3 ways to use your knowledge network to build client intimacy in US federal contracting

“Trust is a long game,” said Todd Cameron, Founder of Cameron Enterprises and one of our panellists at our recent webinar How to use your knowledge networks to build client intimacy.

The webinar is now available as a recording. Sign up to view it and we’ll notify you of future webinars in our series. We’ve taken some of the key soundbites from our three panellists and compiled this list of three ways your knowledge network can help you build client intimacy. 

When we say knowledge network, we are referring to the entire community of contributors who help support your organization — often in an on-demand capacity. This includes your full-time-employees, consultants, contacts within your industry, your board of directors, your advisors and more. The better you build out your network of subject matter experts with specific domain knowledge and in-depth agency information, the stronger your foundation is for building a deep relationship with the offices and agencies you seek to partner with.

Defining client intimacy in government contracting 

Establishing client intimacy in the federal contracting space requires a lot of time, a lot of expertise, and frequently comes down to having the right contacts. 

“Customer intimacy is about having a deep understanding of the customer’s risks and challenges and those of the customer’s stakeholders,” says panellist Robert Polster, President of Polster Consulting. “But most GovCon companies are oblivious to those risks and challenges.” 

To help you better understand those challenges and the specific ways your knowledge network can help you overcome them, here’s our list of three ways to build client intimacy in federal contracting. 

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1. Market development

Too many contracting companies lack the necessary focus to put themselves in a winning position, explains Polster. “Because they don’t understand customer problems, they become commoditized,” he said. “They look the same as all the other companies offering the same products and services. And because they are commoditized, they compete on price and have low win rates.” He goes on to explain his concept of an “insight factory” in the webinar recording, and how companies can move from proposal hell to proposal nirvana. 

Establishing client intimacy requires a depth of focus on specific areas. Start by selecting the markets you want to enter and grow with, for example, the Depart of Defence (DoD).  “We look at a three-plus years time horizon,” says Cameron. “We do summary level research to understand the forces shaping this market, the biggest needs and areas of investment.” 

Differentiating yourself from your competitors requires that little extra, and you can’t always go straight to the source to learn it. “Don’t put the contracting officer on the spot with inappropriate questions,” says panellist Edward Schultz, a former contracting officer with the CDC. As a rule of thumb, adds Schultz, never ask a government employee anything that you wouldn’t want your competitors to know the answer to. “You put the contracting officer on the spot and that can be somewhat irritating. You don’t want the contracting officer to have to say, ‘No, I can’t tell you that.’”

In the webinar, Schultz lays out a whole list of “do’s and dont’s” for interacting with government contracting officers. 

As you begin to familiarize yourself with the markets you want to serve, access to experts who can provide those answers — and who may already have client intimacy in that market —  can help you make key decisions that will improve your win rate. 

2. At the client or organizational level

These are the specific organizations that you focus on doing business, doing the work you want to do. Using our DoD example, an organizational-level example would be the Air Force Material Command. These are the organizations that you have chosen as the ones where you are most likely to achieve success. 

Your timelines to revenue in new categories like this can still be longer than you wish.  “Expect revenue in one to two years,” said Cameron. “We need to develop executive-level relationships, to shape thinking about who we are, what makes us different, etc. Earning the right to compete competitively for work in the organization.”

Scaling your ability to develop those executive-level relationships can help you become competitive in more than one area. Building your network of experts who already have those relationships can put you in a better position, faster. Instead of trying to make contact with a single General, your network can help you work toward gaining access to a great deal more executive contacts. 

3. On specific opportunities

When it comes to specific requests for proposals (RFPs), the relationships your company has with the individuals that will release and evaluate those RFPs are vital. “The focus here is on understanding the individual buyer’s values,” said Cameron. 

“Make the contracting officer’s job easy. You will reap the benefits from this.”
-Edward Schultz, Founder of Eds Fedconsulting 

The vendors who win specific government vehicles are the ones who have already established some level of client intimacy with the organizations and individuals that make those decisions. Does your capture team have someone who can help to shape the RFP before it’s issued? If not, your pWin may not be what you hope it is. 

Schultz provides a number of specific examples of how specific domain knowledge can help you establish client intimacy and make contracting officers lives easier. “Each contracting officer or contract specialist is going to have to write up something called a Summary in Negotiations or a Price Negotiation Memorandum where they have to justify the price,” he explained. “Tell them how you got your rate, tell them the basis for your fringe rate or your overhead rate, so they don’t have to ask. Tell them ‘my price is based on a GSA rate that’s been discounted 23%’ or something like that. Help them explain the basis for your price. It makes their job so much easier.”

Well in advance of when an RFP is issued, your company should be extending its knowledge network to include the kinds of contacts that can help you establish that level of influence. 

Learn more about how to use OnFrontiers to build your on-demand knowledge network

Want to learn more about how to create your own knowledge network with OnFrontiers and boost your pWin? Email sales@onfrontiers.com, or view the entire webinar.