6 quick fixes that will improve your company’s win rate

April 27, 2012 by

We’re frequently asked how to improve a company’s overall win rate, and I outlined these in the article I wrote in my January 2012 column “How to Raise Your Win Rate by 20 percent” using our seven-factor model. Since then, we’ve been surveying companies to see how well they perform in these seven factors and to identify areas where companies can make immediate improvements.

In this article, I’ll share some of the survey results and show you immediate actions you can take to help raise your company’s overall win rate.

In February and March 2012, we conducted two surveys – one with the Association of Proposal Management Professionals and the other with the Deltek GovCon team. The surveys asked proposal managers, capture managers, and business development professionals to rate how well their companies performed in each of the seven factors. We used 28 questions in the survey to measure performance and to pinpoint areas where companies could make improvements to raise their win rates. Based on the survey, here are six quick fixes that most companies can make to improve their win rates.

1. Capture and Proposal Training: Only 52 percent of the companies surveyed provide career development and professional training for their business development, capture management, and proposal development staffs.

Every company should have career development plans for its employees and offer professional development training for its management, key employees and especially for those people involved in business development, capture management, and proposal development. They should also provide training in proposal writing for technical and managerial professionals to help them write more compelling proposals.

Companies can develop these training programs internally or contract the training to companies that provide such specialized training. However you do it, some training is better than no training. By offering this kind of training, you can immediately leapfrog half the companies in your market.

2. Business Acquisition Process: 54 percent of the companies surveyed have not documented their business acquisition processes.

It is an indisputable principle that having a well-structured business acquisition process increases business acquisition effectiveness and reduces cost, yet half the companies surveyed compete using undocumented processes. Documenting these processes is the first step in raising the maturity of the business acquisition process. All companies of any reasonable size should have defined, repeatable businesses acquisition processes covering the business development, capture, pre-proposal preparation, proposal development, and post-proposal submission phases of the business acquisition life cycle. These processes should be fully supported by management and used for all new business acquisition.

3. Capture Management: Only 33 percent of companies review their capture progress and use these reviews to make management decisions about pursuing or continuing to pursue new business opportunities.

Companies should evaluate every new business pursuit monthly and make an affirmative decision to continue, delay or suspend the pursuit. If no reviews are conducted, then every new business opportunity remains in play, even when it is clear that the company can’t win. Proper capture management reduces the effort spent on opportunities that are likely to be losers and focuses effort on opportunities with a better chance of winning. Measuring capture progress and making associated management decisions also are essential parts of the business acquisition process and necessary for increasing your win rate.

4. Management Decisions: Only 45 percent of companies surveyed use gate reviews as part of their business acquisition process.

The purpose of gate reviews is to ensure that management makes timely decisions about continuing to invest in a new business opportunity and to provide an opportunity for executive management to coach the capture team on how to raise its win probability. These gate reviews are fundamental to effective and efficient acquisition of new business.

5. Annotated Outlines: 70 percent of proposal writers begin writing their assigned sections before management has approved what they are going to write.

Annotated outlines or storyboards probably are not used. If they are used, they are not reviewed and approved by management. No wonder there is so much rewriting involved in completing typical proposals.

6. Proposal Quality: 37 percent of companies surveyed said their proposals suffer from errors that could cause them to lose bids.

Professionally developed proposals do not have these problems. They are always compliant, compelling and responsive. Major improvements in proposal quality are still need by many companies.

Compete survey results are available on our website.

About the Author: Bob Lohfeld is the chief executive officer of the Lohfeld Consulting Group. The article was published by Washington Technology on Apr. 23, 2012 at http://washingtontechnology.com/articles/2012/04/23/lohfeld-7-quick-fixes.aspx?s=wtdaily_240412.

Inside the critical bid/no bid decision

April 12, 2012 by

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.”

As Bob Lohfeld, CEO of the Lohfeld Consulting Group and a Washington Technology contributor, puts it, “the best informed win.”

“The single-most important factor in making a bid decision is how well we understand the customer, the customer’s requirements and objectives,” Lohfeld said. “The better we understand the customer, the more likely we are to win.”

Jerry Hogge, senior vice president of business development at QinetiQ North America, said, “To me, the most controlling factor in making business development pursuit decisions is how well we know the customer, how well we understand their requirements, both expressed and intangibles, and what kind of credibility or experience we’ve had with that customer.”

