Advice for contractors who want to gain a little more control over their fates

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For a federal contractor, the best motivation for a new year’s resolution is a better shot at more work. My next guest won’t help you lose weight or write more letters, but he does have a few things that can help your business prospects. Federal sales and marketing consultant Larry Allen joined the Federal Drive with Tom...

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Best listening experience is on Chrome, Firefox or Safari. Subscribe to Federal Drive’s daily audio interviews on Apple Podcasts or PodcastOne.

For a federal contractor, the best motivation for a new year’s resolution is a better shot at more work. My next guest won’t help you lose weight or write more letters, but he does have a few things that can help your business prospects. Federal sales and marketing consultant Larry Allen joined the Federal Drive with Tom Temin to discuss.

Interview transcript:

Tom Temin: And you’ve got some new year’s resolutions. I know it’s a stale idea. But these are pretty decent ideas for kind of getting back to the basics, Larry.

Larry Allen: Tom, they are ideas for getting back to the basics. And yet, if every contractor did them, just as if we fulfilled our other New Year’s resolutions, we wouldn’t have to come back to these. But the fact is that a lot of contractors — even experienced businesses — don’t really always hit the basics. So I thought, at the time of year when we’re making resolutions for our personal lives, it would be good for contractors to make some for their federal business lives, so that they have a good 2022 on that front as well.

Tom Temin: All right, well, let’s start with some of them. What are your top ideas here?

Larry Allen: Well, my number one resolution for contractors is for them to research on the agency prospects that they want to target before they reach out to those agencies, Tom. As we mentioned at the top, this may seem obvious, but I can assure you it’s not. We want to make sure that you’re doing research on what the agency’s buying. Did they just buy what you’re trying to sell them? That happens more often than you would think. So you don’t want to go call on an agency only to find that they just let enormous contract for what it is you want it to sell. That’s not going to be helpful. Also make sure you have the contract vehicles that that agency buys from. So for instance, if you’re selling in the Department of the Army, and they buy from a lot of army technology contracts, you better have one of those, or have a partner who has one of those, so you can use that preferred platform. Those are just a couple examples of why it is important to do research before you actually pick up the phone or send an introductory email.

Tom Temin: Yes, because agencies nowadays are getting, I mean, this trend toward getting away from price. It’s an long term trend, but we’re seeing less price oriented, many more best value types of procurements. So details other than the price really matter, and they go deep.

Larry Allen: But Tom, you hit on one there for that’s my next resolution, and that details. The devil, in just everywhere else in government contracting, is in the details. Here what I’m talking about is making sure that you, as a contractor, follow through in a timely manner on agency requests for information, requests for clarification. Let’s say you get that introductory meeting and it goes well. And your prospect asks you to follow up with them in a couple of weeks and provide them with additional data. Tom, again, this is something that seems obvious, but I’ve seen numerous contractors drop the ball here, who’d never get back to that agency. They get distracted by the flavor of the month that’s walking by. Some new project comes down the street, they had a prospect who is willing to buy from them potentially, wanted to learn more, the opportunity was there to provide more and they just don’t do it. That’s a great way to have a prospective business door close, just because you weren’t taking proper notes and didn’t follow up as the agency asked you to do. So make sure that you’re following up. And then you’re doing it in a timely manner.

Tom Temin: All right, let’s talk about the idea of contract mods. Because sometimes, well, this can happen sometimes. A solicitation can change simply because someone objected to something in the original solicitation. And if you don’t update accordingly, you kind of get out of the loop there, too.

Larry Allen: That’s right. That’s a very good point, Tom, particularly in this day and age, when you get multiple pre-award contract protests on large IDIQ vehicles. If you don’t track the changes that come as a result of some of those protests, you could be responding to an RFP that’s out of date, which makes your response non-responsive. You don’t get a contract. So you have to pay attention to what the modifications are, what the changes are in that contract, so that when you’re submitting a bid, you’re submitting on the current set of expectations and needs, not necessarily what the original needs were, because those could have changed. And for your existing contracts, if the government sends you a modification, don’t sign it before you read it. Again, this seems obvious, but the most recent example I can give is in the GSA Schedules Program, where something like 90% of all scheduled contract holders just signed the COVID-19 requirement that they were all going to have their people vaccinated. Well, you know as well as I know that of the 90% of companies that signed that mod Tom, at least half of them had no idea what it was they were signing. The government sent them something, said it needed to be signed, they signed it and sent it back. This is something that can get your company in lots of trouble. If you don’t know what you’re signing up for, if a key term has changed, you can go proceeding down as if you think some set of terms are going to govern your contract, but really it’s something new, and you can find yourself in a heap of trouble later on. So it may not be glamorous, but just like, you know, you need to put the Christmas tree away to get the ornaments up and put them back in the attic, this is the necessary work you have to do to keep your contracting house in order.

