For government contractors, knowledge is key to decision-making. Even though civilian, defense and even intelligence agencies produce mountains of useful and publicly accessible information about themselves, their goals and requirements, companies still suffer from a lack of accessing and exploiting it.
To this day, one of the most informative descriptions and explanations I’ve read about developing and leveraging a bid/no-bid process was written by Jay Herther for APMP back in 2006. This veritable road map describes the facts, the myths and fundamental steps to take if you want to make intelligent decisions at this stage of an opportunity. It represents one of the many pieces of sage insight available to any and all government contractors, should they choose to use it.
This is also the case with the 2012 Washington Technology article How to make the bid/no bid decision that starts with:
‘Ask business development professionals what’s the key to determining whether or not to bid on a
federal contract, and the one word answer you’ll hear most often is “knowledge.”’
So to win government contracts you just need to acquire some knowledge? How hard can that be? After all, we do live in the day and age of ‘too much information’ in nearly every aspect of our personal and professional lives, right? Which is why it’s so interesting that something like ‘lackainfoitis,’ a condition brought on by an acute deprivation of relevant and timely knowledge to support decision-making, would be so prevalent among companies pursuing government contracts and subcontracts.
According to industry thought-leaders quoted in the Washington Technology article, factors such as knowing the customer, having done business with them, understanding their requirements and goals and knowing your competition account for just some of the tangibles and intangibles critical to the decision to respond, or not respond. Armed with this knowledge, large and small companies of every discipline still feverishly chase federal opportunities by throwing caution (and logic) to the wind. In a sense, they are making a conscious decision to toss their top and bottom lines in the trash.
The causes of ‘lackainfoitis.’
While multiple triggers for this condition have been identified, a primary one is the ‘easy money’ and ‘entitlement’ perceptions of a segment of those new to government contracting. Let’s face it, the torrents of politicized chatter related to set-asides and socioeconomic designations seem to suggest winning a contract is a walk in the park for any company with these ‘tags.’ That’s more than enough incentive for some to respond to opportunities with wild abandon, whether they can demonstrate knowledge of or relevance to the agency mission, or not. I believe this to be a contributing factor to the posture some agencies have taken when it comes to how they effect market research. Specifically, when agencies issue Requests For Information and Sources Sought Notices that require a response level of effort similar to many Requests For Proposals.
Other causes of this very treatable condition include lack of planning, lack of context and a general, albeit misplaced belief competitive intelligence is overrated.
For everyone but that last group, adopting processes that map out the steps needed to find, assess and utilize market information usually correlates to opportunity risk which influences a company’s opportunity costs.
Asking good questions that matter, matters.
Where you are in the process of identifying or vetting an opportunity should dictate the questions for which you seek answers. Additionally, your company’s ‘risk profile’ will impact which questions you choose to answer. If you are more risk averse you’ll likely have more questions or a need to answer the ones you do ask more completely than a competitor willing to accept a lower burden of ‘proof’ a/k/a a higher level of risk. Commonly asked questions include the status of your relationship with the customer, your company’s knowledge of the domain and requirement, company capacity, competition and having the right product, service or solution.
Keep in mind this is about building a viable business case based on acceptable risk versus desired reward, and so your company can live to fight another day. In the past I was more willing to take greater risks, both as an employee and as an owner. Today, my experiences coupled with the state of the current environment make me a ‘Why Bid?” versus “Why Not Bid?” kind of guy. Pun intended.
Developing information to achieve knowledge.
Contrary to popular belief, a significant portion of the information government contractors need to make good business decisions does not require a secret handshake or other special access. Don’t get me wrong, relationships are highly important throughout the process, that will never change, but the amount of accurate, relevant and timely information easily and freely accessible in the public domain is incredible. For many it’s overwhelming while for others, well, we call this our playground.
If you are easily swayed due to BizDev A.D.D., that is, not being able to stay focused when the tempting tidbits of information start flying by, even in a paid system, this is where having a plan for collecting and managing information can help. There is no one source of information that will give you everything you need, even if you pay for it. Besides that, Uncle Sam is still sprouting new points of entry and tweaking existing ones. For this reason it’s important to understand how to access the information relevant to your efforts. Even if you decide to purchase competitive information, by learning about the different points of access available you’ll understand how and why to tap public sources not part of the fee-based compilation you purchased.
During each Ethical Stalking for Government Contractors™ workshops, we discuss a number of the sources hosted by Uncle Sam, and spend time looking at a few of the free industry tools, too.
How do you ‘connect the dots’ when you don’t know what the ‘dots’ mean?
In his 1997 article Connecting a Few Dots author Michael Ventura refers to knowledge as “information-in-context” which to me means having background or understanding of your environment would be an extremely important attribute for developing knowledge and competitive intelligence about a competitor, customer or opportunity. It also means having an efficient process for managing information and knowledge should be paramount. One of the key obstacles I see many government contractors confronted with is managing the collection, analysis and utilization of information. This often impedes their ability to make effective and timely decisions.
Think of how many times you’ve heard someone refer to ‘knowing the culture’ of a current or prospective customer organization. If you’re familiar with the culture then it’s likely you’ve developed a level of context that will serve you well as you develop and execute strategies for marketing, business development and competitions.
Sound processes during the development of competitive intelligence can result in company’s being guided to relevant activities and relationships, and attaining situational awareness.
In case I’ve somehow managed to lull you into a state of serenity, let me hit you with this dose of reality. My good friend Richard Dean offers a warning for government contractors that you cannot live on insights and relationships alone. “This is only 50% of the successful process,” he says. “The other 50% is the ability to translate all of this into a winning proposal. I speak from experience, unfortunately.”
By the way, if the first time you reference a bid/no-bid process for an opportunity is when the draft or actual solicitation hits the street or even a few weeks before, we should talk.
We developed the Ethical Stalking for Government Contractors™ program to draw attention to robust public repositories of competitive information, proven processes and real-world tactics that saves companies time and money. What began a few years ago as a ninety-minute presentation is today a full-day interactive learning opportunity. If you would like more information about this or our other programs, write me at email@example.com or give me a call at 410.381.7378 x200.
Guy Timberlake, Chief Visionary
The American Small Business Coalition