Equally important, you need to know the competition and its capabilities, Lohfeld said.

In other words, “You have to fight in your own weight class,” said Tony Crescenzo, COO at IntelliDyne LLC, a mid-size government consulting company. “Certainly if I get in a fistfight with Northrop Grumman or Lockheed [Martin] or SRA, I’m going to be picking up my teeth with broken fingers.”

“Playing the law of large numbers does not work for small and mid-size companies,” he said. “If you shoot at everything that moves, first of all you’re not going to hit a lot. And second of all, there’ll be a negative perception of you with the contracting shops that clearly you’re not well positioned.”

But small businesses especially might be tempted to use the scattergun approach as a way to join the industry. That was the thinking of Sandra Corbett, CEO of InCadence Strategic Solutions, a government consulting company she founded almost three years ago.

In this tight budget climate, she said new small businesses like hers should invest in a solid infrastructure and bid on as many contracts as they believe they could possibly win.

“The biggest pitfall is to make the mistake of not going after opportunities,” she said. “I feel we can’t afford not to.”

Corbett uses three key indicators in deciding whether to put her company’s time and resources into a bid effort. They all involve knowledge.

“No. 1, do we understand this work?” she said. “Do we have the current talent on staff to understand this technology? No. 2 is do we know this customer? Have we worked with this customer before? Do we understand what their mission is and the direction in which they are going?”

The third crucial determinant is bandwidth. “Is this a small proposal effort that we can accomplish with our internal team? Or is this a massive IDIQ set-aside for small business? If so, do we have the team in place to provide a compliant, compelling proposal?” Corbett said.

“If we don’t have those, it’s a pretty easy decision that we won’t go after it as a prime,” Corbett said, adding that she might however pursue the award as a subcontractor as part of another prime’s team.

“For me, bid decisions are made not as a single decision but as a series of decisions,” Lohfeld said. To help companies make rational decisions, he has created a scorecard, or check list.

“First, the opportunity has to fit our company strategically in the sense that there are certain things that we want to accomplish as a company,” he said. “Indeed, the opportunities that we pursue should be building blocks to help us accomplish our strategic objectives – not procurements that are one-offs and take our company in a different direction.”

Other check-off factors include: Do we understanding the client’s requirements? Can we create the right solution to meet the client’s objectives? Do we have the right teaming partners? Do we have the right management and technical teams in-house to carry out the work? How does the customer feel about us as a bidder? Do we know the competition and can we beat them? Will pursuing this contract help us achieve our financial objectives as a company?

If the bid process moves along successfully, “when the RFP is released it’s really a perfunctory exercise to make the bid decision,” Lohfeld said.

But contractors must be ready to shut down the process if the capture team is not making technical progress toward a viable bid and never take on a project that appears to be risky. The biggest warning sign of trouble is when “you just can’t get inside and understand what this customer wants. You’re unable to get insight,” he said.

So Lohfeld advises contractors to be “risk averse” by being sure you have the right solution and that you’re well acquainted with the client and its needs.

Uncertainties also must be factored in, such as changes in mission or budget or customer leadership, said Dale Luddeke, senior vice president and chief growth officer at systems engineering firm TASC Inc.

“In each instance you should be able to identify how you’re going to answer that uncertainty and mitigate that risk,” Luddeke said. “To the degree that you can answer the uncertainties and mitigate the risks, then you’re at a point where you can say, ‘Okay, this is something worth going after or not.’ ”

Gary Loyd, CEO of Centurion Research Solutions, said his consulting company has created an analytics model based on Davenport and Harris’s 2007 book, Competing on Analytics: The New Science of Winning, that factors in tight federal budgets and other changes such as lowest price-technically acceptable awards to help make an objective bid-no bid decision early in the procurement process because of the intense competition in the federal market.

Loyd said contractors should be especially careful not to be lured into bidding on the basis of a high dollar value or the opportunity of moving into a new market. “That’s a risky strategy if that’s where you’re putting all your eggs,” he said.

When there are several bid opportunities to consider, Loyd said an objective approach is essential to quickly eliminate the two or three that offer the least chance of winning.

