Every month the Department of Defense issues over $130 million in solicitations for the procurement of goods and services from private contractors. This creates opportunities for thousands of businesses looking to take advantage, and opens the flood gates to some of the fiercest market competition around.
Unlike most common business models, defense contractors face a unique marketing challenge in that they’re targeting one very specific customer – the US Government. Government agencies employ strict preliminary criteria and thorough vetting of prospective suppliers before determining which contractors they’ll award business to.
In the digital age, it has never been more important for contractors – new and experienced – to craft their digital strategy around the expectations of the government agencies looking to work with them.
This guide will help provide you learn the basics of what you’ll need to launch a digital presence built to win a government contract.
How government and defense contracts work
Much like other government contracts, the process begins with the government’s need for a specific product or service. In the case of a defense contractor, this could mean anything from the food our troops eat while serving abroad (MRE’s), to the uniforms they wear during combat and even the weapon systems used at war. Once the agency defines a need for a specific product, they create a detailed document outlining exactly what it is that they’re looking for, along with any requirements placed on the prospective contractor. This is called the Request for Proposal or “RFP”.
In most all cases the law requires government agencies make RFP documents and solicitations for bid accessible to the general public, allowing for anyone and everyone to participate in the bidding process. This requirement was put in place many years ago to prevent collusion among government officials (ie. “the ol’ boys club”) and to allow for the government to get the highest quality product manufactured at the best price.
Once a government RFP is published, contractors begin submitting proposals to the issuing agency and the decision-making process begins. While price may be among their primary concern many other variables can be considered equally or more important – including product quality, material sourcing and most importantly the prospective awardee’s fit to deliver the goods.
What government agencies are looking for
After interested contractors respond to the RFP with their prospective proposals, the decision making process begins with an investigation into the background of every potential awardee. The investigation process can be very thorough, often requiring an unusual level of transparency into your business operations, and sometimes even your personal life (ie. your ethics, practices, and even criminal history).
Below are three of the key factors government agencies consider when awarding a bid to contractor:
- Is your staff competent and/or qualified to deliver the goods specified in the RFP? If so, what qualifications do they possess that makes them a good fit for the desired contract.
- Are your manufacturing facilities and/or processes capable of handling volume without causing for a decline in quality or manufacturing error? If so, what systems are in place to ensure consistent output quality?
- Your previous experience in successfully delivering on government contracts
Building your strategy around the customer
In today’s digital-first world most government agencies start their vetting process online, often using a search engine as their starting point. What will they learn about you or your business that can positively or negatively affect your chances of being awarded their contract?
The key to winning a defense contract is taking advantage of their transparency requirements to illustrate just how much of a rock star you really are. Building a digital presence around answering those questions above will help put you in the race.
Both the response to their RFP (the proposal) and your website should contain most, if not all of the following:
- Facilities and Output Capabilities
Whether you opt to offer an interactive video walk-through (recommended) or provide a comprehensive image gallery of your facilities – giving your audience an inside look into where and how their products will be manufactured is a major factor in determining your fit as a potential awardee. This helps establish that you’re not building weapons (or anything else) in your home garage with inadequate space or equipment to satisfy their demand. In some cases the agency will even ask to visit this space in person.
- Personnel & Qualifications
A well thought out page (or series of pages) outlining the background and qualifications of your personnel will help the contracting agency determine that your team has the desired level of education, training and experience to deliver on their specification.
- Past Performance
Many contracts are awarded to contractors who have established a history of good performance in doing business with the government. Publishing an account of your track record can put you at the top of the list with potential awardees. It is also a good idea to disclose previous performance unrelated to government contracts – for example, if you’ve manufactured the same product for other types of clients or industries.
Newcomers should be advised that many contracts have been awarded to contractors without any previous performance with government agencies.
Almost every product or service purchased by the government is subject to a slew of compliance regulations and administrative duties. These regulations can include everything from product testing and quality assurance to pre-employment background checks. Emphasizing your adherence to applicable law and regulations can help determine your fit during the vetting process.
- Materials Sourcing
While not always a key factor, many contracts place sourcing requirements on the manufacturing process. This means they’ll specify the exact material or even the origin of that material as a contingency to the award. For example, a military uniform manufacturer was required to purchase all of their fabrics from a US-based supplier. If your products are manufactured here in the US, you’ll want to emphasize this up front.
Whether you’re an existing contractor looking to keep your image in line with growing expectations, or if you’re starting a brand new venture looking to get in on the action – you’ll need to direct your focus on what’s important to the specific agency you’re looking to engage with. While the few key factors mentioned above are common in the decision making process for most public contracts, it’s critical that you carefully review the specific requirements set forth by each agency, and make every attempt to answer their requirements at length in your overall strategy – from your proposal to your website.
Acquisition.gov – For information and laws related to federal contracts.
Understanding Defense Department Contracts – Mining the Federal Acquisition Regulation for insight into types of contracts.
Government Contracting: The Basics (PDF) – a comprehensive guide written by the DoD Office of Small Business Programs outlining the basics of doing business with the government.
Our Work – Defense and other Government Contractors
Digital Creative has worked with a number of defense and other government contractors to build brand re-enforcing digital presences that help win and keep contracts. Our solutions include defense contractor website design, branding and social media marketing.