It’s February and if you are following the lifecycle of Federal acquisition as we defined in our previous blog, you’re likely in the midst of establishing new teams and fostering old teaming relationships in preparation of 2016 pursuits.
Sometimes it pays to go it alone. Sometimes, though, that extra boost in complementary capabilities and resources from a teaming partner is exactly what will help you win your pursuit.
Before you set out on a mission to find your dream partner, make sure you have a clear understanding of the RFP requirements. Thoroughly read the submission requirements, evaluation criteria, and specifications and highlight those items that relate to teaming partners, subcontractors and joint ventures. Verbiage such as, “Experience of proposed subcontractors will not be considered” is a clue that you must be able to self-qualify on that particular opportunity.
Not having a clear understanding of the bid requirements is a common pitfall. You can avoid this with a thorough read-through of the solicitation. Red flags include language like, “Experience of proposed subcontractors will not be considered.”
Before Taking the Leap….
The paths to finding your dream teaming partner are much like those paths we take in our search for true love. There’s “love at first sight” (or, in the business realm, “Nice to meet you; let’s team up.”). Then there is “speed dating” (translated in the business world as essentially a “fast-tracked union” in hopes of having a legitimate chance of winning the contract.) Finally, we have the “take your time to build a meaningful relationship, big-picture” approach, which over time, allows you to hone in on those qualities that make another company an ideal partner for you.
Let’s take a look at all three possibilities and how they can help, or hinder, your chances of scoring a contract.
- “Nice to meet you; let’s team up.” It is almost always a bad decision to jump into a relationship with a company you don’t know much about. There are questions to be asked and qualifications to be vetted. Before you commit, perform your due diligence and understand exactly who you are working with and the company’s position in the market.An overly rushed approach can doom your bid chances. Tennyson wrote that “’Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.” This sentiment sounds nice, but it doesn’t fly in the business world. Winning Government contracts, no matter the quantity of wins, is still better than a losing bid record. As we know in relationships, trying to force something that isn’t right ultimately ends badly.
- A fast-tracked union. Let’s say you want to submit on a big Government contract (IDIQ) and you meet or exceed most of the requirements—except for one little piece of experience that stands in the way of you and a potentially big payday. To make matters worse, the clock is ticking—and your likelihood of success diminishes with each passing day.It’s time to cancel all meetings, order in lunch and gather the company’s decision-makers: you aren’t going home until you’ve come up with a teaming strategy and have the name(s) on your team roster. Once you’ve put a name to that missing piece of experience that you need to qualify, it’s time to approach the candidate. Just as with speed dating, you have to be concise, poised (confidence is attractive; desperation is not!) and know exactly what you want. After all, you’re getting assessed too!
- Take your time to build a meaningful relationship. You’ll know a good thing when you see it. By now, you’ve been in the industry long enough to know what you really want in a teaming partner, and you know where to start looking. Give yourself time to screen prospective partners for future projects, especially if your strategic planning includes expanding your business. And when you find “the one”, keep in touch! Foster a relationship with follow-up emails and calls, or even better, in-person visits—show them that you still care.Note: in this context, there’s nothing wrong with finding “The One(s)”. Having many good teaming partners is a major benefit, as even the best partners will sometimes be unable to work with you on a particular project.
Here’s four tips on best practices in developing strategic teaming relationships to increase your win rates in procuring Government contracts.
1. Court Before you Commit.
You successfully resisted the intensity of the initial attraction and prudently decided to date. This is the time to discuss your dreams for conquering the world one contract at a time, aspirations for new product innovations, and travel into new geographic regions.
Because you and the potential partner are still brimming with optimism, before you embark on this period of long-term courtship, consider drafting the Teaming Agreement that will eventually become the basis for a Subcontracting or Sub-Consultant Agreement. This helps to document and confirm that you both see “eye to eye” on the various business terms and can help you identify any areas that may be potential deal-breakers so they can be properly addressed. It also helps you determine whether the relationship would actually make sense.
Seeing an initial alignment in your goals can help you bond and build trust. This process leads to better partnerships than “speed dating,” in which the competitive and hurried process often makes forging a real connection difficult.
Tip #1: How to get your potential teaming partner to say, “I do”? Offer them something they want. This means listening to what is really being said even when they don’t specifically spell it out. In order to get what you want, you may have to lend them your resources for a contract that may not have been on your radar. Teaming, like marriage, depends on empathy and mutual compromise.
Tip #2: It’s the small gestures that count. In the dating world, you buy flowers for their birthday, get game tickets to their favorite sports team, or send them a text when a song reminds you of them. In the business world, this might entail a gift of flowers for their birthday, some season tickets, or my personal favorite – a hand-written note to say “Congrats!” when you hear that they’ve won a new contract.
2. Meet the In-Laws.
While it’s easy to become “love-struck” when time is of the essence, don’t be tempted to skip over the due diligence. In the dating world, this is the step when you meet your significant other’s friends, family, and even coworkers. Investigate the potential partners. Research who they team with, clients they work for, who they purchase supplies from, who their employees are, the firm’s reputation, etc. Gauge your compatibility: does their business style mesh well with yours? Do you have chemistry? That is, will you like being a team for the term of the contract?
Will being associated with them harm your reputation? We’ve witnessed many companies’ success hindered by their less-than-stellar teaming partners. Now is the time to verify your potential partners’ performance reviews. In the bidding industry, there is a degree of guilt by association: you don’t want another company’s bad reputation to become your bad reputation.
When it comes to true love, we don’t typically include a person’s financial strength at the top of our priority list. However, when it comes to a teaming partner, financial stability should be near the top of your list of must-haves. If you plan to invest time and effort into nurturing a relationship, make sure they will be there for you when you need them most and not be out of the running because they can’t meet bonding requirements or, worse, are on the verge of not being around at all.
3. Know when to Break Up.
During your investigation, if you find too many skeletons in your potential teaming partner’s closet, if they are not forthcoming with pertinent information, or if their stated capabilities don’t match up with their project experience, it’s time to call it quits and move on before others can say, “We told you so.” Don’t waste time on a doomed relationship. Save your efforts for the real “catch”: if you do it right, you can build a potentially long-lasting, mutually rewarding union that will last bid season after bid season.
4. How to Keep those Good Ones.
Wine, check; roses, check; ring, check. You popped the question and the answer was “I do.” Now what?
Once you’ve found “The One(s),” don’t get complacent. A long-term teaming relationship goes a long way in giving you higher proposal ratings. Nothing says ‘staying power’ like having a go-to, always reliable, reputable and capable teaming partner.
Make sure to adequately evaluate and plan for identified risks and define the process to remedy potential problems down the road. Not taking shortcuts when it comes to contingency planning for operational or performance issues will help you in the long run to respond to challenges and promote the long-term viability of the strategic partnership, as well as maintain a positive relationship with your Government client.
Tip# 3: All too often, our clients see a decline in executive sponsorship as the partnership matures. To ensure that the teaming structure and operating model are properly aligned with your company’s vision and strategy, secure commitment from an Executive who will remain personally involved. Meet regularly throughout the life of the teaming arrangement to ensure the teaming relationship remains balanced and neither side loses sight of the big picture.
Tip# 4: Remember: no matter how wonderful your partnership may be, your partner is still running their own business—your interests are not automatically theirs. To make the partnership work, your teaming partner needs to continue to feel that you are beneficial to them.
For more information on how to structure and/or pre-qualify teaming partners to increase your win rates and win Government contracts, please contact us at www.strategiccreations.com/contact.