“To make a subjective qualitative decision isn’t going to help move the ball forward in winning more deals,” Loyd said. “To be objective, you have to have relevant business intelligence; you have to have facts and a disciplined approach.”

Speaking of pitfalls, QinetiQ’s Hogge warns not to fall prey to the trap of “incumbentitis,” which can lull incumbent contractors into thinking they have perfect information that also “perfectly informs the capture or pursuit of a new piece of work.”

For new work, Hogge said pitfalls include misjudging the actual requirements of the contract and your strengths and those of the competition.

“Trying to put an objective measure on those things so that you get the proper insight into what is the real probability of success on an opportunity generally are the pitfalls that trip teams up,” he said.

A final bid decision involves the entire QinetiQ senior management team and comes at the intersection of requirements and capabilities, Hogge said.

“At each stopping point along the way, where we make a review, reassess our decisions and decide is this a business decision that is prudent to continue to invest in the opportunity, a pattern of understanding emerges that’s either favorable or unfavorable that ultimately weighs into the judgment call,” he said.

An overall bid strategy facilitates recognizing opportunities and what the company needs to pursue them, Luddeke said. “Do I need to partner with somebody, team with somebody? Maybe there’s a particular individual with a skill set I need in order to qualify myself and make myself viable for this kind of opportunity.”

“You have to be intellectually honest around what are your parameters around the bid process, what are the go-no go guidelines you’re setting and stick to them,” Luddeke said.

If you don’t, you’ve got to change your expectations of the expected outcome, he said. “Every time you change that, you have to reset your client’s expectations,” he said. “I think a lot of times people forget that.”

Luddeke warned that by making changes the client isn’t on board with, “you may be creating for yourself more risk and uncertainty down the road.”

“Do not walk away from risks and uncertainties without first understanding how you’re going to address them,” he said. “The second thing is don’t assume anything. When you assume something, that introduces an unnecessary risk.”

If something unforeseen and critical happens, don’t be afraid to change your bid status, he said. “Don’t be afraid to say, ‘I can’t prime this, I should go sub it. Or, it’s not worth me going after this job because even if I win it, I won’t be able to work it.”

Luddeke adds, “It’s okay to get through a bid cycle and say, ‘You know what? This is just a bridge too far. I can do much better for my client by going after a different opportunity.’”

About the Author: David Hubler is senior editor of Washington Technology.  This article appeared on Apr. 4, 2012 at http://washingtontechnology.com/articles/2012/03/12/business-bid-no-bid-feature.aspx?s=wtdaily_050412.

How to handle today’s austere times

April 6, 2012 by

Austerity is here, it’s real and it will be the rule of the road for several years. The president’s fiscal 2013 budget request for defense will likely be about $260 billion less, over the next five years, than the top line projections of just one year ago. The civilian agencies, many of which have been facing fiscal quagmires for several years as a result of a non-stop diet of continuing resolutions, also face real pressures today and further reductions for fiscal 2013, likely in the 3 percent to 5 percent range.

And if sequestration happens, the challenges will be that much more significant. What is not yet clear is what all of this means for both the effective functioning of government and, of course, for the industry that plays such a critical role in supporting it.

Recently, the Professional Services Council, along with the Aerospace Industries Association and the National Defense Industrial Association, submitted to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and other top DOD leaders a report on the anticipated impacts of the defense spending reductions. They included job losses, reductions in company-funded research and development, investments in people, and the potential loss of key suppliers.

In addition, it is clear that, dosuring the next few years, an already highly competitive market will become even more competitive. With fewer contract opportunities, the number and range of competitors vying for those opportunities will be even greater than they are today.

While the fiscal environment is an unavoidable reality, there are a number of actions companies can and should take to help ameliorate at least some of those impacts. Indeed, these strategies and actions were prominent in discussions with the secretary of defense, the deputy secretary, and the undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, following submission of our industrial base impacts report. These strategies also have applicability across the government.

Key among them is an intensified focus on performance—at all levels. This includes not only programmatic performance, which should always be the principal objective, but also a renewed focus on the financial side, such as fostering a proactive dialogue to help customers identify areas for cost savings—even if those savings might impact company revenue—and tightening company overhead as much as reasonably possible.

