Author: Helene Johnson, President, Bid2Win Consulting
When an orchestra plays a wonderful program, the audience yells, Encore, Encore! At this, the conductor obliges by giving one more performance for the evening. Likewise, this same response from your client is music to your ears – Encore, Encore! We want you to support us again! In our scenario, the way a client says Encore is to award you your own recompete.
What is an Encore?
The primary definition is en·core /ˈänkôr/noun. 1. a repeated or additional performance of an item at the end of a concert, as called for by an audience. 2. arrange or direct the elements of (a situation) to produce a desired effect, especially surreptitiously.
Winning a new piece of business is so exciting at first. But after the win, reality sets in and the work begins. At first, everyone is energized with new work and new relationships. After a while, the honeymoon fades, and a routine sets in.
Before you know it, your period of performance (POP) is almost over. That’s when most of us think – they like us and can’t afford to lose us! They’ll simply extend us and renew our contract! We’ll just update our proposal, and life will go on. In the consulting world, we refer to that as “drinking your own bathwater!”
So what’s the solution? When should you be concerned about a recompete? You might be surprised to hear this: Preparing for a recompete should begin the day you start the new contract.
With that in mind, you should certainly get in planning mode around one and a half to two years before the end of the POP. During that time, your competition has been hard at work strategizing and courting your client with new ideas and innovations. Your employees are being recruited by other companies and your teammates are thinking about priming or joining other teams.
All of all the hiccups and issues you have experienced along the way are out in the open for anyone to find by digging online and talking with your teammates or customer. Before you know it, a competitor has convinced your client to make it so you cannot even bid as prime.
This is when your hard work begins. We already know performance is everything, but relying on your program team and/or CPARS to determine how you are performing is not enough.
To have a successful encore performance (aka winning your recompete), you need to orchestrate the win, keeping the following things in mind:
Reviews are essential during the lifespan of the contract. Given the importance of your CPARS or other performance reviews, it is critical to understand the context in which your performance is measured. This gives you an opportunity to shape the rating produced.
The goal for your company is to have your efforts recognized as “exceptional” because “satisfactory” means average, and no one wants to be average.
You need to understand the CPARS framework, the types of justifications needed to support the desired ratings, and how to communicate and document your case. It is vital to ensure your CPARS obtain the best possible rating – excellent.
Do not wait until your contract is coming up for recompete to start performing well. Too many companies bring in the “big guns” near the end of their contract. In the beginning, they coast and perform as directed. Then, 3 months out, they start to offer new technologies and innovations to the client. This is too late. Your competitors have been bringing them in for years, positioning themselves for the takeaway.
Remember, CPARS are not cumulative – each evaluation period is an independent assessment. CPARS are but one key instrument in winning your recompete.
Risk mitigation throughout the entire POP. You must take a proactive technical and management approach to foresee potential problems, then mitigate or eliminate them before they become problems. As soon as any issues arise – and they will – address them immediately.
Determine these risks and activate your mitigation plans immediately. Keep track of these as they will be used against you by the competition at recompete time. As long as you identify them and show what you did to quickly and effectively fix the issues, no one can use them against you at recompete time.
Independent assessment provides invaluable information In our experience, an independent assessment should be accomplished after the first 12 to 18 months of a 5-year contract, then again in preparation for the 3rd year of the Period of Performance (PoP) at a minimum. Why? Because the first year of the contract is where most contractors experience mistakes, employee and/or customer turnover, changes in requirements, and scope.
Right before the 3rd year of the PoP is usually when technologies have changed enough to impact your program requirements, the agency’s strategy, vision, and direction. This creates technical, management, and operational gaps and inconsistencies that can lead to serious issues, if not addressed when and how they should be.
What does your customer really think about you, your company, the program team, technical managers, and your personnel? You may think you know – but do you?
There are only a couple ways to find out for sure, and this cannot be done by you or your company. To get a true assessment from your customer, you need a third party to reach out and interview your client. We refer to this as a Voice of the Customer (VOC).
We at Bid2Win have a tried and true method to accomplish this. Not only do we find out how our clients are performing, but many times we find additional needs of the client resulting in opportunities for program growth.
Simply extracting information is one step. What will you do with that information? Again, a third party can help you take an objective look at the current program and help you come up with an approach to turn negatives into positives. If you wait for the RFP to drop for your recompete, it will be way too late to fix performance issues.
Know your competition and prepare for their approach. In today’s business intelligence-driven environments, gathering enough contractor performance-related data from public databases and analyzing that data to gain reasonably accurate insights into any given prime’s performance is a reality. The incumbent’s job of protecting their “secret sauce” and customer insights is difficult.
The most complex issue is around outreach. How much program detail do you put on your website, social media, press releases, and marketing artifacts? How do you avoid telling your competitors what they want to know so they can turn around and use your words either against you or as a springboard to offer something better, faster, and cheaper? Speaking of competitors, you really need to know who your competition is and how they might go after your recompete for the win.
In comes the Black Hat. A Black Hat is a day-long session with the outcome of competitive analysis. There is a structure to a Black Hat and it is the best way to determine who your competition is, how they will try to compete against you, and what you can do to mitigate/eliminate their approach to take away your work.
For an in-depth discussion of a Black Hat, click here.
Do not repurpose your current teammates, personnel, and proposal.
Change things up. Your competitors know who works for you, a good estimate of their salary, the makeup of your team, and can FOIA your proposal. Do not give them everything they need to take the program from you.
Besides, just bidding the same thing you bid before is a recipe for failure. If a client really wanted the same thing they already had, they could find a way to sole-source the recompete to you or put it on a vehicle that only you can win.
To successfully grow your company, you must protect and hold your current programs while expanding to new projects and programs. This protects revenue and allows you to leverage your current work as a great past performance to win new work.
And like our orchestra example, it’s all about being invited back to perform again. Nothing beats the thrill of hearing your client yell, Encore, Encore! And you yell, WE WON!