Effective Call Plans
In the pursuit of Government business, many of our clients ask about how to conduct an effective and productive client call plan. After a decade and a half working in this field I have learned a few things from the school of ‘hard knocks’ and I’d like to reinforce what has worked for me over the years.
Part of our job is to introduce our partners to Government personnel in anticipation of an upcoming solicitation they plan to pursue. The obvious point to make up front is to make every effort to visit the potential Government customer so you can develop a true appreciation for the problems they are trying to solve. I have always found the Government folks in the Aberdeen Proving Grounds (APG) market (where I live and work) welcome the opportunity to sit and talk with industry. They learn as much from you as you will from them and perhaps more. If you are embedded in this market, it seems it is easier to obtain the visit and even if you are not, it is not hard to do. It just takes a little perseverance and coordination.
Every business development, capture, and proposal professional knows it is tough to deliver a compliant and compelling proposal without customer intimacy. Knowing the customer is critical so your technical approach goes beyond what Section L & M of the RFP require. After all, we all seek better than just “compliant” in our business. Even if a client call is the first time you are meeting this person, I can assure you they face the same or similar challenges as your other Government customers. Use this knowledge to establish a rapport with the Government employee and share with them how you have helped other customers succeed.
Inevitably, some customers want to see the Commanding General, the actual Program Executive Officer (PEO), and the Senior Executive Service (SES) leaders. Those visits are good for general context, but experience has shown us they are not as close to the solicitation or proposal evaluations as one may think. Chances of them having anything to do with the Source Selection Board are very slim, and they are not facing the daily battles of the personnel closer to the actual work. If you are doing proper capture for the opportunity, you most likely shred the org chart of the buying agency and have a chart depicting who the decision makers and influencers are for this opportunity. That is not to be confused with who the decision makers and influencers are at the command level: two very different sets of people in most cases. The folks to target and talk to are the GS12’s and 13’s who have their finger on the pulse for the real work and have a much higher probability of being on the actual source selection evaluation board. By engaging them you will gain an understanding of what problem they are trying to solve, what makes their jobs complex, and what they value in terms of a quality business partner.
In today’s competitive market and shrinking budgets, we have to find our “niche” and be able to intelligently describe it to the Government representative. Your message to this potential customer should be reinforced by what you do for your existing clients; tell them how you have partnered with the Government to meet similar requirements and what outcomes were achieved. Additionally, don’t be intimidated if you don’t know everything about your potential customer. Bottom line is nobody expects it. They just look to see if you are knowledgeable about what you do and to show you have done your homework regarding how it might apply to them.
I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to take time to prepare. As amazing as it may seem, I have gone to client calls and the person I am accompanying will ask me in the lobby, “OK, what should we talk about?” In order to maximize the chances of a productive engagement, I actually take the time to rehearse the team on the visit. I wholeheartedly recommend this, especially for your corporate leaders who may not be as close to the opportunity as the capture team. Take the time to read through all the draft solicitation documents if they are available and research the mission, command briefs, bios, products & services the Government organization provides, the spending history, and future trends related to what they do. Understand the acquisition strategy of the opportunity. Don’t be surprised if the Government person asks you what you think about it, and of course, be prepared to tell them. My recent visits to the Acquisition Center at APG have shown they are asking industry for feedback on the effects of using lowest price – technically acceptable procurement (LPTA) award technique, etc.
One good way to structure the engagement is to use the “3-3-1″ rule. Years ago, a mentor trained me to develop 3 points I want to be sure and make, develop 3 questions about things I want to learn, and find a way to frame 1 reason to come back and visit a second time. I have found it’s best to make 3 points about your organization’s niche and experience and the intent to bid the solicitation and ask three questions about a topic during your discussion that deserves further development. I have always attempted to find a topic close to the organization’s solicitation and offer to provide a white paper as a reason to go back. This is tough to do sometimes, but if you start to obtain the intimacy, do your homework, and prepare you will find a touch point on which your paper can address; then go back in person and deliver it. In general it’s best to keep visit to 30 minutes, out of respect for the Government employee’s schedule, unless the dialogue warrants it. Anything longer than that may irritate the client for everyone is busy. Focusing on the 3-3-1 rule will keep the meeting focused and on time.
Call plans work. Do your homework, prepare, read the available solicitation documents, follow the 3-3-1 rule, rehearse and enjoy the professional dialogue.
Let us know how we can help you succeed in this or any other business effort!