At the same time, the government customer must also think and act differently. Despite the budget reductions, the government will nonetheless be spending a huge amount of money through contracts for goods and services. To ensure that those expenditures deliver optimal benefits in both the short and long runs, it is crucial that the government, as the DOD and Office of Management and Budget leaders have said, focus on value and other meaningful value discriminators in the acquisition process. Indeed, DOD leadership has said that given the times, they will be focusing more intently than ever on those discriminators.

Unfortunately, the No. 1 issue identified by our member companies in our report was the government’s growing propensity to do just the opposite, even when buying complex services, including those that generate the kinds of innovation that lead to performance improvements and sustainable efficiencies.

Likewise, government teams must be open to eliminating non-value or limited-value contractual burdens. And the government must get away from its habit of using margins—too often arbitrarily set at unreasonably low levels—as a key cost savings tool. Margins should be linked to the complexity and risk associated with the work being done. Here too, a disconnect between the leadership’s objectives and the field’s implementation is clear and must be addressed.

For every company in the federal market, this must be a time of internal and external reassessment. The same is true for our government colleagues. There are some things that are well beyond either’s control. The key is to focus on those things that we can control and to turn an era of challenge into an era of innovation and opportunity.

About the Author: Stan Soloway is president and chief executive officer of the Professional Services Council.  This article was published on Feb. 27, 2012 by Washington Technology at http://washingtontechnology.com/articles/2012/01/30/insights-soloway.aspx.

5 keys to successful projects

April 4, 2012 by

Winning enterprise-wide government contracts is no easy feat, but when you do win it is critical to capture lessons learned. In many cases organizations are part of a larger team that typically includes a mix of products and services that must be delivered in an integrated manner. When managing an enterprise-wide government program there are many things that can be done to ensure success. Here are five lessons learned from my experience:

Keep your eyes and ears open
Typically there are all kinds of different personalities and geographical and structural logistics involved. To maximize value for the customer, you should continually conduct assessments of future users to get a strong read on expectations. Establishing a total awareness of how the solution will look and feel with respect to the user experience is critical. The more they know about what they’re going to get before they get it, the better they will adjust once it’s there.

You should also be cognizant of bottlenecks users have run into in the past, and try to make sure those are not repeated. You discover what pain points exist – and really understand those intricacies – before moving forward.

One of the larger challenges we faced in a recent enterprise deployment is that each site location was used to conducting their own business, setting their own standards and meeting site-specific requirements. Part of deploying the solution for this customer is to bring cohesion and unity for users and administrators across the enterprise.

Keep your vendors involved as well. Read their white papers and product reports. Allow them to visit on site while the work is getting done to gain their input. The only way they can help you (and the customer) is for them to have a hands-on understanding of the whole solution.

Steady as you go
For a complex undertaking like this, you don’t want pedal to the floor activity periods and then others that are fairly quiet. That’s when you end up needing 30 hands on deck one week and then just three the next. It simply isn’t a good work model for large enterprise and international deployments. So it is critical to pace enterprise deployments with very even-keeled, consistent workloads, to make the best use of everyone’s time, resources and investment.

Another important task is requirements gathering from the customer and understanding those requirements. The customer provides their requirements; we, in turn, provide them with a design that meets those requirements. This precipitates changes within the deployment plan as well as on-site to account for all design requirements.

Both of these tasks take a fair share of pre-project planning, but it’s worth it. Otherwise, you’re spending an enormous amount of time coordinating on the fly. That could make for a negative customer impression, and impact the certification and accreditation process. This process is something you should think about every step of the way. Because if you stumble, the entire effort is tossed for a loop – possibly indefinitely.

With training, timing is everything
The training experience means so much with respect to success. So be careful about when you schedule this. You can’t host training sessions at the last minute, because the sense of immediacy may lead to a bit of user panic. You want to give users a chance to familiarize themselves with the new equipment and system before it is thrust upon them. On the other hand, if training is conducted six months in advance, they will likely forget everything they learned by the time they have to make the transition.

To users this is a simple solution that they truly enjoy using. To administrators it brings together several already complex components into a single environment. In order for the enterprise to embrace and support the new technology, the administrators require vendor-level advanced training and hands-on experience after training.

That said, we have learned that retention is enhanced if participants are allowed to determine the training method. So offer up a number of options – in person, online, PowerPoint, simulations, etc. – and you’ll get better results/retention.

