Relationships: The Core Concept in Building Government Business

  |  April 1, 2009

Angela Styles, previously Administrator for Federal Procurement Policy within the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) at the White House and now with Miller & Chevalier chartered recently stated: "60% of federal government business opportunities never make it to FedBizOpps." It is common knowledge that millions of dollars of business is contracted every year that never goes through the formal bid process. How can you give your company the best chance at winning this business?

This is not about what forms to fill out, what contract research you should be doing, what certifications are "hot" or what paperwork to get buried in. This is about how to communicate with the people who buy what you sell. No matter if you work for a billion dollar company or a small firm, if you fail to effectively communicate with the people involved in the decision-making process, you will also fail to obtain your primary objective: making more sales to government agencies.

Granted, you do need to follow the rules, wade through the paperwork, determine what certifications and GSA schedules are appropriate for your business. But this is where most people get sidelined and bogged down. They forget that the key to getting repeat business from government agencies is to build relationships with the people who are responsible for purchasing what they sell. A solid, mutually respectful relationship is critical — whether you are providing a fifty million dollar aircraft or a five thousand dollar service.

It is your responsibility to do the research and find out if your product or service is included in the agency’s budget. It is also your responsibility to find the right people in the agencies. This research is tedious, time consuming and frustrating. But it is absolutely necessary. Last year’s list of contacts is already outdated because government procurement personnel turnover exceeds 40% a year. If you are working last year’s list, you are wasting valuable time.

Remember, these are real people with whom you are trying to communicate. While they are very experienced and qualified to do what they do, they have seeing a high rate of personnel turnover around them – their colleagues are retiring, moving, changing jobs. Budgets are being cut so now they probably are doing the work that 2 or more people used to do. They have more on their plate and greater responsibilities. They do not have the luxury of time to take every phone call, reply to every email or file every piece of mail that comes in the door.

This is where creative thinking will help you make an impact. You need to be clear and concise about how you can help them solve a problem or reduce expenses or address a need that they do not realize they have. Don’t waste their time telling them about your fabulous company and how good you are. Instead, spend the effort to understand their needs, present a cost-effective solution and help them reach their goals.

The only way is to build solid relationships with the people who are involved in making those purchasing decisions. This relationship building process takes time, effort and persistence. It will not happen over night, probably not even in one budget cycle. The larger the potential business opportunity the longer it will take to identify your opportunities within each agency, find the right people, begin a consistent contact process, meet the contacts face-to-face, present your company’s unique value proposition and stick around long enough to outlast the molasses-slow procurement process.

A solid relationship builds credibility, trust and open communications – the three elements necessary to foster business opportunities within the federal government.


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