Past performance is the antidote to one of the leading federal sales obstacle: risk aversion. It’s also more powerful than ever, as a way to unseat incumbents. How's your past performance inventory?
Here's why it matters. Federal buyers are cautious, the very definition of risk averse. Before she hires you, your federal prospect wants to know how you’ve solved her problem, for someone who looks just like her, preferably as recently as yesterday afternoon.
Your problem is how to show her that you’re the safe bet, especially if she’s never done business with you and never heard of you. That’s even more challenging if you’re reaching out to new prospects near the end of the fiscal year.
To complicate matters, you have two kinds of competition. The visible one is the incumbent she sees every day. You might know a dozen reasons why your service or product is far superior to your competitor’s. But somehow those conversations never seem to go anywhere. It’s baffling: why would your buyer settle for less than the best contractor she can get?
Answer: Your invisible competitor, risk. That’s the bundle of fears she has of all the things that could go wrong from choosing an unknown supplier. No matter how well (or poorly) the current contractor is performing, your contracting officer at least knows what to expect.
A contracting officer handles anywhere from hundreds to thousands of contracts a year. What’s at stake? What does a failed project represent to a contracting officer? A failed project, even one, can have a huge impact, both personal and professional. That black mark stays on her file forever. It’s the reason she’ll miss out on promotions. Missed promotions mean a lower end-of-career salary and less retirement pay. So when she chooses a contractor, it’s personal.
How can you break in? Enter past performance. It’s the top antidote to risk aversion. It’s also more powerful than ever, because federal incumbents aren’t winning re-competitions nearly as often as they did ten years ago.
Maybe you’ve done business inside that agency before. Maybe not, but you’ve done projects for other federal agencies. Your business track record might include commercial clients, or state and local government, too. But no matter how good you are, it’s not real until it’s documented. Counted, inventoried, charted.
Manufacturers and resellers understand inventory. It’s what they have for sale. They know exactly how many of each product, variation, style and color they have available. That’s their working capital, their assets. They have hard data to document their past performance: what they can deliver, how fast, at what prices, on what vehicles, and how quickly they can re-stock. They also know who they’ve sold to, how much, and when, as well as who had returns, questions, needed extra customer service.
The most successful companies mine that data to tell them which customers to nurture for follow up, reorder, and which ones to reward for sending referrals, too!
Service providers, take a lesson. Your past performance chart – not your employee roster, or your list of services -- is your most important inventory. How are you keeping track of what you have to offer?
Here's an example of a past performance summary chart, to get you started!
Where to begin? Start with a simple summary chart that highlight the stories of your most recent contracts: who, what, where, when, point of contact, value of contract.
Why is this helpful? First, oo you and your team can have these stories close at hand and pick the most compelling ones as examples in your early conversations with key contacts in federal agencies. The right stories of how you performed well for buyers similar to them can help open doors to that first meeting and beyond.
Next, pick a few that represent the range of what you can do, and which you've completed within the past 1-3 years.
Write up each one of those top examples in a 1-2 page project snapshot that gives more details on what you did, the buyer’s objectives, and all the ways and reasons why you met those expectations and delivered on time and on budget…or better. This saves oodles of time when you're preparing a proposal, because now you'll have all the details about the great job you did, any problems or challenges you addressed, and the unique solutions you provided, ready to drop into that proposal. No scrambling, no stress, total accuracy!
Not sure how federal buyers would consider your company’s experience? Let’s talk. Most companies have more than they realize. Federal, state and local, and even commercial, past performance: it all counts if you present it the right way.
Past performance is one of the most powerful tools you have. Leverage yours today.