Are you in sync with the Top 100?

How does your company's pursuit of government contracting stack up against the biggest and the best?

In anticipation of next month’s release of the 2012 Washington Technology Top 100 Federal Contractors list, I took a look at what the 2011 top contractors seem to have in common. Several traits seem to pervade the top contractors in the government market, traits that provide the edge necessary to get to and stay on top.

As you identify other traits, I invite you to share them in the “comments” section at the end of the article.

Relationships and community involvement. I have written about relations for more than 20 years because ever since I entered the government contracting community in the early 1980s, I’ve found that the best companies are those that are constantly developing key relationships with customers, partners, the media, investors and others who can positively influence their success.

This includes association involvement, selectively expanding your network, including the use of social media. This is important for companies of any size: relationships with customers, primes, subs, press and recognized industry experts. Stronger relationships and higher visibility in targeted communities improve your chances to be on a winning team.

Closely following the importance of relationships are the venues where one can develop and maintain key relations; that is, events. Selective participation in events is important. This will include seminars and conferences, receptions and briefings, in fact any event where the right people (right for you and your company) are likely to be. And regardless of recent news that implies the contrary, government decision-makers and influencers will continue to attend events. The key is to select the right venue predicated on the producer of the event, the track record of the event and who will be attending.

Customer/agency knowledge development is another key to success. Industry veteran Bob Davis calls it environmental scanning. Davis’ doctoral thesis covers the topic in depth, but in short it means developing and maintaining a thorough understanding of the mission, the stakeholders, preferred vendors and contracts, anything and everything about your target agency that can provide a competitive edge.

Beyond understanding your client, staying current on all aspects of the market is essential to keep up with your competitors. This is an election year and the news is full of references to “fraud, waste and abuse,” the continued growth of “strategic sourcing,” low price technically acceptable, continued tweaking of the “small business” program and much more. Understanding the importance of each element will help your company better respond to any given situation.

Selective use of outside services is common among the top contractors during bid and capture process for staff training, strategic relationship development, marketing, leveraging social media and more. Even the largest contractors will use outside services for specialized tasks. Selecting the right outside vendor from among the hundreds available is a process similar to selecting venues: How long has the company been in business? What kind of references can it provide? Does it specialize in your current needs? Is it a good fit for your team? The right consultant at the right time is often the difference between winning and losing.

The development of a process for identifying, tracking and winning business is another factor in sustaining growth. Steve Charles and Robert Silverman wrote about this several years ago in their white paper “Ten Tips for Technology Manufacturers in the Government Market.” You need a repeatable process for identifying emerging opportunities, tracking them, matching them with your core strengths, and determining where you fit in the bidding process (prime, sub, team member?).

Last, but certainly not least, is the development of areas of expertise, differentiating your company from others in your niche. For large companies this often means creating specialized groups within the business and for small companies it often means defining one or two areas of expertise that have demonstrated needs within the market. Among the current hot areas of expertise are health IT, cyber security, big data, mobile and cloud computing, each with many subsets of expertise. But they represent just the tip of the iceberg; there are many more. Companies need to be recognized for these areas and become subject matter experts and thought leaders in these disciplines.

These are not “nice to have” skills; they are among the “must develop” areas that you need if you plan to grow your business in the government market.

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