I have had several calls this week from small businesses that are interested in doing business with the Federal Government but they obviously don't know how to or where to start. While many of the same basic marketing and selling techniques that are used successfully in commercial companies apply to government contract opportunities, there may be some nuances that are not obvious.
Let's review Selling 101 here first. You must first identify the target customer that your business is looking for. What does your ideal customer look like? If you don't know that, you are starting at a disadvantage. What are the needs (or as some people like to call it: what are the pains) that this ideal customer has? This is not what you think their needs are or what you can supply but a real evaluation from the customer of what causes them real pain and therefore a solution to that pain will be worth while for them to invest in. Once you know these facts you must identify how to find all of these "ideal" customers to market to. Once you identify how to find them, there is a process called "listening" that is part of the sales cycle since each customer has a unique set of issues that is important to them. It is rare that one solution fits all. You must listen to find out the true root cause of the customer's pain and then how your unique value proposition could be fit to solve that unique set of problems. Once this is accomplished, the value of your solution can be better justified to the customer and then the chances of success in helping the customer go up dramatically.
So how does this relate to the prospective government contractor? My usual advice to these companies is to look at past awards of government contracts in their area of interest. The government is more open than your customers in the commercial world and publishes not only what they buy but who they buy from and for how much. It is worth doing some of this research up front to see who the buyers are and what they are used to paying for your solution. You can also find out who your competitors are and study their offerings to see where you have advantages. This will give you a contact list of the purchasing authorities that you should get to know and actively sell to. That type of information is harder to find in the commercial world. Once you find out who buys what you are offering, the selling process can begin for the "next" purchase. Knowing your customer is key, just like with commercial selling. One of the best places to do this research is to start with FedBizOps. You can use their filters to identify previously awarded contracts in your area of interest to obtain contact information. You can obviously also use this site to find current opportunities within the Federal Procurement arena. I think the chances of finding a current opportunity that you can win is more of a long shot if you haven't done some up front selling but sometimes that also works. Contact the technical experts (when listed) and the purchasing authorities for these past awards and develop a relationship by telling them what you have to offer. Indicate that your offering is very similar to what they have purchased in the past with your added value proposition. Then ask them how you can get involved in the next purchasing cycle. You may want to schedule an actual visit with some of these people to meet face-to-face if possible. Business is still conducted with people that you know more than any other way.
In short, get to know the people that are buying what you have to offer. Listen to what they are telling you about their future needs and see how you can wrap your value proposition around their needs. This will result in a more positive business development process in the long run. There are probably other techniques and I welcome others to add those techniques that have worked for you to the comment section here. Thanks for listening.