Tuesday, August 7, 2012

A Parable For Contracting Failure

Why Successful Government Contractors Never "Wear Flip-Flops"
A photo of Northwestern University's national championship women's lacrosse team, taken during the athletes' recent visit to the White House, shows most of the nine women in the front row wearing flip-flop sandals along with their dresses and skirts. This created a flip-flop flap.
The entire flip-flop flap is based upon presenting oneself in the appropriate manner to suit the audience. Yes, the young women were inexperienced in dressing to meet the President, but their mistake was in using their own judgment based upon acceptable dress in situations they normally experience. They failed to look at the acceptable dress from the point of having an audience with the President of the United States at the White House.
What can flip-flops (the shoes, not the political posturing) possibly have to do with government procurement contracting practices? And how do they relate to failure at procurement contracting?
Everyday, businesses large and small, well-established and brand new, try to open the door to doing business with the government, but they are in reality "wearing flip-flops." The successful contractors have understood what is appropriate and what is not. When government procurement personnel and end-users see how the company presents itself, they make a snap decision to open or shut the door, literally and figuratively.
What are some of the specific situations that will slam the door right in your face?
Let's take a look at common situations and how they rate in the flip-flop rating system below. While this is a light-hearted look, the message cannot be more serious. Pay attention or risk closing the door on yourself!
Rating system:
3 flip-flops:
The worst you can do. Essentially guarantees you failure at government contracting.
2 flip-flops:
Claiming ignorance is no excuse, you must react quickly to turn this around.
1 flip-flop:
Irritating but forgivable.
3 Flip-flops: The worst you can do. Essentially guarantees you failure at government contracting.
    You have no web site. Your web site is "under construction". Your email is @hotmail, gmail or some other free service. You do not clearly understand how the agency's mission is related to your products or services. Your Capability Statement or Statement of Core Competencies is 30 pages of self-congratulations. Your bid package or proposal is on time but incomplete. You think the contracting officer does not know the best solution, so you propose something outside the scope of the bid. You send unsolicited faxes. You send out mass emails to purchased lists. You expect the procurement officer to give you special attention or information. You complete the bid package after the due date. You make demanding phone calls. You send "free samples" or other items to your prospects exceeding the accepted dollar value.

2 flip-flops: Claiming ignorance is no excuse, you must react quickly to turn this around.
    Your web site has no mention of your government contracting expertise or focus. Your web site has flash animation on the home page. Your email name is not business-oriented. Your email is at a non-business domain (@comcast, @netscape, @earthlink). Your domain name bears no relation to your business name. Your Capability Statement is not specifically geared toward the agencies specific needs. Your Capability Statement includes outdated information. You have an AOL email account, period. You expect the Small or Minority Business Liaison to do your work for you. You expect respect and trust right away, without taking the time and effort to build a relationship based on experience and dedication. You bid low in order to get the work while hoping to make up for it on other jobs. Now that you have the certification (8a, SDVOB, etc) you expect business to fall into your lap. Now that you have a GSA Schedule, you expect instant contracts. You push your "certification" before establishing the fact that you can help that buyer or agency with their mission.

1 flip-flop: Irritating but forgivable
    Your web site one and only page is very, very long. Your web site uses American flags and other symbols inappropriately. You leave repeated phone calls, showing your irritation when you do not get an immediate call back. You jump right into a pitch as soon as a live person answers the phone without asking if they are the person to whom you should be speaking. You send one direct mail piece to lots of people and expect to get immediate orders. You apply the same processes used in the corporate market to the government market.
If you see yourself committing any of these mistakes, you can mitigate the damage by making immediate changes to your current strategies. Learn from your mistakes, turn them around and plan for future contracting success.