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Should You Bother with a Capabilities Statement?

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Spend enough time at matchmaking events, industry days, networking events and conferences in the #GovCon world, and one could amass quite a collection of Capabilities Statements.  If one were into collecting them.  Which I am:

The capabilities (or capability) statement is your business’s resume; as such, it needs to combine the technical skillset you’re offering with an attractive format that would cause a neutral third party to pick it up and glance at it.  There are plenty of resources (APTAC, HHS, SAP&DC) who will tell you what to put in it.  ISI Federal lays it out in a graphical format. FDIC has a whole slide deck.  I’d like to take you through a slightly different analysis:

“Who [or what] is it for?”

  1. Fitting in. I have seen more than one Small Business professional, representing government and prime contractors, ask for a capabilities statement right at the start of a conversation at a matchmaking event.  If you don’t have that, it looks like the dog ate your homework.  Not the first impression you were going for
  2. Benefits and Features. A quick glance at a well-constructed capabilities statement will give your reader an understanding of how your services or products will help them solve a problem in their organization. As such, it should highlight the results of your work, defining what you do with enough specificity to enable an informed buyer to be impressed.  If you can’t think of any way to impress or stand out, you probably shouldn’t be competing in the first place.
  3. Category box-checker. All the socio-economic and small business statuses and certification need to be there for easy reference. As well as your location, contact info, vendor (SAM / CAGE) numbers, NAICS codes, and any contract numbers that your customer may care about.  Sometimes capabilities statements are a component of market research – help your customers make the case of a set-aside (without repeatedly bashing them over the head with your status).
  4. Conversation re-starter. It’s on you to follow up to any great meeting to grow a relationship and turn a spark of interest into a true business lead. As such, a solid capabilities statement could be a good follow-up email attachment, for reference & recollection.  An electronic document, properly labeled and formatted, also makes it easier for your customer to store it and refer to it as necessary.

Is your one-pager ready for prime time?  Make sure you’re not guilty of any egregious “Don’ts“. Keep your customer paramount in your mind when you’re writing and designing: will she want to pick it up? Read it? share it?  Do you even know who your customer is? If not, do your homework first.

And if you would like some help, contact your local PTAP / PTAC. We’ve got our red pens at the ready.

 

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Why Am I Here? (At this conference)

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I am lucky to attend many a procurement conference.  The piles of business cards, and the expansive collection of branded grocery shopping bags in my car will attest to that.

I go to learn the content, sometimes to speak, and to meet people (and depending on the content of the conference, not necessarily in that order). In fact, defining the business goals for attending – including sponsoring or exhibiting – is essential if you want to avoid wasting your time and money at events that aren’t right for your business. The process goes something like this:

  • Will my customers be there?

there’s nothing more frustrating than going to an event marketed as “Special event for government contractors” and there are 2 government contracting businesses in the room.  Look at past events, peruse the sponsor information, if published. Talk to the organizers. Ask your industry contacts if they think this is a good event.

  • Will my industry influencers be there?

Sometimes you have to see and be seen. If a preeminent industry event is happening and all your competitors are showing up and your absence would loudly proclaim that you’re not paying attention — then you better put on that suit and register before it’s all sold out.  If a customer tells you that they’re putting on an event and expending effort to bring you a program, get their folks to agree to speak, those should all be good signs that your absence won’t go unnoticed.

  • Will my resources /vendors be there?

Some of the events may not be all about you making a sale. Sometimes, you may want to learn about trends in the industry or resources that you can use in your business.  Looking for a legal pro? An event featuring attorney speakers on a particular subject matter may be a quick way to get a question answered – and perhaps a lead on a good attorney you can retain.  Same thing goes for any resource you need: the people putting on events, appearing as subject matter experts tend to be well connected, and may be great resources for your business.

  • Will I learn something useful for my business?

You’re there to learn – so engage, participate, ask questions, take the opportunity to have a word with a speaker (or at least get their card).  You can also make a good impression from the audience if you post / tweet about the event in progress, linking to the speakers’ and organizers’ Twitter handles can get you a few “likes” and “retweets” – building your name recognition and notoriety even as you’re in the audience.

  • Will I do “better” by exhibiting / sponsoring?

If your customers and partners are walking around and you want to get noticed, having an exhibit table is a quick way for them to find you. If you have something that catches their eye and gets them to your table – all the better.  At many conferences, sponsors get advanced marketing, such as social media, print, and website recognition. Bigger events even pre-print giveaways with all the sponsor logos.  Word of caution: if you do decide to exhibit or sponsor an event – make sure you’re ready. Do you have something to give away? (even a capabilities statement and some candy). Do you have a professional-looking presence? Logo, tablecloth, banner…. You don’t want to be over- or under- dressed for the occasion. If you’ve gone to an event before, you know what all the other exhibitors will have. You don’t want to look like you didn’t prepare.  If you’re a first-time attendee to a particular conference, it’s perfectly fine to just attend and make a decision if it’s worth exhibiting the following year.

