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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

So who's your customer now?

Knowing the Customer Is Key to Government Contracting
When dealing with the [US federal government], the members of your sales/business development team should be prepared for the often foreign language they will encounter when entering the environs of Washington, DC and Northern Virginia seeking federal contracting dollars. To be expected, there are the endless acronyms—some applicable across all agencies but many others that are specific to subagencies and even specific locales. There are also words and phrases that have meanings unique to the federal acquisition environment, none of which is more important than the notion of the “customer” and providing service to the “customer.”

There are actually multiple layers to the customer identity, and attendant to that—multiple layers of service provision involved in selling to a three-letter federal agency. When dealing with the world of federal contracting, you are really dealing with two levels of customers, not one. First, there is the “buying customer” level, the acquisition executives and staffers who represent the agency. And then there is the “using customer” level, the actual agency personnel who make use of the product or good in question or have the company’s service offerings delivered to them.

This becomes evident when you have meetings with contracting officers or other agency procurement staffers. They will speak about their customers and what they in the acquisition arm can do to better meet the needs of their customers. Thus, while the supplier is trying to please both the buying and using customers in federal agencies, contracting staff almost uniformly look upon the relationship with their agency’s front-line workers as providing an internal service to their internal customers.

Federal contractors will have to deal with the often conflicting needs and demands between buying and using customers, along with the dynamic interplay between them, which makes for complexity in the sales process and continued uncertainty going forward.

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