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My company InfoStrat works with government contractors to automate their capture management (sales) processes. If you are a small government contractor, or your business is new to government contracting, one of the best steps you can take is to implement a customer relationship management system (CRM) so that you have a single, centralized source for information on all your government pursuits. 

Large government contractors typically have mature, systematic and complicated processes which have many actors and steps that help them craft high-quality proposals and win more bids. Your CRM can help you organize all the people who work on proposals, from marketing and sales to proposal writers, project managers, and company management that is responsible to decide whether or not to bid on an opportunity.

My previous post for Onvia, 9 Ways Customer Relationship Management Differs in Government Contracting, highlights some of the ways that a government contracting CRM approach is different than in commercial sales force automation.

Here are some tips to help government contractors who are just getting started with CRM:

1) Come up with a simple capture process and refine it based on your experience

Be sure to include approval workflows and review processes during the proposal preparation phase. It may be as simple as four or five steps based on pre-solicitation stages and the status of a solicitation (RFI, RFP, etc.). Don’t worry about making the process perfect from the get-go, it will continually improve if you diligently track your results and reflect on each pursuit to see how you can do better next time. You may find that you need more than one to account for different types of opportunities.

2) Track every opportunity in your CRM to earn executive buy-in

Use the CRM as the basis for pipeline review meetings, and insist on entering every opportunity in the system in order to chase it. If company leadership ignores CRM, it is much less likely to be widely adopted. CRM dashboards are a great way to make sales efforts more visible to company management.

3) Ask key stakeholders for their input

Your CRM cannot succeed without adoption, and all your users will have valuable input on how the system should work. Find out what information is being tracked in spreadsheets or other documents, and add these fields to the CRM. You should track all relevant data that is not typically in a CRM, such as the contract vehicle, teaming partners, proposal submission deadlines, oral presentations and other milestones. Don't track information that stakeholders do not find useful or are unwilling to enter consistently.

4) Start with a template

It's difficult to get user input when starting with a blank sheet of paper, so a pre-built solution for government contractors can help stakeholders focus better and quicker. Look for GovCon solution templates for whatever CRM product that you choose. Onvia tracks many of the fields that you should be tracking, such as procurement vehicles, set-aside status, and period of performance. You can add a link to the Onvia record or add the fields to CRM (or both).

5) Design your CRM to work for you

Don’t feel that your CRM should be like everyone else’s - make it special. Your CRM should reflect how your firm does business. For example, if you’re a manufacturer, you will track products more closely than a services firm. If your firm pursues a few large opportunities each year you will look at CRM differently than a reseller chasing hundreds or thousands of transactions in a year.

6) Walk before you run

Start with a core group of users in sales and senior management; add other end users later. Be sure to build in a process to learn from your experience and improve your CRM over time. You may want to run a pilot to take an opportunity through all its stages in order to refine your data model and reporting. Many CRM vendors offer free trials for their services, so you can experience them firsthand before signing up for a paid subscription. Using a cloud-based service is less expensive to start, especially for smaller user groups (less than 100).

Most large companies started as small companies, so you can learn from the experience of others to position yourself for growth as a government contractor. A well designed CRM will help you refine your business and come up with creative new ways to win government contracts.