After enduring/enjoying three days of military ‘outlooks’ (tri-service program/project updates with networking put on by CADSI), I was able re-affirm my challenges to scout out and secure viable business opportunities as a small ‘S’ supplier – what I call at least a 2nd or 3rd tier supplier, and often one that rarely contributes more than 10% towards a contract’s value (note: there are likely other definitions).
These and similar events are often full of mostly-available information – i.e., there are not that many real surprises from the briefings, and this especially applies to those who are finely attuned to the various programs/projects that they are following. The small ‘S’, as well, should be as attuned, however often it is consumed by business operations, sales operations, sales, and business development – usually the responsibility of one to a handful of people. Contrast this with the large ‘S’ in which there can be one person solely dedicated to a particular program.
The challenges tend to be thus:
- Finding programs/projects to which your technology applies
- Finding programs/projects with possible this-FY funding (very important for the small ‘S’ is cash flow)
- Finding people from the large ‘S’ crowd who are looking at the same opportunities
- Finding people from the large ‘S’ crowd who are willing to share their solution needs
- Finding people from the large ‘S’ crowd who have solution needs compatible to your technology
What you have to do:
- Do Your Homework – most large ‘S’ suppliers are very program-focused and are either looking for high level contacts, or technology-relevant partners (big or small). A perusal of various government sites can give you an idea where a particular project is in terms of potential near-term funding. The trick here is to not pick those projects whose ‘window of opportunity’ has already closed. In other words, either most of the main funding has been allocated already or everyone in the ‘win’ column already has a ‘dance partner.’
- Don’t be afraid to keep non-relevant biz encounters short – the other party likely wants to optimize their time too
- Spend some time confirming/refreshing your growing list of contacts – it is not uncommon now to find people moving jobs every few years, depending on the industry
- Don’t assume that your regular contacts fully-comprehend your technology (and thus your value proposition) nor that they are aware of recent capability upgrades that could be relevant to their program pursuit.
- Be patient – it can be a slog to go from conversation to conversation as you both try to gather useful intel and scan for your next ‘target’.