which is that, often, if money doesn’t get spent by the end of the fiscal year, it disappears. The authority to spend it goes away. And federal buyers must start all over again with a new budget request that can put them in pretty much the same place 12 months later.
You want to sell; they want to buy.
It’s a match made in heaven—if you understand that the average federal buyer in the market for more than a bucket of bolts usually has a pretty good idea of who they want to work with when they’re ready to buy products, services, or both.
These buyers don’t have time for complicated competitions at the approach of fiscal year end. They want to follow the rules. They want to buy what’s easy. And they want to make the low-risk choice, which often boils down to choosing the vendor they know, like, and trust.
Once you understand how they like to buy, all you need to do is have the right conversations with the right person early enough, generate know-like-trust, and then stay in touch so you’re still their top choice when the money opens up.
Piece of cake, right?
Not so much. If this were easy, everybody would do it.
In this post, I’ll set the stage for your next fiscal year-end wins by sharing several actions that’ll help you make the most of every one of the days left between now and September 30th.
Before we dig in, let me introduce—or reintroduce—you to a special piece of equipment that can help you get the job done: ye olde telephone.
The telephone: Your greatest sales opportunity and know-like-trust advantage
How do you become someone your buyers know, like, and trust, especially now, given that most in-person contacts are little to none?
Yes, it’s the telephone.
You must have conversations with people.
“But…” you may say, “What if they say no?”
Gosh, you’re a business owner, or you’re in sales; of course that will happen!
My friend Mark Amtower once reported that 67% of federal buyers who are authorized to purchase information technology are never called on by anyone.
By no one.
Think about the lost opportunity!
Don’t be shy. You might be your federal buyer’s knight in shining armor.
Yes, picking up the phone and making calls may be uncomfortable, which is why so few people do it.
Do you want to WIN? Then be one of the few.
Before you pick up the phone, remind yourself of the amazing value you—and YOU alone bring to your federal humans, your buyers.
STAND in that value. Own it.
Remind yourself that you are doing a service by offering to solve people’s problems.
If you do not call, if you do not offer, you do them a disservice; you leave them to struggle.
And if that mini pep-talk doesn’t help, if you still feel sick at the thought of making these calls, then… may I suggest ever so kindly that you just… suck it up?
It gets easier, I promise.
Here’s how to use that tool to get into action—to become the go-to, trusted resource now and throughout the next fiscal year.
Activate your 12x factor… because winning federal contracts is about relationships
Did you know that someone who’s already done business with you is 12 times more likely to buy from you again than someone who’s never heard of you?
Let that sink in.
If you’re scrambling around, pumping out proposals in response to RFPs you find online, for people you’ve never met, in agencies you’ve never worked in…
You’re working 12 times harder than you need to.
And your odds of winning are in the single digits, at best.
There is a better way, and that is to activate your existing relationships.
never worked in…
First, make your 12x federal sales relationship-building contact lists.
Yes, that’s “lists,” plural:
- Current Customers and Clients list
- Projects and Requirements list
- Small Business Specialists list
The first list captures Current Customers and Clients… the ones who pay you on time, come back for more, and send their friends.
Start with the people who know when your birthday is.
Then, add to that list:
- People you’ve been talking to
- People you’ve written a proposal for
- People you’ve already met—even if you’re embarrassed to have not followed up with them yet
Make a tick mark next to end users and contracting officers; you’ll want to start with those people first.
Then, build another 12x list with specific notes about Projects and Requirements you can help with.
After you’ve made a few rounds of calls there, note the Small Business Specialists in your circles. You’ll also want to contact them to show your work, and to ask who else and what else you may have missed.
Jot down a few notes about how you know the people on your lists, when you last talked with them… and then start calling.
Make your 12x phone calls
When making your 12x calls, chances are good that you’ll leave more voice messages than you will get someone on the phone right away.
First, let’s talk about what to say when they answer, including how to ask for referrals when they say no. Then we’ll cover what to say and how to respond when they don’t answer.
The 12x call: Here’s what to say when federal buyers answer the phone
Start with a soft, kind, conversation. Ask them how they’re doing, and what’s been happening.
Stop and really listen to the answer.
You know, there’s no such thing as doing business with “The Government.” There’s only doing business with PEOPLE.
Your federal buyers are people. People like you.
In times like these, they may be unexpectedly working from home, with their lives turned upside down. Kids may be sharing bandwidth. Distant family who might be stressed may have suddenly moved in with them.
Certainly, they are isolated from the camaraderie of colleagues. And now they’re dealing with all the deadlines and responsibilities of the end of the federal fiscal year.
This is the time of year when it’s okay for you to say, “I’m not looking for the big projects. Nothing’s too small for me. What’s an annoying project that never gets done? Let me take that one off your hands.”
They don’t need you?
Great. Now you can ask for referrals and introductions.
Ask for referrals and introductions, plus a high six-figure example
If you’re on the phone with this contact, chances are that they already know, like, and trust you. If they say no (and even if they don’t!), ask, “Who would you call If you were me? Who else would you call?”
Here’s how powerful that is.
Jennifer Rhodes, VP of Business Development at Tagence, had a small, $10,000 pilot project at the Office of the Secretary of Defense in the Pentagon.
She finished with good results and, more important, a relationship and a follow-up conversation during which she asked, “Who else needs what we do?”
Her contact had heard about a need from another entity at DoD, someone who needed a records management system (like the one she just worked on) to comply with National Archives and Records Administration requirements.
That single question led to close to a million dollars of work.
Here’s how she did it.
- Before the follow-up conversation, Jennifer built what she calls a “soft capture deck”—a semi-generic presentation for an unspecified client.
