Salesmen Need To Be Coaches At Fiscal Year-End

Steve Charles_headshot _7-23-2013_65x85by Steve Charles, Co-founder and Executive Vice President

Your customers need your help. Not just your products and the requirements those will fulfill, but your personal help to get fully justified purchase requests to contracting shops who can issue the order before the end of the fiscal year.

I spoke on a panel discussion last week put on by the Digital Government Institute. The conference was called 930Gov ⎯ a reference to Sept. 30, the end of the federal fiscal, now five weeks away. During typical years, the feds spend about a third of the budget in the last quarter. While sales for complex deals and engagements are off, sales for easy to buy commercial items are likely to stay strong.

This year’s weird budget situation forced caution on all government buyers, so as we head into the last month, they are making sure they obligate all the funds they legitimately have to spend. Program managers are looking for “gap-fillers” as they strive to end the year with a zero-balance in their many accounts.

One of my federal co-panelists noted that many customers using governmentwide acquisition contracts need help in preparing their procurement packages so contractual obligations can actually occur. Michelle Street, an NIH procurement analyst with the CIO-SP3, CIO-SP3 Small Business, and ECS III GWACs, noted that some requirements come through with a plea for a contracting officer to get the buy done.

We at immixGroup also hear this. I find it surprising that government buyers are asking sellers to help them find a contracting shop, but they do. I’m not sure if this is because their shop is simply too busy, or if their purchase request was rejected because it lacked a market survey, clear requirements, a brand name justification, or an independent government cost estimate.

So to secure year-end sales and increase your odds of making your numbers, ask questions to make sure the program and tech people you’re dealing with have done what they need to do to make their purchase requests actionable by a contracting officer. In fact, your knowledge of all the items required and the length of time they take is especially crucial at year-end.

A couple years ago, the Army published this year-end close-out guidance including their [procurement data package] requirements and summarized it in 2011 with the Army’s Procurement Administrative Lead Time, or PALT memo, both of which provide a clear recitation of what it takes to get a procurement over the line. Or, if you prefer, check out the Navy’s Fiscal Year Close-out and Start-up Guidance.

Obviously your government customers don’t have 90 or 180 days to do year-end buys at this late date. Some steps must be completed in parallel. Others can be compressed. Many of the GWACs, including those operated by the NIH and NASA, have online environments in which an agency with a requirement can complete market research and other steps very quickly by leveraging the small group of contractors that hold that particular contract turning an RFI into an RFQ, and a Quote into an Order in a matter of days. This can buy you and your customer more time to get both funding approval and the procurement done before time runs out.

Mary Davie, an executive in GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service, also pointed out in the panel discussion that GSA’s and other agencies’ Blanket Purchasing Agreements offer ways to buy services quickly. She named managed print, satellite and ground-based wireless, and telecom expense management, all of which can be purchased in days if the preliminary work has been done properly.

In short, there is time left for significant sales. But sales people will need to be fast on their feet, shifting from product emphasis to counseling customers on how to get purchase requests routed through the fund certifying official and on to a procurement path with a contracting shop that can execute.

If your team is hazy on any of this process, get them tuned up for next year with one of our Selling IT to the Federal Government classes. In the meantime, here’s to a busy September!

2014 House NDAA Continues Procurement Tinkering

photo_Steve-Charles_65x85by Steve Charles, Co-founder and Executive Vice President

As it does every year, Congress passes procurement law changes in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). This year is no different.

So what’s in store for 2014? It’s too early to say with certainty, because while the House has passed its version, the Senate is still cogitating. One thing we do know: The Senate, House, and White House all agree, within a billion dollars or so, on the level of Defense spending next year. Strangely, none of them take into account sequestration, which is still the law of the land under the Budget Control Act. It’s likely your customers are scratching their heads too, and that means extra sales resistance in store for 2014 until buyers know exactly what their spending authority will be. In the meantime, provide your customers with the information they need to complete perfect purchase requests so when the money drops, orders flow.

When it comes to procurement, we don’t see the sweeping changes of the last couple of NDAAs, but the 2014 bill is not absent of them, either.

Here are key highlights from the House Armed Service Committee’s bill, H.R. 1960, that would affect proposals and dealings with DOD customers:

  • The bill would exclude the salaries of some contractors’ top five earners as allowable expenses on DOD cost-reimbursement contracts, but not lower the rest of them nor cap them at $400 thousand, as the White House would like to do. The bill leaves the current cap of $763,029 (inflation adjusted) in place and changes the list of possible exceptions just from scientists and engineers to “narrowly targeted” ones “in the science, technology, engineering, mathematics, medical and manufacturing fields.” Significantly, the provision now covers contractors who received more than $500 million during the previous fiscal year. (Imagine the cost accounting challenges for contractors at the edges of this proposed threshold!)
  • Section 816 revamps bid evaluation by requiring that prices receive importance at least equal to technical (or other) criteria when evaluating proposals. This is a subtle but important change deep in the language of the U.S. Code Title 10 ((a)(3)(A)(ii) to be precise). The bill would require the head of the buying agency to sign off on any deviation from the increased emphasis on price, and issue a report on the allowed exceptions every year.
  • Sections 811 and 812 amends Section 818 of the 2012 NDAA written to prevent counterfeit electronic parts from entering the DoD supply chain. The proposed Section 811 emphasizes “electronics” seemingly broadening the scope of counterfeit concerns beyond “electronic parts” while Section 812 would limit contractor liability when government requirements include obsolete parts no longer available from the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) or its authorized       distributors.

Detection and Avoidance of counterfeit electronic parts, while the law since 2012, has yet to be implemented in regulation. What would a DoD-approved system for this purpose look like? Proposed DFARS Case 2012-D055 attempts to tackle this and comments are due July 15. One of the key elements requires that DoD and its contractors purchase from an OEM or an OEM authorized distributor/reseller. Check out our new Trusted Supplier program to help minimize the risks from potentially counterfeit or tainted commercial products.

There’s a long way to go before the proposed NDAA provisions become law, and then even more time until they get implemented in regulation. We encourage you to be aware of and track procurement-related statutes and implementing regulations as even small changes can warrant significant changes in go-to-market tactics.

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