How To Win Contracts In A New Administration
A new Administration can make late fall and early winter an anxious time in the Federal contracting arena.
Many Federal employees and GovCons feel anxious and uncertain: how will program priorities, budgets, and jobs be affected in the months ahead? Pandemic continues to stress our personal and professional lives, too.
But the prospect of change can be exhilarating, too. These next few weeks are your opportunity to inspire, and even become part of, your Federal buyer’s big ideas — and contract awards — many months from now.
Even while a change of Administration can slow contract spending, savvy GovCons move into high gear.
All you need is the courage to start those conversations now. Here’s how you can do that.
What is New Administration Slowdown, and Why Does it Matter?
If you’re lucky, you’re standing up teams in the wake of contracts awarded at Fiscal year-end, or manufacturing and shipping orders placed in Federal Q4.
But for many GovCons, contract spending is slower as departments and agencies await new budget authority, new priorities, and new leaders.
Busy or not, seasoned GovCons know just what to do. They’re patiently calling on their Federal buyers, even while “nobody knows anything.”
Why aren’t they worried, and what on earth are they talking about?
In this post, we’ll explain why these conversations are important, explain how to win contracts early in a new Administration, and provide 5 suggestions for starting those conversations if you’re new to making calls at this time of year and ready to try.
How to Win Contracts In A New Administration
Most years, in October through December — Federal fiscal first quarter — Federal buyers have more time for conversations with vendors than they do during their fiscal fourth quarter — late summer and early fall. An impending change of Administration can extend that slow season through the beginning of February.
If there’s not much spending, what can you talk about? Actually, a lot!
This is the time when a cheerful message, a compassion question, or a thoughtful gesture, can build trust and open up the opportunity for a bigger conversation.
1. They’re human. Start there.
Pandemic is stressing their personal and professional lives, not just yours. How are they coping with the holidays? What are they most concerned about? Be ready and willing to just listen. That can be challenging if your views about the pandemic are different from theirs. Put empathy first. Notice your common experiences in how the pandemic has affected your family or friends or colleagues, but don’t offer advice or opinions unless they ask for yours
2. Watch this short video "The Winds of Change"
Many Federal employees feel just as anxious and uncertain as you do while waiting for new leadership and priorities. The old hands — ones who have worked in the same agency for decades — have seen it all before. While every Administration is different, they have some idea of what to expect every four to eight years. Others have changed agencies within the last four years, so they might be able to share a bit about the culture of each, but know less about what to expect now. For still others, this will be their first time riding out a transition of Administrations.
Back to 1.: they’re human. Change of Administration is a stressful time. Let them know you’ve got their backs. Ask what they might find useful that you might share — news, resources, or even something light-hearted — and how their systems will let you share it. Every Federal agency system has different policies for sharing links, files, and graphics. By asking the question, you’re showing that you pay attention to the rules, to how things are done, and care about basic cyber security.
Ask them what they’re thinking, what they’re hearing… and how they feel. Some may be willing to speculate on new priorities or share scuttlebutt if they know you well enough. Others won’t.
3. Help Them Dream A Little
Help them dream a lot (or even a little).
While a new Administration brings uncertainty, a change of party is also likely to shift priorities. Federal employees are creative and often have ideas in waiting for many years. They or their colleagues might be looking for a chance to propose something new. And chances are they’ll need contractors to help them. Contractors like you.
What if they might want to float an idea to you and noodle it around before putting it on paper?
What if YOU do?
YOU might have had ideas that just haven’t been right for the times over the past few years, too. Maybe your Federal contacts have been saying, “Sorry, not now. Maybe later.”Maybe that time has come. How will you know?
4. Start Small. Be Persistent.
Normally-cautious buyers can become even more risk-averse during a change in Administration. Remember, they want to follow the rules, make it easy, but also look good in their organization (especially with new leadership coming in).
So if you’re at the point where you’re noodling big new ideas, then think about small-scale, low risk, low-budget ways to try them out!
Even on a small scale, many Federal buyers keep a “wish list.” It’s filed with those things on the “unfunded” list, things that there’s never money for until the end of the year, when suddenly someone comes around and asks, “Hey, can you help us spend our budget?”
Ask your Federal buyer if they’ve ever done that. Did they have a wish list at the end of last year? What got rolled over into the wish list for FY21?
Just talking about the wish list now, in the slow season, gives you a conversation to come back to in the weeks ahead. Got an idea for something you could work on together? You can sketch out a requirement and a budget, and share it for that “rainy day” file. Just in case there’s a pot of gold at the end of the Q4 rainbow.
5 Tips and Reminders for Getting The Conversation Started
- Research the individual person. Think about what might be happening for them this week, personally and in their organization. You’re calling someone you know at least a little. Have a couple of ideas for conversations — you don’t need a dozen, but it helps to have a couple of choices that might be interesting to the specific person you’re calling.
- I know this from painful experience. I’ve missed more than a few opportunities for genuine connection. I’ve learned that when I dial someone new, I feel SO much more at ease if I begin with just ONE genuine question to ask, or ONE genuine idea of value to offer the specific person I was calling.
- Voicemail: Love it and leave it!
Plan and script your voicemails. This is your 30 seconds of their undivided attention, right in their ear! How great is that? Put the smile in your voice, and sound as happy as if you had reached them. Make the message cheery, caring, and personal. Include a memorable topic or best value. PRO TIP: mention when you’ll be calling back. Then mark that day and time on your calendar and be sure to CALL BACK then.
- Double tap: On one of your tries, when you don’t reach them, you can also leave a voicemail to say, “Check your email — details are there!” Have the email queued up to go as soon as the voicemail drops.
- Banish perfectionism (see 1., above). Don’t worry about the spectre of an awkward conversation.
- Just pick up the phone. It gets easier.
If you’re serious about winning Federal business, then you know there’s not just one “buyer.” You’ll need to know who the player are at all five layers, and nurture relationships with people who represent at least four of those five.