How Small Businesses Develop Agency Relationships for Government Contracting Sales

Uncategorized Jan 26, 2021


"It is not what you know, it is who you know"

Actually it is both 

No matter how much research you do, eventually you have to pick up the phone and talk with someone.  If this makes you nervous, visit the GovCon Library for our Cold Calling that Gets Results in Government Contracting.  Don't let your fear of talking to strangers keep you from picking up the phone.

How Do You Develop New Agency Relationships ?

As the only organization dedicated to the success of all small businesses in the federal space, with members from Guam to the U.S. Virgin Islands and every single state in between, relationships are incredibly important at the GovCon Chamber of Commerce. 

Each year, roughly $125 billion dollars is awarded to small businesses as prime contractors. Our vision is to double that number by helping small businesses truly understand the process for success. 

Small businesses are the backbone of America - by helping you succeed further in government contracting, we’ll be strengthening American communities.  

We will be focusing strongly on Business Development in 2021 to take the mystery out of developing positive relationships with key stakeholders in the primary agency you want to work with. 

In this video, we offer an example of how to research an agency before making the call.

We’ll talk about focuses of receptivity (advocates), focuses of dissatisfaction  (program office folks), and finally focuses of power (contracting staff).  

Focuses of Receptivity | Advocates

If you really want to grow your business and increase your federal revenue, you have to start  developing relationships with the people who can advise and guide you through their agency.  

Think of them as Focuses of Receptivity. They’re willing to take your call and answer your questions. If you appear to be a fit for their agency, then these folks will even make introductions for you. 

Focuses of receptivity will want to know you’ve done your homework before calling them but are happy to help clarify any confusing areas. 

Small Business Specialist

The best example of an agency advocate is the Small Business Specialist. Their job is to help small businesses learn more about their agency, and to help their internal customers find procurement-ready small businesses like yours.  

In most agencies, you will find an OSDBU or office of small business utilization created to help small businesses like yours. In the DoD, you might hear them called Offices of Small Business Programs. 

The OSDBU can help you navigate their agency if you’re running into a roadblock, but you need to know the difference between these roles. 

The OSDBU manages agency policy and serves in a leadership role over the small business professionals in their agency. They don’t really (as part of their day-to-day job) have anything to do with a particular opportunity. 

It is the small business specialist who tracks the individual opportunities and communicates with both the program office and the contracting office on a regular basis.  

Other Small Businesses 

The best person to tell you what it is like to work with an agency is the person already do that!  We like to think of these people as competimates. Sometimes you might be competing with them but you might also work together on occasion to provide solutions to customers. R

Building relationships with fellow small business will help you gain practical knowledge about an agency. Find someone with experience in your target agency – perhaps at the $5-10M revenue level – who might be willing to share some guidance over coffee. 

Where can you find competimates ?  USA Spending offers a wealth of information including direct contact informaton.  It’s very helpful to talk with someone who’s actually done what you want to do in the agency you’re pursuing. 

Large Prime Contractors 

Large prime contractors are responsible for teaming with small businesses on major project. To help them find qualified partners, they have their own inhouse dedicated small business liaison officers or SBLOs.   

Watch the Working with Large Primes webinar 

In this live panel discussion, Neil McDonell gathered leading SBLOs from AECOM, Deloitte, Honeywell Aerospace, Dynetics (a Leidos Company) and Manson Construction. They talked freely about what SBLOs do (and don’t do), the traits of successful s mall business partners, the right (and wrong) way to knock on their doors, how to increase chances to get on their team and debunked the biggest myths about working with large primes.

SBLOs can help you learn more about the agency  from their perspective and explore how you might support their firm as a subcontractor. 

Make sure you do your homework first. Don't waste their time or yours by asking anything easily found on the web. Check out the GovCon Chambers Resources page to find large primes with SBLOs. 

Example | US Coast Guard 

The US Coast Guard has one of the best agency small business websites.  On their home page, you will find a wealth of information, including a fantastic Points of Contact section with contact info for 20 or more USCG small business representatives plus a list of contacts for their large prime contractors 

Focuses of Dissatisfaction | Program Office  

The ultimate buyer of your products and services will be the program office. You want to learn which program office needs what you sell.  

They are who we call your focuses of dissatisfactionThey are the people most likely to have a problem with the current system or vendors and would be open to hearing how you might help.  

Check out our Developing Agency Knowledge video where we show you how to learn the problems and challenges facing your primary agency.  

The program officers identify agency challenges and  set the long-term goals and short-term objectives relevant to what you sell.  

That’s why they’re so important to you and your business development efforts. They’re looking for subject matter experts or SMEs like you to provide industry best practices and lessons learned that will help shape the decisions they make.  

The internal users of what you sell are what we call focuses of dissatisfaction.  

For example, software development is managed by IT departments, but if the HR department might value talking with your technology firm about challenges they face that could be resolved with a new application. 

Remember, the relationships you develop in the program office are the ones that allow you to prove your expertise in various areas. These relationships are very important to develop during BD.  

Focus of Power | Contract Officers  

The last main group of people to develop relationships with are the acquisition folks. We’re talking about the contract office supporting the program office you want to sell to.  

Some agencies are small with one contract office; others are large and have multiple offices. Make sure you identify the one that processes what you sell.  

Contracting personnel are the focus of power in an agency.  Many people can influence strategy and opportunity scope, but only contracting officers can actually award a contract. 

A great way to identify contracting officers is through FBO (now Newly revised, this site shows the active and previously listed opportunities that align to what you sell.

Frequently, the contracting officer and the contract specialist will be listed by name. They are part of the acquisition team, supporting the contracting officer. Again, think of them as a focus of receptivity within the contract shop.  


Contracting Officer Representative 

The last role to consider within the acquisition team is the COR or contracting officer representative. They’re knowledgeable about current work specifically and can be a great source of information as you learn more about an agency, their processes and other stakeholders who might need what you sell.  

It might surprise you to learn that the  Department of Defense has 157,000 people in acquisition professions. Imagine how many there are across all federal agencies. They can be found in the contracting offices or  assigned to program offices.

Your business development process requires you to identify the ones relevant to what you sell and develop those relationships. 

This is just part of the GovCon Sales process related to developing agency relationships. 

Think about your primary agency and begin developing relationships with small business and acquisition professionals as well as those people in relevant program offices.  


99% of the way there.

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