There is a period of time that the technology needs to transition from us to them. That period of time should be determined by both the customer and the solution designer, and is based on the experience of the on-site administrators. It is critical that the customer understands the importance of allocating the proper time and resources to achieve a smooth transition. There is no cookie cutter approach when handing the keys over to the customer, but rather open and honest dialogue always makes for a successful transition.

Stay flexible
Even with a game plan in hand, keep in mind that circumstances will change. Requirements will shift. Schedules will get revised. There is always someone in the room that says, “We can’t change that, it is not part of the design”, or “the documentation says this.” Yes, there are cases in which you have to redo major designs. To stay on top of these shifts, maintain an active, open dialogue with the customer to understand the true requirements that your team must address. Remember that as requirements evolve or are discovered it is our job to help the customer understand changes are necessary and expected. The original design can be amended and documentation can be updated – ultimately resulting in a better overall solution.

Document your experiences
I have learned that being involved with large-scale enterprise deployments isn’t just a job. It’s an opportunity to learn how to effectively support a large customer. So it is important to capture your experiences in working documents that summarize, “lessons learned” so it can be passed on to the next location.

About the Author: Douglas Norton is a senior manager for professional services at Raytheon Trusted Computer Solutions.   This article was published by Washinton Technology on Mar. 26, 2012 at http://washingtontechnology.com/articles/2012/03/26/lessons-enterprise-deployment-advice.aspx.

How to avoid a contract protest

April 3, 2012 by

Are protests destined to become just one more milestone in the federal procurement process? Recent evidence might suggest so. Notably, the protested award to Lockheed Martin for the U.S. Antarctic Research program in the South Pole and the Hawker Beechcraft protest of the award of the new light attack aircraft trainer are recent examples.

In addition, market experts predict that as defense budgets decline, companies fighting over fewer dollars will launch more protests when losing procurements that can lock them out of programs or agencies for a decade.

If protests are to become the norm for competing in major programs, then it’s to everyone’s advantage to find ways to reduce the number of protests and awards that are overturned. When companies file protests, everyone loses. The procuring agency loses because procurement time lines get stretched out. Bidders lose because the cost of participating in federal procurements goes up. Even the apparent winner incurs additional costs to defend the award, and the losing bidders incur additional costs to file the protest.

Capture and proposal managers can take some precautions that may help minimize the likelihood that their procurement will be protested or award overturned. To learn first-hand what you can do, I reached out to three attorneys with practices in federal procurement protests to see what they suggest. Here’s what I learned.

According to  Dave Nadler, a partner at Dickstein Shapiro LLP in Washington D.C., protests can begin when the government releases a  defective request for proposals. “Review the RFP with an eye to unclear, ambiguous, unduly restrictive text, especially text specifying a brand name or  written around someone else’s product. It is better to seek  clarification and use the Q&A process to make sure the solicitation is clear and that your interpretation is reasonable than to file a protest,” he said.

If you are unclear about the interpretation of proposal instructions (typically Section L) or the evaluation criteria (typically Section M), then the evaluation team will probably be confused too. If the RFP is deficient, and you choose to protest the RFP, then you must file your protest before your proposal is submitted, otherwise the Government Accountability Office will rule that your protest is untimely and will summarily dismiss it, Nadler said.

As a proposal writer, there is nothing more frustrating than working with a poorly written RFP. If you have one of these, let me know and I’ll present your argument to the agency pro bono for the good of our industry. We will all benefit from well-written RFPs.

As you write your proposal, there are other pitfalls to avoid. Shlomo Katz, counsel at Brown Rudnick LLP, reinforces that you must follow the requirement of the RFP precisely. “If the RFP requires certain documentation (e.g., resumes) or certain credentials (e.g., a Ph.D.), and you don’t provide what was required, and the agency selects you anyway, that may be grounds for a successful protest. Similarly, if you make technical claims back them up with data, especially if you are claiming your widget is twice as good, twice as fast, twice as durable, etc. Ditto if you claim you can deliver in half the time of your competitors. Explain your technical approach in sufficient detail to justify that you are the best (if that’s what the evaluation criteria call for),” said Katz.

