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What Are You Farming?

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The federal sales process is anything but quick. Those who have been around it for a while accept it and try to figure out how to work within it. As I’ve discussed in my book, Pitching the Big Top: How to Master the 3-Ring® Circus of Federal Sales, numerous blogs, posts, and articles, there are certainly ways to accelerate your way through the 3-Rings® of the federal sale.

I have worked with a number of companies with phenomenal track records in the commercial space, but who fail to recognize the federal landscape upon entry. They typically come into the federal space via a Small Business Innovation and Research (SBIR) contract. Their efforts at responding to Requests for Proposal (RFPs) were rewarded with some small wins in the hundreds of thousands or even multi-million dollars. Most, not just many, companies fail to transition out of this stage of the federal game.

Now to say they fail may sound harsh. After all, it is possible to support a thriving small business for ten-plus years while winning only SBIR awards. But it’s a hamster wheel that one must eventually get off. It occurs to me that SBIRs are not too dissimilar from annual flowers one might plant in the spring. Annuals are usually small, colorful, inexpensive and easy to plant, and they ultimately die in the winter. The next year, the process begins again.

Think About Your Federal Sale as Though You Were Farming Walnuts

What if I told you to think about your federal sale as though you were farming walnuts? If you were to plant a walnut tree from a seed, it would take about 12 years for that tree to begin to bear fruit. If you wanted something a bit faster, growing teak takes about 7-8 years for it to reach a point at which it can be harvested. However, the best rotational plans for crops like walnut and teak suggest that it’s more of a generational investment. Walnut trees can live and bear fruit for hundreds of years.

You don’t really have to adjust your horizon to something as lengthy as walnut or teak, but you need to think about how do you get to the point of not just nurturing the seedlings of SBIRs?  The walnut and teak of the federal customer is found in the programs of record. Programs of record are the federal response to validated requirements of good ideas and operational needs.

You need to embrace the reality that the federal sale will take time as you work through its various required phases: budgeting, legislation, acquisition, and contracting. Click To Tweet

There is a significant movement afoot to try and shift federal acquisition strategies to something more streamlined, efficient, and responsive. Other Transaction Authorities (OTAs) and Indefinite Delivery / Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contract vehicles are examples of ways in which the government can move more quickly. However, OTAs and IDIQs only make up a small percentage of contract opportunities. Further, research confirms that both types of vehicles actually hinder competition over time. The evidence suggests that despite their good intention, they can create another barrier to entry for companies trying to bring commercial capability into the federal customer.

There are many forms of “Werx” now copying the initiative formed at SOCOM years ago, SOFWERX. They promise an easier path to entry for competitive tech companies ready to move fast. Again, anything with “Werx” in its name is still a tiny fraction of the acquisition battle space.

What does this mean? From my perspective, it means you need to embrace the reality that the federal sale will take time as you work through its various required phases: budgeting, legislation, acquisition, and contracting. The savviest companies, and some of my most successful clients, know how to skip a step here and there, and accelerate their way through this multi-year process.

You may not be interested in farming walnut or teak trees. But I can assure you that no matter how much Miracle Grow® you apply to your SBIR contract, it will only grow so much. You must make the transition to the program of record. Do you want to oversee a seedling farm? Or a farm that ultimately generates a recurring yield for future generations? I can help you with either.

I’m hosting a year-end, new-year, free webinar on December 16th at 11AM EST. During this webinar, I will discuss the essential elements you must have in place for your FY23 plans to unfold. For those not paying close attention, the FY23 budget is now within single-digit weeks of going to Congress. How well positioned are you, given that the FY22 budget has not yet been funded? Register for my free webinar here.

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