MULTI-PART SERIES: How to have better meetings with Acquisition officials – Up close and personal, Part 2

Just because COVID-19 is forcing us indoors doesn’t mean that we can’t get together and learn from one another. Recently, Lohfeld Principal Consultant and Capture expert Dr. Doug Himberger interviewed former GSA Contracts Director, Jacob Bertram. In this second installment, Doug and Jacob discuss how to have better meetings as part of developing a strategy for winning business at an agency. For the previous installment, click here.

[Doug] Jacob, So you’ve had a number of meetings many, many over the years, and the companies that came in to meet with you, how would you describe them? What were their characteristics that you found to be positive, that made you want to have additional meetings with them, that you found to be productive meetings. What about those industry meetings? How would you describe and characterize those companies?

[Jacob] The ones that I remember the most over my 15 years in government are the really engaging meetings, where there’s a two-way dialogue. The contractor or the business development people start off with questions about pain points, like “How do you feel when this happens?” or, “What do you like about procuring things on Amazon?” or something else that really resonates with me personally and, as a result, I actually enjoyed the conversation. It wasn’t hours of PowerPoint charts or just listening to people talk about how great their product is.

In one that I remember very clearly, they focused on Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and we talked about the routine tasks that it takes in order to complete an action. Something that really helped out was, “Okay, these are the number of things that you have to do. And here’s the video that we’re going to watch that shows RPA, how it works. And it can automate a lot of the tasks that you’re doing all the time, and it lets your staff have more higher-value work. It doesn’t necessarily replace people, which is what some people think RPA does. But instead of clicking around a hundred times, it might just be just a few clicks and let the computer take the rest. And you can spend the time on the higher-value items.”

[Doug] So these companies that came in the way you just described, they had prepared. They knew about you, and they knew about the challenges that you faced. They knew what funding plans and projections might be on the table. They knew all that before they came to meet with you. Correct?

[Jacob] Right. And as you are suggesting, following the funding through Congress and then the Executive Branch is important. On several occasions, a prospective contractor might’ve known our funding better than we did ourselves. They might have had connections at central office where they talked about the program, or they just did their homework. But, they were able to come in and say, “Okay this particular program has a billion dollars in funding. $100M is going to be reserved for central office. $900M is out there in the field. And out of this $900M, this is what we think you can get for that. And it might be more than enough, might not be enough. It might get you started,” or something. That was very helpful because sometimes offices don’t have the full picture. So many people in the government have very, very siloed jobs and might not fully understand the whole picture.

Knowing the overall funding picture, what it’s going to look like, or how many years, the type of money and everything, bringing all of that to the table is important, because in the government, you might have the finance people that know the color of money and the timing and the extent that it can be used, but their plans might be different than the technical people who understand the technical requirements. And the contracting side might understand the competition and stuff like that. You’re not going to necessarily have a meeting of the minds within the government right at the beginning. So, the more information that you can show the government about what’s available, what’s on the table, what you think the projection is, and how it fits into the agency’s strategic plan—if you can bring the whole picture wrapped around and mapped to a strategic plan, that’s going to get attention and notice.

[Doug] So, in these meetings, you’re suggesting that industry bring technical, the program management, and cost and pricing people, that you have a mix?

[Jacob] Oh, sure. Bring the cost and pricing people, the technical SMEs, program managers, and maybe even a contracts person. They can talk about considerations, “For this type of contract work, if you do it firm fixed price, it’s going to get you a better result and this is why. If you do a cost reimbursement, it’s going to get you this result and why.” Because the way industry approaches the different contract vehicles and the different contract types is going to very, very much drive the requirement and the pricing. So, I think fully understanding, “If you want a firm fixed price contract, this is what you’re going to get. It might not be exactly what you want; but if you’re willing to share in the risk for a fixed price incentive, then these might be what some of the ratios are, this is what we’re going to be able to do for you.”

The government having that information up front might help them determine and select the contract type and the contract vehicle, whether it’s a GSA schedule buy or a buy off a GWAC or open market. Having all that information right there can definitely help out. So, being over-prepared for all the different parts of the procurement is going to be very important in the initial meetings.

[Doug] You mentioned things that you didn’t like, such as a raft of PowerPoint slides, but you also mentioned some things that you liked, where people talked about some innovative technologies and so forth. What sort of artifacts—whether it’s a demonstration, a white paper, (maybe even a presentation deck)—what sort of things do you think lend themselves to effective meetings?

[Jacob] I think the most effective are short videos. Even if it’s something out on YouTube that you can just send in a chat to your colleagues, saying, “Hey, check this out. We just went to a presentation on it, and it’s pretty cool.” I remember the Tik Tok style more than those like a slideshow presentation. I think that is going to be important, especially in the generation where everyone’s looking at their computer screens now. Right now, we don’t have meetings to go to. We can’t see people in person or go out to lunch with colleagues. Just being in front of a computer is all we have. And something more entertaining with color that you can share, whether it’s a link or just a video or something that in just a few minutes is going to be more helpful than a PowerPoint deck that’s going to sit on a share drive forever.

Look for the next discussion on our Lohfeld Insights blog—Up close and personal, Part 3: The Goldilocks approach to sharing information and cold calling.

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