You can also have protests related to your proposed costs. According to Katz, “If your cost/price is significantly higher than your competition, make sure you explain the value proposition, and if your cost/price is significantly lower than your competition, make sure you explain why it is realistic. I had a protest where the agency selected the offeror whose cost was way below the government estimate, and GAO threw out the award because the proposal did not prove its own cost realism.”

There are also some legal gotchas, according to Carol L. O’Riordan, partner in the O’Riordan Bethel Law Firm, LLP. “Ensure that everyone on the team has current and required licensing, credentials, and past performance in place because it is more than embarrassing if a subcontractor’s employee is put forth as key personnel, but his required license is outdated or lapsed,” O’Riordan said. “If the procurement uses GSA schedule vehicles, make sure the team’s vehicles include the required services. Watch out for organizational conflicts of interest. Starting with all known information regarding the procurement and evaluation, make sure you understand to what extent everyone on the proposed team checked and confirmed that each has no affiliation or involvement with those identified on the other side or other procurements where conflicts may exist.”

As a final thought, some protests can be brought to the procuring agency for review, rather than going directly to GAO. This may be more advantageous, but be mindful that there are certainly timeliness rules that apply to whichever protest venue you choose.

About the Author: Bob Lohfeld is the chief executive officer of the Lohfeld Consulting Group. Published by Washington Technology, Mar. 22, 2012 at http://washingtontechnology.com/articles/2012/03/12/insights-lohfeld.aspx?s=wtdaily_230312.

USDA warns of fraudulent letters

March 31, 2012 by

The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) officials has issued a warning that fraudulent letters are being sent by FAX to individuals and businesses in at least four states.

The letters purportedly come from a USDA procurement officer and seek personal information. USDA says these letters are false and in no case should a recipient respond with personal and financial information. The fraudulent letters bear USDA’s logo and seal and are signed by an individual identified as “Frank Rutenberg” using a title of “Senior Procurement Officer.”

Letters have been received by FAX in Alabama, Nebraska, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, but may have also been sent to other states.

It’s possible that the mailing list for the fraudulent letter is being derived from public information in Central Contractor Registration (CCR).

Recipients should not respond and should not supply the requested information. USDA is investigating this matter through the Office of the Inspector General.

If you suspect you have received such a letter or have questions please contact USDA at: vog.adsu.mdnull@ycilop.tnemerucorp or call 202-720-9448.

Visit the FTC’s Identity Theft site to learn what to do if your identity is stolen: http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft.

Should contractors keep the right to respond to past-performance reviews?

March 13, 2012 by

There’s some buzz around a provision in the newly introduced Comprehensive Contingency Contracting Reform Act that would eliminate the ability established in the Federal Acquisition Regulation for a contractor unhappy with their past-performance evaluation to enter their own version of events in the file and to appeal the original past-performance evaluation to one level higher in the organization from where the original evaluation was done.

Matthew Weigelt wrote about the provision recently on FCW.com, with a moderately incendiary headline saying the provision would “stifle” contractor responses to past-performance reports. Matthew’s article was a top-five read and emailed article on the FCW site, so the issue is attracting attention.

With a small tweak, this could actually be a really good change. But the tweak is necessary, and I hope the bill’s authors will make it.

The big problem with the current FAR language is that it allows a contractor to appeal a past-performance rating one level above where it was made. In my view, this appeal right has been devastating for the honesty of past-performance ratings, and therefore for the ability of past-performance to be a differentiator in contract awards. For past-performance to work in choosing contractors, the government needs to be able to observe differentiation between better performers, who should be rewarded with new contracts, and poorer ones, who shouldn’t.

The serious shortcomings in the government’s past-performance rating system in turn is really too bad, because judgments, formal and informal, of the past performance of those with whom we do business are an absolutely crucial part of the ability of a market system to work in improving results. If we like the haircut a barber gave us, we go back, and if we didn’t, we don’t – this really provides an incentive for barbers to do a good job.

I was the person, as OFPP administrator, who authorized the current FAR language when the past-performance evaluation system began in the ‘90s. I was concerned at the time that this appeal provision was a mistake, and I believe that subsequent results have confirmed my worries. Contracting officers believe that a bad rating is an invitation to spend countless hours having to defend their judgments, and the easy response, especially with staff shortages and not enough time, is simply to go light on bad comments.

So as the person responsible for the original language, I vote for its repeal.

