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Sunday, 19 March 2017 15:44

Consultant offers best practices for government contacting

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Sue Tellier, Owner of JetCo Solutions LLC Sue Tellier, Owner of JetCo Solutions LLC Courtesy Photo

With most experts predicting a surge in defense and infrastructure spending based on the Trump administration’s recent proposals, manufacturers likely will have more opportunities to vie for federal contracts. However, the process of actually finalizing a contract with the federal government is far from easy, said Sue Tellier, owner of JetCo Solutions LLC. The Grand Rapids-based consulting firm assists companies in the aerospace, defense, professional services and other industries in sourcing procurement contracts with the federal government. Roughly 20 percent of the company’s clients work in the aerospace industry. Tellier spoke with MiBiz regarding some best practices for companies pursuing government contracts.

What’s different in contracting with the government compared to the private sector? 

Government audiences are extremely risk-averse. You have to make sure when you’re positioning your company in front of a government agency that you’re showing them you’re not a risk to them. That is especially important if a company has never sold to the government directly before.

How has the increased focus on the budgets of high-profile programs such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter affected government contracts? 

It’s fascinating that Twitter has now become the place where procurement all of a sudden became sexy. The federal government lays out evaluation criteria in every solicitation. We have a fair number of clients that will candidly say that we are never going to be the low bid, because the way they do things is better or different. Since government lays out the evaluation criteria in the solicitation, we’re very cautious about making sure we match that evaluation criteria with what that client’s background is. 

Are government agencies demanding companies reduce costs more than in the past in light of the spotlight on the federal budget? 

We’re seeing that more and more. Of course, everyone is trying to hold to tight budgets or threatened budget cuts, (but) we see it even more. 

Does it always pay to be the lowest bidder? 

One of our clients does armed security. You don’t want (the lowest cost) for armed security. They have guns. You want to make sure there is good training. There are certain solicitations that are just inappropriate to have a race to the bottom. It’s actually a contested topic right now within the contracting community.

What about time frames: How long can it take to get a government contract?

The sales cycle can be very long in government. This isn’t a sector that people should diversify into if they’re looking to just make payroll next month and this is a last-ditch effort. This is an audience that you have to anticipate is going to take a year to get your first order. The rules are very stringent and deliberate in government (and) are intentionally cumbersome because they are protecting taxpayer dollars. While somebody at Meijer or Amway may have a little latitude, it’s nothing like spending public sector dollars federally.

Are smaller companies at a disadvantage when it comes to winning government contracts? 

The federal government welcomes small businesses into that procurement cycle and there are advantages to being small. Those advantages should be capitalized on, but they shouldn’t be a leading differentiator. The fact that you’re small is not a lead-in with government, it’s a value add. Lead with capabilities and then allow your small or disadvantaged status to be a value-added addition for the government audience. 

Looking forward, what do you think the environment for government contracts will look like? 

This isn’t the first time when we’ve been doing this that a new president and new administration has come into office. There’s usually a level of enthusiasm that comes along with that and we see that optimism translate into more federal solicitations. Right now, we are seeing a slight surge, anecdotally, just within our offices. That’s not necessarily about who was there or what party was there. It’s just the optimism and sometimes the apprehension that comes along with what’s going to happen next. Based on what President Trump has indicated his priorities are, we are definitely seeing that optimism playing out in the defense community as well. We’re anticipating a definite surge in DOD and DHS opportunities. We’re obviously anticipating that a lot of that will come in the form of infrastructure (but) I don’t have a crystal ball to tell me that.

What’s the top piece of advice you’d give to a client considering pursuing government contracts? 

Make sure that it’s really what you want. Making a decision to sell to the government means that you’re making a long-term decision. It’s an intense investment of time, an investment of money because it’s your employees’ time. It’s not going to work if a small business owner is doing it on a part-time basis. They really have to have a dedicated resource in their company that is committed to that effort and has the resources.

 

Best practices for winning government contracts

While winning government contracts can mean a sizeable undertaking for a business, Sue Tellier of JetCo Solutions LLC in Grand Rapids suggests the following best practices for companies vying for public dollars. 

  • Avoid following your gut: Tellier said that allowing gut reaction to dictate which programs or agencies a company targets can often lead to failure. Instead, she advocates careful reading of the solicitations published by the government to ensure a particular agency is “buying what you’re selling.” 
  • Prove you’re not a risk: Since government agencies are “extremely risk-averse,” companies must send a clear message that they are not creating any unforeseen exposure. Tellier gives the example of one of her clients who touted a complex pricing strategy in its bid. Because of the system’s complexity, the government agency could be sure this company would understand the agreed upon price point and that it would not come back later to renegotiate. 
  • Be specific: Government evaluators often are subjected to bids filled with jargon, Tellier said. Instead of a company stating that it follows best practices for program management, businesses should give detailed answers. For example: “Our proposal management methodology has been used effectively 28 times in the last quarter,” Tellier said. 
  • Know your business:There are a lot of companies that just don’t understand that they are different,” Tellier told MiBiz, noting that companies should turn to a trusted adviser to have a frank discussion on what sets them apart.
  • Make a commitment: Chasing government dollars should not be viewed as a part-time gig, Tellier said. To be successful, companies should dedicate full-time resources to the process, while understanding that winning these contracts takes time.
Read 1037 times Last modified on Sunday, 19 March 2017 18:36
John Wiegand

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