Successful government contractors will tell you that developing relationships and building trust with key government personnel is an essential part to effective communication. As simple as communication seems, much of what we try to communicate to others, and what others try to communicate to us, can be misunderstood. In crafting your means of communication with agency personnel, consider the following:
IT’S THEIR JOB TO TALK TO YOU
Part of what contracting officers do is to discuss agency needs and current market capabilities—although they can seem reluctant to engage out of concern that they may be creating the appearance of preferential treatment. To deter this, the Office of Federal Procurement Policy issued, over the last three years, “myth buster” memos to encourage communication.
DO YOUR HOMEWORK
If you are calling the government to talk about an upcoming solicitation or request for proposal, it is essential that you research and understand all of the information about the opportunity. It will benefit you to not ask generic questions that are easily answered by publicly available information. If it is a recompete, you should research the prior solicitation and statement of work. Although the requirements might be different, you will at least have a baseline understanding of fundamental expectations.
SHEPHERD YOUR COMMUNICATIONS WITH THE AGENCY
Agency personnel are bombarded with capability statements from potential offerors. It is essential that your communications are professional and tailored to the needs of the agency. Take the time to understand exactly what it is the agency does and how it performs its mission. Only then can you tailor your message to highlight the unique qualifications you offer.
TALK TO THE RIGHT PERSON
The contracting officer is often the best and most appropriate person to reach out to—this individual is ultimately the key decision maker. If you want to discuss your technical capabilities, seek out the relevant technical representative or program manager. As a practical matter, he or she might have authority on technical issues that the contracting officer does not. You can typically find this contact information on the agency’s Web site.
Finally, if you are a small business, the agency’s Office of Small & Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU) can be a vital resource and potential advocate in your corner. The OSDBU provides outreach and liaison support to businesses and other members of the public and private sectors concerning business acquisition issues. Regardless if you won or not, when you receive notice of award, you should request a debriefing. If you lost, a debriefing will give you a chance to learn how you could improve your proposal and communication skills. You should also consider a debriefing even if you won because you can learn what the customer liked and incorporate those lessons in future bids.