However, the bill’s provisions go a bit too far. There is no reason to eliminate the ability of the contractor to give their version of events and have it put in the contract file. That just seems like elementary fairness, so others using the past-performance report get to see a different version of what happened, if there is one. I think that at least enlightened elements in the contractor community could support elimination of the dysfunctional appeal process, which undermines the ability of the past-performance system to work at all. But elimination of even the right to comment is sure to arouse the ire of all contractors, as Weigelt’s article seems to show.

Can the bill authors tweak their language so it can help create a real improvement in the government’s past-performance rating system?

– by Steve Kelman, Washington Technology, Mar, 5, 2012 at http://washingtontechnology.com/blogs/lectern/2012/03/contractors-past-performance.aspx?s=wtdaily_060312.

Contractor survey reflects tougher times for industry

March 7, 2012 by

Over the past year, roughly 70 percent of government contractors in a new survey saw some growth or at least no significant change in revenue from their government contracts, but government contracting still is not a booming business.

Half of more than 100 prime government contractors surveyed had revenue growth and 21 percent had relatively little change. However, 29 percent brought in less revenue, according to Grant Thornton’s 17th Annual Government Contractor Survey, released Feb. 20.

“The fact that the highest percentage of companies experienced revenue growth continues a long-term trend reported in previous surveys, indicating that government contractors are far less vulnerable than commercial companies to recessions or slow growth in the overall economy,” Grant Thornton wrote.

Thirty-one percent said they had profits of between 1 percent and 5 percent of profits. And 37 percent of companies had 6 percent and 10 percent growth compared to last year. Eight percent of companies reported profits of 15 percent or more. Only 6 percent reported breaking even or experiencing a loss.

Grant Thornton wrote that the profit rates likely result from a greater reliance on multiple-award, indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity (IDIQ) contracts.

“There is little doubt that the amount of true competition for task orders in many IDIQ contracts is far less than was the case before IDIQ contracts became so prevalent,” according to Grant Thornton’s analysis of the survey results. “This lessening of competition in the pursuit of [government] efficiency is likely a contributor to higher profit rates.”

Meanwhile, the 29 percent of companies getting less revenue than last year is the highest percentage reported in several surveys.

The high numbers indicate “that government efforts to reduce deficits are adversely impacting government contractor revenue,” the survey said.

Surveyors distributed questionnaires during the first half of 2011 and received responses from participating companies over the next several months. Financial and business statistics in the survey typically relate to fiscal years ended in 2010 or early 2011. They are treated as belonging to the current year in the survey.

About the Author: Matthew Weigelt is a senior writer covering acquisition and procurement for Federal Computer Week.  This article appeared on Feb. 24, 2012 at http://washingtontechnology.com/articles/2012/02/24/grant-thornton-survey-contractor-revenue.aspx?s=wtdaily_280212.

Why digital marketing matters for contractors

February 27, 2012 by

You’re tired of competitors’ websites having edgier content, more sophisticated designs, and innovative videos. But when you try to convince your company’s leadership to invest in updating your outdated website, you might as well be talking to a wall.

Instead of getting a green light to bring your website out of the dark ages, you’re asked to jump through hoops and “show them the money” or demonstrate return on investment before they’ll spend one more dime on marketing.

It’s time to step back and rethink your strategy. Here are three ways you can bring a compelling case forward to your management to invest in digital marketing.

First, start talking in their language. A digitally enabled website is actually a better sales tool and can result in greater top-line revenue. Through smarter content and more compelling presentation, your company’s website can result in new customers and new business – even if you’re not Apple, Best Buy or Barnes & Noble.

While the ROI connection is not as black and white for companies in the government services industries because they don’t actually transact business over the Web, it can be measured in terms of increased qualified leads, downloadable premium content, web traffic and job applications.

Second, focus on the reasons your company has a website in the first place and explain how an improved website with compelling content will better validate, verify and make your company more virtually accessible to your target customers:

Validate — As a government services company without a real storefront where you can walk in and check out the goods or products, a website helps new and current customers reinforce their decision to do business with your company and get to know the people behind your brand. It also helps the employees you’re targeting to hire confirm their decision to work for you by helping them meet people digitally before the in-person interview.

