In federal contracting, multi-company teaming arrangements are the rule rather than the exception.
Government contractors, small and large, team to gain a market foothold, offset vulnerabilities, obtain site knowledge, open doors to a larger key personnel pool, and help with bid costs. For small businesses especially, a teaming arrangement may be the most viable strategy for growth and prosperity in the federal market. Too often, however, despite best efforts, small businesses fail to land on a team. Or worse perhaps, lacking leverage, they end up cutting deals with the prime that are just empty promises. So, what's a small business to do?
Here are ten steps to landing a successful teaming arrangement.
- Isolate on a primary need of the government agency. This requires diligent research and early market intelligence.
- Establish a relationship with the government customer with the need. Persistence and patience are paramount to gaining face time.
- Get smarter about the need more than anyone. Invest time and energy to do your homework.
- Devise and package a solution to meet the need. Solve the problem. Provide the features of your plan, but be sure to focus on customer benefits. Test-drive your plan with the customer.
- Hit the streets to spark interest. Contact every potential prime contractor interested in the opportunity. For bait, tell the prime that you alone have the solution to the customer’s pain.
- Set the hook. Forecast how you can earn the prime N number of evaluation points by solving the customer’s problem. Be bold yet credible.
- Gain leverage. Hint at your solution — but give details only in exchange for a place on the team. But not just any place. Insist on precise terms in writing — a set scope of work (“swim lane”) with a guaranteed level of effort contingent upon contract award to your prime. Be prepared to walk. If one prime will not play ball, go to another.
- Offer something else value-added. Deliver a subject matter expert to help with the proposal. At no cost, prepare 100 percent compliant proposal text for your swim lane. Cover your own B&P costs. Participate for free on color review teams. Offer a candidate key person for bidding. Fund your transition costs if the team is successful.
- Sign your deal. Not just a handshake, but get the terms and conditions in writing. Execute non-disclosure agreements and non-competes.
- Deliver. Don’t forget to circle back to your original customer to inform him/her that you will be delivering your solution as part of [name of prime contractor]‘s powerful team. Then meet your commitments just as you would expect the prime to meet its promises.
There is no free lunch. Give something of value to get something of value. Appeal to the best competitive instincts of the primes. Deliver what counts: as a team member, present additional evaluation points that make the difference in winning.
In so doing, not only do you meet a primary need of the government, but you earn (and deserve) a legitimate place at the team table.
This article was originally published April 2015 on NVTC and was updated in December 2017.