- During the call, she kept asking questions to find out who the client really was and the point of contact.
- Next, she sent a few emails and made a few phone calls.
- Armed with the details she had gathered, she did a “drive by,” telling the buyer that she was going to be in the area… could she come in to talk?
The buyer said yes, and together they whiteboarded out the project, and put together the skeleton of what a proposal would look like.
Tagence delivered that project, continued to provide enhancements, and was able to modify the contract to add more work for that same fiscal year.
Nearly a million dollars in revenue came from asking the question, “Who else needs what we do?”
You should ask that question as well.
Also keep in mind that even agencies want to work with you, if they’re out of money and time, they might not want to start a conversation.
If that happens, don’t be afraid to say, “Is there anyone else at your other locations or regions, or at your sister agencies, who might need what we offer and has money to spend? Have you heard any rumblings?”
Believe me, buyers know who has money because peers talk to each other.
If you don’t ask, someone else reading this post might do it instead.
The 12x voicemail: Here’s what to say when federal buyers don’t answer the phone
Although it seems counter-intuitive, voicemail is a powerful way for you to be ready, memorable, and top-of-mind for the people who hold the keys to federal contracts.
It’s the most solution-focused, powerful, fact-based message you have. Make it cheerful, energetic, just as enthusiastic as if you REALLY had them on the line… and they’re going to look forward to hearing from you when you finally connect.
When you begin making calls, don’t be surprised if no one picks up the phone on the first try (in fact, be ready for the shock if you do), and do have a short, cheery, caring message to leave if you do.
- Express that your business is growing and you’re looking for new projects. A message like is exciting! Imagine the buyer listening in, thinking, “What’s that? This person isn’t begging? They’re not on their last gasp of cash? Their business has grown? They’re looking for new projects? Awesome!” How positive is that?
- Speak to something you know matters to them—refer to the project, problem, or need your research shows you know they have.
- Let them know when you’ll be calling back—the day and the time, in their time zone.
- Put it on your calendar and be sure you DO just that.
When you do what you say you’re going to do, even if all you do is leave another voicemail, you’ve actually achieved something powerful: You’ve demonstrated that you’re someone who keeps their promises. This simple practice can set you apart from your competition and help you become top of mind.
Especially if your message is short, upbeat, and specific.
Do the double tap
The double-tap method goes like this: voicemail [tap] plus email [tap].
Have an email ready to go so you can send it as soon as you hit voicemail.
Make the subject line about the specific RFP, product, or need you can help with.
Begin with “I missed you when I called today….”
Craft your 30-second commercial
When you leave messages, assume that they’re going to call you back when they have an opportunity.
Maybe they’re a little busy. Maybe you’re not the right person.
Even so, leave a friendly, fun, approachable message—a little commercial about what you do and how you provide the best value.
When you begin leaving messages, you’ll notice that you’re crafting different commercials and different values for different types of people. Templatize those scripts so you can continue to use them.
After a while, whether they call you back or not, they’re going to know what you do. They’re going to know who you are. And if they run into someone who needs what you do, they’re going to say, “You know, this person keeps calling me and leaving me these great, positive messages. I haven’t used them yet, but why don’t you give them a call?”
You’ll be surprised at how much people will know about you when you finally speak to them after leaving multiple messages.
This has happened to me many times. I get on the phone for the first time with a buyer and find that they know a lot about my business—what I do, how long I’ve been practicing, and what my best values are. They also tell me that they’ve already shared my name with other people.
It’s never a waste of time to leave your friendly, fun, personal, thirty-second pitch about how you can help them.
The double opportunity: What to do when your federal contact has moved
One of the biggest complaints I hear from federal contractors is, “These people move all the time. It’s hopeless.”
On the contrary.
Sure, maybe, they moved to another agency, but that’s a double opportunity if you track them down.
Don’t worry about “oh, it’s been so long….”
You can bet they’ve had other things on their minds besides you.
If the federal human in question is someone you know, congratulate them on the move, and then draw from the following set of questions:
- What’s different from where you were before?
- What do you like here, at your new place?
- What do you miss?
- What are you learning?
- Is there anything on your wishlist?
- Is there anything you’d love to get done but haven’t yet found someone to do it?
- Is there anyone you know who could use what I have?
- Who took over when you left, and might you introduce us?
- Who else would you call if you were me?
You may end up with the names of a few brand-new people to tell about what you do. Send your capability statement and let them know that you’re standing ready to serve.
At the federal fiscal year end, those people might need exactly what you do.
Now or later? October is coming!
Every “hello” is a win.
Any time one of your contacts is too busy right now, ask whether before or after October 1st would be better. Whether it’s this fiscal year or next, get an appointment on the calendar.
Also keep in mind that federal agency procurement forecasts are filled with big projects and long lead times. The last few weeks of the fiscal year is not the time to be looking for something to bid over the next few weeks.
Just don’t do it.
Did your mom ever say that you can’t have dessert until you finish your supper?
It’s a bit like that.
If you’ve submitted all your proposals and are waiting to hear if you’ve won, and want to get a head start on the fiscal year that starts on October 1st… then, sure, dive into the forecast.
Otherwise, at this time of year, make the POINTS OF CONTACT your focus when you’re looking at the forecasts. Who might you want to start a conversation with when the new fiscal year begins? If you’ve already bid a project they’re working on, they can’t talk to you now.
If you want a project today that’s NOT one of the big ones they’re working on now, then they won’t have time to talk to you if they don’t know you.
But today is a great time of year to jump start your research for FY2021, which is only a few days away.