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Your Elevator Pitch Needs Work

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… or you wouldn’t be reading this.

Yes, you. The “small, woman-owned company established in 2008, located in Alexandria, VA, that prides itself on excellent customer service and always striving to do best for our clients“.  Because if that sounds like you, you just wasted 20 seconds of everybody’s time for no good reason.

A truly great elevator pitch takes planning, practice, and precision. Especially in government contracting, where industry events are comprised of many companies of similar industries, you need to stand out, or you may as well be invisible.  Here’s what I mean:

  1. Planning. Know your audience.  Who is going to be in the room? What is the key takeaway you want them to remember? How will your 30-second opportunity set you apart from everyone else?  The point of the elevator pitch is for the listeners to spark an interest. Not to pre-emptively answer all their questions.  Naturally, your elevator pitch will be different in an open forum, in a 1-on-1 with a government agency, a potential teaming partner, or a banker.
  2. Practice. Every time you say “umm” or “you know” or “as I said” – you’re stealing seconds from your allotted time; losing the listeners’ attention; and killing your credibility as an expert.  Know what you will say ahead of time. Run it by a few people – a family member, friend, partner, a PTAP or SBDC counselor.  Be sure to test on people that don’t know the technical specifics of what you do, because if you’re speaking in code (or jargon), your customers may not understand what you’re saying.
  3. Precision. What are the key elements you want to convey that would want your listener to want to ask you more questions?  Look at a few templates for constructing the pitch, You can start  with this guide or this one. A generic, 1-size fits all blurb will fit no one. An appeal targeted specifically for the present audience will be more productive.

 

 

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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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Do Your Homework!

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Tell me if you’ve heard this one before – from contracting officers, OSDBUs, SBLOs, your well-meaning networking acquaintances and teaming partners and Chamber of Commerce #govcon speakers…And you have no idea what they are talking about.

What homework? How much do I have to do? where do I start? What’s the point? Are you just letting me down easy to wiggle out of a conversation? (Well, I can’t answer that last one – but I can certainly help guide you in the homework-doing department).

What the industry experts mean by ‘homework’ is to be prepared for a conversation with a potential customer – whether it’s a government agency, a large prime, or a similarly small business who you want as a partner.  Prepared to not just to recite to them how great you are, but to speak to your value proposition. What can you do for them?

Well, what can you do for them?

If you are even thinking about responding with something along the lines of “well, I can sell them my…” – STOP.

Federal agencies, and the food chain of contractors that you want to be a part of aren’t just buying products and services, no matter how shiny and cool. They aren’t “giving out” contracts, there are no magic words that would enable a government agency to suddenly bypass decades of processes and volumes of rules just to do you a favor.[1]

So how do you figure out what your customer wants to hear?

  1. Get to know your customer

How do you even know where to start, who would be a good customer for you? You may know from experience, which puts you a step ahead. But if it’s just a hunch – test that hypothesis through solid research before venturing out – you’ll save a lot of frustration and parking dollars.

  • What have they bought before? From whom? Where? How much did they spend? What kind competition do they usually have for your products/services? What NAICS do they use to buy your gadget?  Tools like USASpending and Schedule Sales Query are a good start. If you’re in IT, familiarize yourself with the IT Dashboard.
  • What are they on the market for currently? Opportunities in FBO, Procurement Forecasts.
  • Want more? Look at GAO reports, Inspector General’s office findings. What are your customers posting on Twitter? Are the decision makers speaking at conferences on topics of interest?
  • If you’re meeting with primes, find out in advance what they do. Their websites are a great start.
  1. Present yourself

Elevator Pitch, Business Card, Capabilities Statement, and a website. Know them, have them, invest in them. You want to present yourself as an established business that isn’t risky in any way. You want to appear polished and professional, memorable and knowledgeable.  If you are even thinking about sending an email to a government customer from a yahoo or gmail account, don’t do it. Get a company website with an email @your own domain. There are tools out there that make it really easy to put together a presentable website even for non-IT folks, for not a lot of money. Wix, SquareSpace are so easy, even I can do it.

They’ll be much more likely to invest time and answer questions from someone they see potential in.  They’ll be much more likely to send a complete newbie to their local PTAP office for the basic skills.

  1. Engage and ask the right questions

Forget asking your customer “what do you do.” If you haven’t figured it out, you’re wasting your time and theirs.   Now, if you are meeting a company you haven’t heard of at a networking event, that’s a fine question.  At a planned appointment, when you’ve had a chance to pull up their website at the least, it’s a taboo question.  If you’ve done the reading, you know what they do, you know what they buy, you know who they buy it from and how much they spend annually.   The questions you ask should showcase your knowledge of their environment and challenges, a subtle indication that you know exactly how to fix things – and a desire to understand their ideal state.

There are a number of opportunities to meet your customers – yes, at their office. Also at industry days, conferences, in LinkedIn groups, in local AFCEA, NCMA chapters, industry-specific organizations, and even on social media. Where are they going to learn? Where are they going to share information?  Don’t forget that your customers are people too – and can be found at dog parks and PTA meetings and home improvement stores. I’m not advocating stalking, but there’s a lot you can learn in a casual, no pressure, non-sales interaction that can enlighten your business development / teaming / proposal strategy.

This is plenty of homework to get started. If you need help, we’re here to help you work on your pitch, review your capabilities statement, assist with market research.

 

[1] Yes, there are instances where companies get work faster than the usual contracting timeline. That is the stuff of legends in our field. Usually, such miracles are the result of a lot of hard groundwork and persistence.

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