Re-examine your bullseye
In 2017, the Office of Personnel Management reported more than 4.4 million civilian federal employees and annuitants governmentwide. That same year, Purdue University estimated the number of Contracting Officers at 35,000. Why does this matter?
Too many companies paint a marketing and sales bullseye on Contracting Officers, the federal workers who don't decide what is purchased. By doing this, these vendors are not positioned to inform and influence requiring customers when needs are identified, meaning their strategy won't get them ahead of business opportunities.
After more than 30 years of being in and around the trenches of federal contracting, I have arrived at a conclusion. Generally speaking, vendors tend to do things the hard way. This is not an arbitrary jab but a cautionary tale for companies who may not realize the bullseyes they have selected, are the wrong, or at least not the best targets.
Let's start with this. Less than one percent of all dollars obligated to small business are awarded via 8(a) set-aside or sole source. Although we can see this clearly in the government's transaction data, thousands of companies still clamor to get into the program as if being a Small Business is somehow different or lesser than being an 8(a). I often remind them that Section 8(a) is one part of the Small Business Act and the overall small business program. I also remind them more obligations are awarded to the Small Business category than all other small business designations. Additionally, more dollars are obligated to small business via full and open competition than the combined spend to each socioeconomic program. This is about more than being a small business, though. It's about having a solution to a problem, or an enhancement to a goal that ultimately helps a federal agency make progress. Also overlooked is the fact many small business concerns receive competitive and sole-source awards based on reasons not related to their small business status. You should see how those numbers stack up against the partially fictional numbers reported in the annual Small Business Procurement Scorecard.
I offer a similar sentiment for those with a strategy to primarily (or solely) engage Contracting Officers for new work. When I say Contracting Officer, I am referring to the various types of professionals in a federal contracting activity responsible for the issuance and administration of agreements, contracts and orders, both delivery and task. Think Contracting Officer, Contract Specialists, Procurement Analysts, etc. Collectively, they represent less than one percent of civilian federal employees, but they are revered as the center of the universe by many vendors, large and small. Most federal agency needs do not originate in the contracting office, and the buyers who reside there don't determine WHAT will be purchased. When you add the total number of active and reserve military (roughly 1.8 million) and include uniformed contracting officers to the civilian headcount, what started as "less than one percent" becomes "much less than one percent."
It seems the blinders we use to prevent us from chasing squirrels or shiny objects may be responsible for limiting our ability to look beyond "how everybody else is doing it." Using the same less than effective tactics as the masses results in many companies being forced into a fatal funnel where they go to die an agonizing death from opportunity starvation. Achieving better outcomes is possible, and starts with asking different questions to get information for making better decisions.
Who or what part of the organization generates requisitions and funding that creates the work performed by Contracting Offices?
When does need identification and requirements development occur in relation to agency forecasting, RFIs and RFPs?
What narrative is your company presenting that would entice Customers and Requirements Owners to take notice of you?
How many dollars are associated with what you do, and how many of them are awarded primarily because of small business status versus the ability to perform?
What's the bottom line? Stop using the same tactics over and over when they don't produce the results you need. Instead, commit to revising your strategy, re-examining your bullseye, and adjusting your aim.
Peace, Health, and Success,