At OST, we often get a call to line up proposal support for an upcoming RFP. We hear that “RFP is about to drop, so send us a proposal manager, pronto.” Instead of reaching out to our consultants, however, we first pick up the phone and call the contracting officer to find out whether the RFP is truly expected to drop on the stated date. Sadly, often our prospective clients operate with old capture data. They ramp up, spend the money, and all the while they don’t do the simplest thing – pick up the phone.
Same during the capture process – many times companies COULD find out from the customer what the customer really needs, but they don’t. It’s true that many govies won’t talk to us, and many of us have become gun shy. We are afraid to reach out. We are reluctant to ask for a visit. We get comfortable in that dark cone of silence that the government bidding process becomes at times – and forget to venture out to seek clarity. Or, we feel constrained by our jobs: “I am a proposal manager (or technical writer), and I don’t interface with customers in our organization.” It doesn’t help that your personnel designated to interface with the customer fails to do so as well. As a result, we miss precious opportunities to learn more about our customers’ needs – and to write winning proposals.
People generally lean towards one or the other side of the spectrum: “people people” and “project people.” If you are a people person, you are probably right now shrugging your shoulders and saying that you have no problem calling anyone. If you are more of a project person, like most proposal managers and some capture managers, the story may be different.
- Do you ever find yourself reluctant calling a person you haven’t met, or find yourself procrastinating making that call even though you know you should have done it much earlier?
- Do you feel like you don’t know what to say to the customer?
- Do you already make excuses for the other person inside your head as to why they wouldn’t want to talk to you or see you?
In our capture courses, we teach many simple techniques to get you through the reluctance to call the customer. Here are three that may just do the trick for you.
- First and foremost, know what’s allowed and what is not. Calling the contracting officer about an RFP drop date, for example, is perfectly OK. Understand the acquisition lifecycle and where things are at any given moment with your opportunity, and you will know what the limitations are (if any). Also, know that the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) strongly encourage communication between the government and industry before receipt of proposals (FAR 15.201). It is the case because your inputs and a better understanding of government needs usually lead to better project execution.
- Second, do not go in cold. Do your homework. Find out as much as you can about the agency and its mission, customer’s organization, and the opportunity you are interested in.
- Third, prepare how you are going to introduce yourself, and what questions you are going to ask, but do not worry so much about what to say – you are there to listen first and foremost and ask more questions to find out further details.
If all else fails or your company has a policy against anyone calling the customer, find someone in your organization who has a relationship with the customer and would make that call for you (and remind them to do so till they do). The more customer visits or calls you make, on your own or through others, the more comfortable you will become at doing it.