Tom Temin: We’re speaking with Larry Allen, president of Allen Federal Business Partners. And let’s talk about some of the challenges on the government side this year. You’re concerned about especially GSA being able to get a crucial contract out on time.

Larry Allen: This is gonna be a big year for GSA, Tom, in terms of getting a couple of really big IDIQ contracts either out the door, or ready to go out the door soon after the end of this new year. First up, there’s the Polaris contract — GSA’s next generation small business information technology contract. We expect to have the first RFPs come out this month, and then by March all of the RFPs for the different parts of the contract will be out. Polaris is going to be a huge test. It’s not easy doing a small business set aside contract in an IDIQ setting. You will get protests. I hope that GSA is taking the time to make sure that all of their requirements and all of the things that are in the terms part are crystal clear to industry, particularly smaller businesses who may not have done very much of this before. Otherwise, Polaris stands the chance of getting bogged down in protest land, which could take months. So that’s the first challenge. One of the bigger challenges that the agency is going to have to address throughout the entire year is making sure that they move on their OASIS follow-on. Right now it’s called the Services Mac — I’m sure it will get a snazzy name later on this year, maybe that can be one of the things we do is come up with a contest to name the new GSA Services MAC vehicle.

Tom Temin: Well, if they have Polaris, maybe they can call it Nautilus.

Larry Allen: Nautilus, right, 20,000 leagues under the FAR. So you can do that type of thing, but the bottom line is that’s going to be a huge, complex contract. OASIS has been phenomenally popular. GSA and industry and customers, I think, all hope that the follow-on will be as useful and as flexible as OASIS has. That’s not scheduled to go out until next year, Tom, but all of the nitty gritty work, all of the heavy lifting has to be done in 2022, GSA is going to have to make sure that they hit their marks on that, in order to keep that going, because OASIS will run out of time and space, and you don’t want that to happen until you’ve got your next vehicle in place.

Tom Temin: And that’s a key point you made, they really have to have a lot of communication now with industry because seeing these big IDIQ solicitations get sunk under protests. It’s kind of a dreary way that it killed some of them.

Larry Allen: Yes, and there’s been ample evidence of that happening even inside GSA. Polaris, after all, is the new program that would come in place of the alliance to small business contract. Right now we have an NIH’s CIO-SP4 contract on some sort of delayed extended hold, specifically because of about two dozen protests they’ve had in the pre-award arena. Nevermind whatever they might get after they start making contract awards. Polaris really has to kind of run that protest gauntlet, Tom. I know they’ve got a good team in place. I’m optimistic that they’ll be able to win their way forward towards an award. Let’s just hope that that’s what happens, because agencies and small businesses could really use this type of contract.

Tom Temin: And that gets us back to your final resolution, given the fact that we have a continuing resolution, and we’ve got to, we even had a snow day to begin the first working day of the year. I mean, how often does that happen? And that’s the idea of perspective.

Larry Allen: Perspective, Tom. This is a long year, this is going to take many months of preparation before we get to the end of the fiscal year. You mentioned we’re starting under a continuing resolution. Continuing that way, we are going to be that way for the next little while. It’s important to maintain perspective, and above all maintain a sense of humor. Remember, we’re all people working with other people, trying to reach a common goal, which is to make the government better, and to work as a partnership between contractors and government agencies. Keeping the right perspective, keeping the sense of humor, will keep you on a more even keel. And make sure that you have a really good year. If you take things too seriously, you may end up in a place you don’t really want to be on a lot of levels. So I don’t recommend coming to me for jokes, Tom, because my sense of humor is lousy, but find a way to see humor in what you do every day.

Tom Temin: All right. Larry Allen is president of Allen Federal Business Partners. As always, thanks so much,

Larry Allen: Tom, I thank you and I wish your listeners happy selling.

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