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How Defense Contractors Can Boost Win Ratios With Thought Leadership

Ever wonder how winning defense contractors boost their contract win percentages? One tactic that is increasingly effective is thought leadership.

Defense Contractor Thought Leadership

Photo credit: Steve Jurvetson http://www.flickr.com/photos/jurvetson/6178411264/

Amidst great wailing and gnashing of teeth, the post-sequestration environment for defense contractors has introduced dramatic and permanent change. Yet despite the media attention given to the changing procurement landscape, there are contractors who continue to win contracts and grow. And not just the enormous, publicly traded prime contractors.

In "Best Practices of Winning Government Contractors," Market Connections, Inc. outlines the winning strategies that government contractors are employing to succeed.

The top activities of winning contractors include a focus on emerging markets such as cyber security. Diversification is also playing a growing role for successful contractors, "pursuing opportunities in adjacent international and commercial markets to align their offerings with market opportunities."

A strong business capture process is also one of the common characteristics of winning contractors. Specifically, contractors with high win ratios have three key elements of their capture management process: 1) Early Opportunity Assessment, 2) Developing a Capture Team, 3) Using Color Team Reviews.

capture management process

Another thing the winning contractors tend to do it listen to their customers. In fact, many of them have robust customer feedback programs. Doing so not only offers the opportunity to provide better service, but more importantly, to identify upcoming or unmet customer needs.

For government contractors who are often embedded with their clients on a daily basis, it can be difficult to gather objective and constructive feedback needed to ensure re-compete contract wins. And, it is easy for contractors to make false assumptions about their perceived performance that could actually jeopardize contracts.

But one of the most interesting findings in the study, is that winning contractors are adopting a thought leadership strategy.

Contractors with higher win rates reported using more thought leadership marketing materials (65%) than those with lower win rates (44%).

While many contractors have positioned their subject matter experts as thought leaders for years, the trend has escalated. Now, the thought leadership "extends beyond traditional publicity to developing independent studies, white papers and online content that provide government customers with the insights they need to be successful."

The white paper provides examples of successful thought leadership from Lockheed Martin and Booz Allen Hamilton. And while those examples are large companies, small defense contractors can also use thought leadership to differentiate themselves. This is because successful thought leadership has less to do with the size of your budget and more to do with the depth of your expertise.

Forbes has a two-part definition of a thought leader:

  1. A thought leader is an individual or firm that prospects, clients, referral sources, intermediaries and even competitors recognize as one of the foremost authorities in selected areas of specialization, resulting in its being the go-to individual or organization for said expertise.
  2. A thought leader is an individual or firm that significantly profits from being recognized as such.

Thought leadership is perhaps the best door opener for helping contractors assess opportunities early - when buyers are trying to solve a problem, they seek out a thought leader’s guidance.

In the case of defense contractors, when the end buyer is researching a solution to a problem, they seek out advice long before activating the procurement process. Once in the door, the thought leader can educate the end buyer and suggest solutions (i.e. contracts) that the end buyer might not have considered.

At that point the defense contractor thought leader has two competitive advantages.

  1. The contractor can spec out the contract to their competitive advantage.
  2. If the contractor has demonstrated unique capabilities, the contract can be sole sourced.

For more on thought leadership for aerospace and defense contractors, click here to read "How Thought Leadership Can Help Defense Contractors Write the RFPs They Answer."

To download Market Connections' "Best Practices of Winning Government Contractors," click here.

The Principal and Founder of Artillery, Douglas Burdett is a former artillery officer and Madison Avenue ad man. He also hosts The Marketing Book Podcast, where he interviews authors every week about the latest in modern marketing and sales.

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