What does it take to be successful in the GovCon space? It requires asking the hard questions. Yes, you need good pipeline management, solid capture development, business acumen, and proposal skills. But ultimately? It's all about challenging the status quo.
This business is hard on a good day. It's hard because it can be complex. The federal government is the largest buyer of products and services in the world. And not only that, they're bureaucratic. The Federal Acquisition Regulations are endless, always changing, and requires lots of thought to work through. It's not uncommon for companies to think of the federal government as one buyer when really it's dozens, scores, hundreds of buyers! Each department, each agency, each office can act in their own way, and have their own rules. Seaport NextGen, Naval Sea Systems Command Premiere IDIQ for 22 different functional areas of products and services. One contract, many buyers. And just because you're on SeaPort, if you're buying from Indian Head versus Carter Rock versus the submarine lab in Rhode Island or San Diego, Charleston, each one of those markets is totally different. You might master one and not know anything about another. You can't assume that, “Oh, well, I was great over here. I'll be great over there.” No. Ask yourself the hard questions. How am I going to win in those markets?
The complexity of this industry requires that we ask sober questions to make sure we're maximizing our investments. Do we know enough about our market and how our customers purchase goods and services within that market? We can’t just tell somebody else why we're going to win. We can't just hope we win, and we can't just write a basic proposal. We can't just do what everybody else did and expect to get good results. Our desire is not the only relevant thing. It's irrelevant without the action behind it, without the hard questions to guide it.
At rTurner Consulting, we hear all the time, “Oh, I really want to get into this agency”, or “I want to go over here.” Good for you. I want to win the lottery, right? The real question is, and again, this is one of those hard questions, am I making the investment in time and resource and activity to actually break into that market? Am I meeting the right people? Am I talking to the right people? Do I understand that customer and what their needs are? Have I read their strategic technology plan? Have I been to their conferences? Do I know the executives? You know, the hard questions? What they really reveal is that it takes time. It takes a persistent effort. And in Gov Con, I hate to say it, but nothing's easy.
So you're qualifying for an opportunity. You've got something that's come out of your pipeline. You're talking to folks in industry and in government. Maybe you're building a team to go after a particular opportunity. You need subcontractors. You need consultants. Are you teaming with your friends? Are you teaming with folks that you know already because you know them and they like you and. “Oh, sure, I'll join your team, it's no problem.” Well, I'll tell you the problem. They don't have past performance in this customer doing this work. How are they increasing your PWin? They're just another friendly face to go have lunch with. Is that the easy button or have you built a team with the kind of past performance that it takes to compete in this market and to differentiate yourself? Well, that takes work. That requires making cold calls, talking to people that you don't know. That requires really understanding why you can win versus somebody else. Those are hard questions.
Capture managers are really distinguished from business developers because they're dealing with the strategic elements of a bid, really seeking to build that network of teaming partners, consultants, understand the customer, understand the market, really dig into and really uncover problem areas that need to be solved. It can be risky to bring up a real obstacle in capturing a deal. If you're a capture manager in a large or small company, you're out there in the marketplace, you're talking to people, you're uncovering both opportunities as well as challenges. It takes courage to present those challenges in the right way to your leadership and to your senior management, because they're going to ask what you're going to do about that. Those are hard questions. That's the risk element in this business. This business has risk everywhere you turn and you don't help yourself by avoiding the risk! Lean into the wind. Take that risk. Ask yourself, can I overcome that problem? Can I really win this deal? And if your senior leadership has said win that deal, come hell or high water, how are you going to do that when you find a real obstacle? Do you need help with some innovative solutions? Do you need to meet new people? Are you uncovering ways to scale that wall even though it might be high?
Example time. Pipelines are the lifeblood of any government services provider; your strategic investments, your business development investments, the proposals, … they always tie back to a pipeline opportunity. But pipelines are not static. The fiscal year turns over in October, so let's say by Halloween you've already built your pipeline for the next fiscal year. Well, you can't just use that same pipeline in its current October state in April if you haven't revisited it! What's changed? Has that bid been canceled? Has that bid been pushed to the right? Has it changed from unrestricted to small business? Has there been a change in leadership within your customer? You know, pipelines need to breathe. But not every opportunity is winnable.
We only have so much time. You can push through and borrow time from your family on the weekend or stay up late or try to squeeze some time somewhere to do more. But the more your pipeline is filled with opportunities that you honestly have a very low to no chance of winning, the more time you're going to spend tending to a garden that's not going to produce fruit and then neglecting the things that really could produce fruit.
Ask yourself that hard question, can I win this? Do you have the courage to tell your senior leadership “No, I can't do that one. That one is not possible.”? It all comes down to this -- do I have a good solid handle on what I can really get done on a weekly and monthly and quarterly basis? And am I making the right investments in terms of my time, activity, and money? Can I handle the truth? You have to be able to handle the truth. And move out accordingly.
Expectations also need to be reasonable. If you're in a senior position, are you asking the hard questions of yourself? Am I guiding my team to do things that they are equipped to do? Have I equipped my team to do what I'm asking? One of the reasons that proposals fail is that the team is not following an effective, disciplined process to create that proposal. They're cutting corners or it's under-resourced. Well, these both beg hard questions, right? Are you willing to put the controls in place to follow a good solid process, to create a great proposal and have you resourced this thing properly? If you don't have the kind of writer resources that it takes to write this proposal, what are you doing?
If you're going to fail, fail forward. Fail with purpose. Fail because you're going to get something out of it. Don't fail because you just phoned it in. Don't do that. You don't learn anything from that. You don't gain anything from that. You just make every other day in this business more difficult.
GovCon is a very challenging, exciting business that requires that we're always learning, we're always stretching, we're always growing. You need to invest in personal development all the time. Find folks who are in this business who are winning, surround yourself with winning people, engage with folks who are good at what they do and ask them the hard questions of how did they overcome the obstacles that were in their path? How did they grow their companies? You'll find ways to make it through. Spend a portion of your time connecting with others on LinkedIn, asking people for advice, asking people for help. Most people in our business are happy to help. We all want everyone to succeed, and there's plenty of opportunity out there for all of us. It's an exciting market. It's not easy, but it is never boring. It's a lot of complexity, but it's a lot of opportunity as well. Go get it