Verify – Like consumers today do when shopping for the best bargain, a digitally enabled website gives new customers, new employees and new investors a real-time, self-service tool to check out for themselves what they heard from a colleague, read about in the news or what they think of your company from walking by your booth at a recent industry conference or trade show.

Virtual – A state-of-the-art website gives your target audiences 24/7 access to your company’s value proposition and all the reasons you want them to do business with you and not the other guy. Instead of waiting for an e-mail or phone call to be returned, they can understand what your company does, get a feel for your corporate culture and a pulse on your company’s financial stability and learn how you’ve used innovation to solve your customers’ problems.

Third, digital content is one of the best ways to demonstrate your company’s innovative spirit. Static, stale and uninteractive content is an instant turn-off to a prospective customer looking for a contractor to deliver their program or bring their new idea to life. Today, people want to see examples, hear smart people talking to them in videos and learn about how you’ve helped solve problems they can relate to.

There’s no better way than a short video with creative use of graphics, facts and statistics or a downloadable, easy-to-read eBook that can more imaginatively tell a story than three or four paragraphs of tired web copy.

Besides, one of the best arguments of all for investing in digital marketing – your customers and employees expect it.

About the Author: Eileen Cassidy Rivera is former vice president of communications and investor relations at Vangent, a General Dynamics company. In December, she joined KeeganSilver as senior health marketing strategist supporting Booz Allen Hamilton. This article was published by Washington Technology on Feb. 16, 2012 at http://washingtontechnology.com/articles/2012/02/16/digital-marketing-advice.aspx?s=wtdaily_210212.

3 steps to getting your small business discovered

February 17, 2012 by

I recently saw a discussion post in a group on LinkedIn that complained about people not lining up to download an application this person had on his web site. Why don’t people come to get this totally unique, valuable application? the person whined.

Why indeed!

We don’t operate in a vacuum and business does not occur by burning incense, chanting and praying for the phone to ring – or by posting something on a web site that very few people know about or visit.

What’s a company got to do to get on the radar?

Here are three relatively simple things that any company, especially small companies, should be doing so they can “get found.”

First, define your expertise in terms that resonate with your niche in the market. Bob Davis, vice president at HeiTech Services in Silver Spring, Md., calls this defining your “sustainable competitive advantage,” which should be something that your company does better than 90 percent of your competitors. This is a skill that you have demonstrated through work with a variety of clients, not simply one you claim without demonstrable experience.

In other words, you need to differentiate your company.

Second, get conversant with the new social media tools. Social media here encompasses web 2.0 tools like webinars, podcasts, blogs, web video, web radio and social networks like LinkedIn and GovLoop. To stand out and be found, you have to participate in multiple venues and offer some good content in each.

This does not mean that you have to use all of the above web tools, but you need to understand the value that each tool offers. Then use the tools that will help you get your message out to targeted audiences.

As I indicated in last month’s column, each of these tools brings something different to the table.

If you are offering a technical solution, webinars are a great tool to educate. Both blogging and webinars are great for developing a thought leadership position in your niche. Podcasts allow you to offer white papers, another thought leadership tool, in an audio format.
The goal is to use one or two of these tools on a regular basis to highlight and support your claim to your market position and your sustainable competitive advantage.

The third task is to spread the word. You now have the message (your sustainable competitive advantage) and the platform(s) – whichever tools you have opted to use.

Next, you have to tell people where to find this great content. In February 2011 I wrote “Content may be King, but Delivery is the Ace” in which I explained that, although content is key to proving you own a particular piece of intellectual real estate, unless you can show people where to find that content, you will never get on the radar and get the right people to read, listen to, or watch any of the content you have developed.

Traditional methods still work. A solid PR campaign can help, but using social media to share the content as well as deliver it is effective.

Many people read my Washington Technology columns because they find the link to the article posted on LinkedIn, Tweeted, and occasionally even on Facebook.

Go back to the beginning of this article where the guy was whining about people not downloading an application that this person had on his web site. People have to know it’s there in order to download it.

Get on board and get on the radar of your audience.

About the Author: Mark Amtower is co-founder and co-director of the Government Market Masters program.   This article was published on Feb. 14, 2012 by Washington Technology at http://washingtontechnology.com/articles/2012/02/14/amtower-small-business-social-media.aspx?s=wtdaily_150212.