 

  • Here’s what NOT to do:

  1. Look at your phone the whole time.  You’re there to meet people, right?
  2. Leave your business cards at home.  [I keep a stash in my car for emergencies.]
  3. Leave early.  I know you want to beat the traffic, but I can honestly tell you that government agencies that put a lot of work into the industry days and conferences – and find it disappointing that contractors who claim want to work with them dissipate from the room. I know everyone has multiple commitments; if this event / customer is a priority, commit to it.
  4. Forget to follow up.
  5. Follow up as a mass email to everyone – the best I can assume is that you weren’t paying attention when we spoke. The worst I’m going to assume is that you don’t care that much.
  6. Have unrealistic expectations.  Read the information about the event, the speakers, the sponsors.  Understand their roles and responsibilities with respect to the subject matter, and what kind of information you can learn through the agenda topics, as well as conversations you can engage in.
  7. Fail to read instructions and prepare. Read the registration page carefully. Review driving directions & traffic. Add the event to your calendar. If payment is required, take care of it.
  8. No-show. If you can’t make it, let the organizers know. They would like to have an accurate count for food orders, room capacity, and possibly waitlisted folks.
  9. Take it out on the registration desk.  If there’s a problem, ask to speak to an organizer. the folks at the desk doing check-in probably weren’t at fault for mis-printing your name. Yelling at them is not going to get you the answer you want – but being nice to them can get you what you need.
  • What SHOULD you do?

  1. Participate – strike up conversations, invest in an exhibit opportunity if it makes sense, ask questions in the sessions, if you see a staff person struggling with a heavy object, lend a hand.  There are a myriad ways to make a good impression.
  2. Show up on time.  Early-birds: that means you, too.  There are no gold stars for folks that want to register while the organizers are trying to set up. They’re even more anxious to get started than you are, promise.
  3. Dress professionally for the tone of the conference.  Logo shirts are usually a good idea — but you may want to check to see if attire is “business” – that is, suits required.
  4. If you have special needs, let the organizer know in advance so that we can accommodate you to the fullest extent possible.
  5. Share the love on social media. Post to LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook any insights or photos. Not only will it give you content, but it will be picked up and shared by organizers and speakers! and you may get a few more followers in the process.
  6. Follow up with folks you want to start building relationships.  Invite them to connect on LinkedIn, invite them out for coffee, ask them a follow-up question about the topic you discussed, bring up a tidbit from a conversation that shows you were genuinely interested in what they had to say.

What have you done at events you attended that made a difference in your business?

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Conference Swag – A hunter-gatherer’s perspective

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If you’re wondering if attending conferences is a good idea –  Here’s what I think.  This article is entirely about the “goodies.”

I decided to do a business experiment, in the make of marketing and wise use of resources: Attending the Veterans in Business conference and getting one piece of “everything” with the hope of learning a couple of lessons.  A couple of observations:

Attendees:

  1. A full bag of “swag” is heavy.  Also at some point it starts looking conspicuous, so you might want to have a really good reason for taking all the things, such as “I’m writing a blog about it!” for fear of appearing greedy.
  2. You must engage the vendor at the table in conversation. Cruising by just to grab stuff is not polite.  (Sneaky option: wait until everyone is at lunch).
  3. How many pens do you really need? Yes, it’s free. But you’re there to network, not get goodies for the kiddies. Eye on the [right-kind-of] prize.  Unless you have a good excuse (“I’m writing an article about it!”)
  4. Don’t let the dust gather.  Yes, you can quite literally weigh the effect of your networking by the size of the bag. But if you leave it all in a corner of your office and don’t look at the materials, don’t make the contacts, don’t utilize the intel you have gathered at the event, it may not be the best time spent on your business.

 

Vendors:

  1. What is the purpose of the goodies? To get people to your table? Or to leave a lasting impression long after they leave? Your goodie-investment decision can’t be based solely on the novelty / uniqueness of the giveaways, you must ask yourself if the giveaways are meeting the goals you set out.  I can honestly say that the wine opener isn’t going to be sitting on my office desk, for a variety of perfectly good reasons.
  2. Zoom in on your key targets:  Yes, everyone can have a pen.  You might also have a few special (and more expensive / perishable) goodies for the prospects that you want to make an extra special impression on. It’s ok to keep things out of view.
  3. Watch the paper. How many pieces of collateral are you handing out? How many do you expect someone to read after they walk away?  Don’t waste precious resources on volumes that will end up in the recycling bin.
  4. Do you have a mechanism for tracking interested prospects? Asking for a business card, even having a giveaway fishbowl – it’s quite amazing what folks will tell you for a chance to win a $5 Starbucks card.
  5. Don’t make it too difficult for someone to get one of your goodies. People don’t like to beg for things. If it’s on display, chances are you don’t want to leave the conference with a boxful – so don’t put them in the back of the table, while standing in front of it and scaring people off.

2017 Trends?

I was disappointed to score only one flash drive, and zero phone chargers!  Car chargers and USB battery packs were all the rage in the last few years, but no longer.  It seems that everyone is still into phone accessories though:

Health and wellness were big:

 

Plenty of office goodies

 

                                                                      i counted 25 pens (a couple of duplicates)!

 

Oh and right, the handouts

 

from vendors (left, 2″ high) and government (right, about 1″ high plus the book).

 

 

 

 

What you don’t see pictured is the candy.  An easy way to get folks to your table. An inexpensive marketing investment.  And if all you have is paper – candy will soften the hard edges.

Goodies-wise, the standout table of the whole conference of course never made it into any bag – it was a delicious display of cookies from Dog Tag Bakery.

 

So here’s a lesson for businesses who are trying to figure out how to spend a very limited marketing budget wisely:

  1. Who is your customer? [human being that’s making / influencing / contributing to] decisions on whether to buy a product/service you sell.
  2. What would cause that person to come to your table?
  3. What do you want them to remember after they leave your table?  (Pro tip: the phrase “My grandkid will love this!”  — maybe not what you were going for)
  4. Do you have a way to follow up with them after that conversation?

Making the best first impression is important. But no matter how cool your giveaway, it won’t transform a passer-by into a client – that’s YOUR job.  Gadgets can help.

 

What were some of the best (and worst) giveaways you have seen at business events?

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