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Best Practices for Partnering with Prime Contractors

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Posted by John Beveridge on Sep 27, 2012 5:04:00 PM

Best practices for partnering with prime contractorsIn today's challenging budgetary environment, many government contractors are looking to diversify and expand their revenue generation channels.  For small business government contractors, partnering with prime contractors is a good way to optimize their growth opportunities.  John Long, Director Partnerships, Small Business at Northrop Grumman, recently shared best practice tips with the Northern Virginia Technology Council's Sales and Business Development Committee.  An overview of his presentation follows.

Register on the prime contractor's website.

While registering  on the prime contractor's website won't guarantee that you'll get any business, failing to register will ensure you won't get any business.  The prime contractors need the data for compliance reporting.  If you don't register, you won't get any business.

Do your homework.

In order to partner with a prime, you need to understand their goals and priorities.  It's then up to you to demonstrate how partnering with your company can help them achieve their goals.  For example, Northrop Grumman is a global security firm with cutting-edge capabilities in unmanned systems, cybersecurity, C4ISR and logistics.  If you want to partner with Northrop Grumman, you need to convince them that you can help them in one of those 4 categories or help them enter a new market they're trying to penetrate.  If your company specializes in healthcare population management, Northrop Grumman probably isn't a prime you should target.


Which of the two partnership models apply to you?

Most prime contractors look at two models when considering potential partners: traditional partners and strategic partners.

Traditional partnerships include:

  • Socio-economic requirements like SBA, the Jobs Act, Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Buinesses and other compliance requirements.
  • Skilled qualified resources in target geographies, relevant past performance within a target opportunity and or a complementary value proposition.
  • Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer compliance.

The strategic partnership model includes:

  • Joint planning to bring work to existing contract vehicles where your company has relationships with the customer.
  • Access to alternate channels to market the prime contractor's capabilities.
  • Technology capabilities that can be jointly developed with the prime.

It's important to understand these partnership models and how your company fits into the matrix.

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Best practice recommendations.

Mr. Long provided several tips for small businesses that want to partner with prime contractors.

  1. Treat the prime contractor like a customer - assign an account manager to the prime and make sure she understands how the prime operates.
  2. Find a champion within the prime and develop a relationship - this takes time, but there are no shortcuts.  Keep in front of this person with relevant information on how the partnership can generate revenue.
  3. Find a niche and understand how it is relevant to the customer.  Introduce the prime to a customer and help create demand for their value.
  4. Bring a target to the table.  Present an idea to the prime on how you jointly can approach a piece of business.
  5. Let the prime contractor know your strengths and weaknesses up front.  They don't like surprises, particularly when it relates to past performance issues.
  6. Be brutally honest with yourself.  Focus on areas where your company has the bandwidth and past performance to be successful.  The prime is not interested in your personal resume and experience; they are interested solely in what your company can do and has done.
  7. Find coaches within the customer that aren't decision makers, but will specify your products and services to the decision makers.  For example, IT professionals can establish a peer-to-peer relationship within the customer that can help facilitate selling the prime's products or services.

Mr. Long summarized his advice by sharing an acronym:  FFP.  Not firm, fixed price, but Focus, Follow-Up and Performance:

  • Focus your efforts where you create the most synergy
  • Follow-up consistently with relevant information and develop beneficial relationships
  • Perform at a high level in everything you do.

I think the FFP concept applies to any endeavor you undertake and is advice well-heeded by all of us.  So what has your experience been with prime contractor partnerships?  Please share your experiences by commenting below.

Topics: Business Management, Government Contractors

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