This time, we're going to look at Part 2 of the SBIR approach to securing revenue for your innovation. I get the impression there is a long list of folks who know how to go through the motions and submit a proposal, and a much shorter list of folks who know all that...and how to win.
Intel Small Business Blog
Money may be available for your company's IC-specific product development, but not as a hand-out, more of a collaborative endeavor, sponsored by your friendly Department of Defense. Have you ever considered the Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) program that the federal government runs? Below is an introduction to SBIR, and I found this to be very helpful. Keep in mind that the DoD drives approximately 70% to 80% of the intelligence community's mission. So, the IC connection is via the DoD-specific SBIR segments. This money will be spent on innovation; that is the law; so, if you believe your innovation is truly unique, it's worth a look.
I'm pulling duty at an intelligence community conference and (I gotta tell you…) I love these events. I'm enough of an extrovert that I try to "work them" for all their worth. What I mean is that I am proud to be a business developer, and I'm here for that purpose. So there is clarity of mission.
Every once in a while, I need to take a step back and reground my motivations. Why? Because the federal market -- let alone the most intricate and challenging portion of the federal market... (i.e., the DoD and intelligence community submarkets) require long term stamina. I recently got a reminder of what a typical warfighter goes through on an average day in Afghanistan. If you have not read what a typical day in-theater is like, please check this out: A Soldier’s Guide To Staying Healthy in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It will give you a new appreciation for the urgency in helping our military and intelligence professionals get home quickly.
What would you say? This is harder than it seems. I'm referring to condensing your message and question for the executive into a crisp, four to five minute conversation. And to have any value at all, there would need to be included a "call to action" or a request for information, as a part of that four minutes.
For those readers who have an on-going (i.e., contractor) relationship with a federal agency, this is the time of year to be considering what kind of proposal you'd like to give your client in case there is any end-of-fiscal year funding that needs to be spent by September 31st.
This is a difficult client market loaded with obstacles and barriers. But I am convinced that these challenges are surmountable. Do yourself a favor: sit back and relax for just a moment and answer this question: in order to better reach your business development goals, if you could have one thing or change one obstacle... that would make all the difference, what would it be?
Being an agile and adroit small business, one of your greatest strengths should be to move quickly in the midst of intelligence community changes. (Change can always mean "opportunity" when viewed positively). There have been many recent changes across the IC that you may be able to leverage, at least thematically, and create an opportunity for your firm. I am referring to conversations you may need to start, continue or shut down, imperatives that you may need to support, funding that you may need to get a piece of and other similar activities. Here is a sample list, for your consideration. Look at these carefully, with an eye toward this question: "how can I leverage this on behalf of my company?"
With some of this basic knowledge out of the way (refer to Part 1), you may want to know that it has been estimated that 75% of the IC budget eventually flows towards the military. Keep in mind that if you break down the IC into civilian and military, then we're talking the following agencies: NSA, MCIA (USMC Intelligence Activity), DIA, NGA, NRO, Army, Navy, Coast Guard, Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and the USAF. Obviously, the entire Army is not an intelligence agency, but others in this list are entirely absorbed into the IC. Interestingly, the NSA just recently became labeled as a combat agency, moving away from Combat Support Agency (CSA). This was an upgrade on several levels. And realize that there are plenty of joint commands where a security clearance is absolutely in use, for instance, Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) and the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), to name just a few. Most space related organizations operate at SECRET or above.
Who could blame you if, never having been in the military, you were intimidated by the defense intelligence community? The most descriptive term that characterizes the organization (broadly speaking) is 'labyrinthine'. The original use of this term comes from Greek mythology and was applied to a maze intended to befuddle the Minotaur; the original labyrinth was so cunningly devised that even its creator, named Daedalus, almost didn't escape. Although our goal is not to get out... but to get in, the term does seem to fit.
You don't need to be a satellite manufacturer to have a value proposition for the NGA. They are a large agency that has a diverse mission and a long list of constituents. Their data and telecom networks pass bits generally the same way other corporate nets pass information, so as with all the IC agencies, you can divide their needs into two categories: mission specific (geospatial analysis and production) and IT support infrastructure (i.e., databases, applications, networks and systems (DANS)).
Guilty as charged: I take a very broad view of the IC-to include Law Enforcement. Perhaps you should as well!
If you've been following this blog, you know I like a varied approach to penetrating these complex agencies. Unfortunately, they do not exist to make life easy for sales folks, but I have found if we know how to work with them, there is more to be gained then by complaining.
If the CIA is your business development target, then it will help to know how to start breaking into their universe (legally, of course!). Here are a few tips, collected from my specific experience as well as general knowledge of the account.
If you're like me, after the activity from this fall, you need a few days away from the usually grind to refocus your planning. I did this in August and it was amazingly refreshing. (Actually, I need a six month sabbatical but that will have to wait!) Over the holidays (or in January) is a great time to relax and consider your business development activities since Labor Day.
One of my pet peeves as a sales professional is when other sales folks don't do their homework before visiting with a client or prospect. Most business persons have seen it done or been a part of it: a show-up and throw-up sales call. Whichever side of the equation you happened to have been on, these are not pretty meetings. Selling - on its best day, is a bilateral conversation, not a one sided technical dump, from the "sales person" towards the prospect.
I just returned from a large AFCEA conference that was well attended by military personnel - both uniformed and civilian. If you generally see the glass as half-full (and employ the few tips offered below), then conferences (both large and small) can be great opportunities to engage the clients; however, without the right attitude, they can be very unsatisfying. The key is to understand how to harvest these events for all they're worth and go into them with a plan. Here are my top tips for small business owners to make these conferences work.
Now is a perfect time to plan for the fall! Whether or not you have teed-up some end-of-year revenue, this is typically a lull period for the federal contractor. One of the best things you can do is recommit to networking during the fourth quarter (September through December). I say this because I am like many IT professionals: I am comfortable in my cave (i.e., my office) and I am just as content to spend a day in the office, cranking out 200 e-mails as I am suiting-up, and getting out into the community to build relationships. But I regret the seasons when I don't get out enough. The period between Labor Day and Christmas is--by far, the most active period to energize your outreach! And, perhaps because I am an extrovert, I never fail to make some valuable acquaintances when I step out and build relationships. Sure, it takes work, but the benefits can be valuable.
There is plenty of reason for excitement and hope, if you are focused on the federal market. But this certainly does not mean it's easy to hit your revenue targets. The key, as with any sales effort, is this: change means opportunity. There is plenty of change going on across the federal organizations, especially the military and the IC agencies. So, if you have not studied the federal landscape since the new Administration moved into the White House, this is a great time to do so. Your task as a small business owner (or executive) is to clearly map your unique offering to those changes, and then be the best you can be at delivering it.