Imagine being a federal buyer, barraged by vendor emails and direct mail, especially from July through September. How can you, as a vendor, stand out from all that noise?
Strategy: Pick up the phone, with the goal of getting in front of buyers, live and in person.
Why is it so hard to make phone calls?
We have two simple fears:
We are afraid of rejection,and we’re afraid that we won’t know what to say.
I’m going to make all of that go away for you, forever, starting now.
Dealing with the first fear -- fear of rejection – is easy. When you make a phone call, what’s the worst thing that could happen? Someone might tell you they don’t want to talk to you, or, worse, can’t talk to you, and might even be rude on top of that, and then even worse, hang up!
What if you knew that you’d almost certainly get treated nicely? Would that make it easier to pick up the phone? You’re about to get your wish!
When you phone a government office, you are – always -- speaking to a public servant. First and foremost, you’re a member of the public they are there to serve. In fact, the vast majority of government employees genuinely want to be of service. Even if the person who answers the phone is a contractor, that person has been engaged to serve you. So they want to help you, even if the most they can do is pass you along to someone else.
That’s a big deal, if the expectation of being rejected has discouraged you from picking up the phone!
The second fear -- that we don’t know what to say or ask or do – takes a bit more work, but you can do it, and it’s not hard. Experience and common sense tell us that we can’t say, “Hi, do you need what we do?” or “I’m with a service-disabled woman veteran 8(a) HUBZone company. Got anything for me?” If not that, then what?
Here’s the solution: when you’re super-prepared, you’ll have lots to talk about! That’s why the buyers all say, “Do your homework.” They’re saying, “Show that you know what we do and how we work.” So, how do you do that? Here is what you need to do, at a bare minimum, so that you don’t sound like you’re just on a fishing expedition in that first conversation.
Start by researching all you can about your target agency. Go beyond their recent listings on FedBizOpps. Review and highlight everything relevant in their forecast. Dig into the past contract data of the Federal Procurement Data System to know who their incumbents are and when those contracts expire. See what contract vehicles your buyer uses, including the major GWACS or IDIQ’s, and which large and small primes hold those vehicles. Know every possible way you could do business with them, either through your own vehicle or by teaming with someone else’s that the data shows they use most. Look up the points of contact associated with recent solicitations and contract awards in that agency for what you do. Gather all that information together in your own mini briefing book on that agency.
Pick out the examples of your own past performance that are most likely to resonate with the person or agency you’re going to call. Make sure you have the summary details handy for that conversation, so you can easily cite examples to answer their questions about your experience.
Next, no matter how smart you are, how much research you’ve done, be humble. Let your prospect feel wise. How hard it that? You will almost always learn something you didn’t know. Someone might confirm, or correct, or update, the information you’ve researched.
Then, when you make your calls, start by asking for help. You’re going to develop your own scripts based on your own experience, of course. Here are just a few ideas to get you started:
- “I’m wondering if you can point me in the right direction. Our company (solves this problem…) and we do business with clients like (XYZ agency / Fortune 500 company / Big Giant Prime today). I’d like to get your advice. If you were me, in your agency, who would you be talking to?
- “I’ve been doing some research into your agency’s buyers in this region/office. From what I can see, these three people’s names seem to come up a lot when they’re buying what we do/make. I’m wondering who I missed? If you were me, who would you be talking to?”
- “We only want to team with the best. Who’s doing good work for you in our niche right now?”
Of course there’s more to it, including what to do when they say, “You know I can’t tell you that!” But once you learn the right questions to ask, and how to interpret what you’re hearing, you can make serious progress on the first call, even if you don’t reach the right person on the first try. So do your homework, don’t be afraid, and let them help you get their business!
Related: Did you see Tip #1? Here it is!