Guide to Marketing to DoD
Are you a small business interested in working for DoD? Pursuing DoD contracts is not for everyone; it requires patience, persistence and an in-depth understanding of federal acquisition rules.
It typically takes at least 18 months of planning before a government contractor wins their first contract. Plan to invest significant time and resources becoming procurement ready, identifying potential opportunities, marketing to potential clients, developing proposals, implementing your first DoD contract and complying with DoD rules.
While it’s not easy, several government resources and tools can help you win your first DoD contract. This step-by-step guide explains how to get started.
Step 1: Enlist Your Support Network
DoD’s support network serves you. In 1985, DoD created the Procurement Technical Assistance Program (PTAP), which is administered by the Department of Defense Office of Small Business Programs, for the specific purpose of helping small businesses that want to learn about doing business with DoD.
The APEX Accelerators help small businesses compete for and execute contracts with DoD and other federal agencies. Most APEX Accelerator services are free. You can find your local APEX Accelerator here.
Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) provide aspiring entrepreneurs and small business owners free one-on-one training in business plan development, finance and marketing. SCORE holds events and workshops across the country to match entrepreneurs with local, volunteer mentors. You can find your local SCORE business office here.
A list of public and private programs that support veteran entrepreneurs is here.
Women Impacting Public Policy (WIPP), American Express OPEN and the Small Business Administration launched ChallengeHER in 2013 to boost government contracting opportunities for WOSBs. ChallengeHER provides free workshops, mentoring and direct access to government buyers.
Step 2: Understand the Rules
Review the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) and the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement (DFARS). These rules, which govern DoD acquisitions, are complex.
It’s very important to understand the rules. For example, WOSB sole-source authority was established in 2015, but the WOSB sole-source authority works differently than the 8(a)’s sole-source authority. Many WOSBs believe they are entitled to sole-source contracts because the authority exists. It doesn’t work that way. In the WOSB program, sole-source contracts are only authorized when only one WOSB can perform the requirement. And that has to be demonstrated through market research.
Step 3: Register in SAM
The FAR requires all federal government contractors to be registered in the System for Award Management (SAM.gov). Your local APEX Accelerator can help you complete your SAM registration for free. SAM’s website includes FAQs, user guides, helpful hints and videos. If you have questions about SAM, you can contact the Federal Service Desk at 866–606–8220.
Step 4: Target Your Market
Download our Guide to Marketing to DoD
DoD employs more than 30,000 acquisition staff. In fiscal year 2021, DoD awarded more than $154 billion in prime contracts to small businesses.
10 Tips for Marketing to DoD
- Follow the money.
- Arm yourself with information and facts, not emotion.
- Find your niche. Don’t try to be everything to everybody.
- Target your market and understand your prospective customer’s mission, environment, challenges and hot buttons.
- Meet with Small Business Professionals.
- Don’t provide a standard, canned presentation to potential customers. Research their requirements and understand their challenges.
- Explain how your service or product has a positive impact on a project’s cost, schedule and performance.
- Identify your differentiators—what separates you from other great performers?
- Translate the relevancy of your past performance; don’t expect a prospective customer to do it for you.
When you meet with Program Managers and Contracting Officers, be prepared to discuss a real requirement, not your generic capabilities.
Step 5: Create a Capabilities Statement
Create a one-page capabilities statement that summarizes your experience. Your capabilities statement should not include any typos and should include your CAGE code.
Your longer capability briefings should be tailored to the specific customer you are meeting and demonstrate how you can address their challenges, including how your service or product has a positive impact on a Program Manager’s cost, schedule and performance.
When marketing to potential customers, don’t lead with your socioeconomic status. What really matters is whether you can perform the work.
Step 6: Identify Prime Contracting and Subcontracting Opportunities
You can identify potential buyers of your services by searching the System for Award Management (SAM.gov), which contains detailed information about federal government contract awards. The system identifies who bought what, from whom, for how much, when and where. You can sort data in SAM.gov by NAICS, key word, customer, place of performance and more. They system will help you understand who buys what you sell and how they buy it.
Step 7: Pound the Pavement
DoD’s Small Business Professionals (SBPs) are advocates for small businesses. An SBP should be your first point of contact inside an agency, but don’t request a meeting with an SBP unless the agency they support buys what you sell. For an existing requirement, you should request a meeting with an SBP at least 18 months before a contract expires.
SBPs can help you understand their organization’s mission, culture, challenges and requirements. You can find links to DoD Small Business Offices here.
SBPs can also help you prepare for meetings with Contracting Officers and Program Managers. Contracting Officers have the legal authority to make large purchases on behalf of the federal government. Program Managers use the products and services that vendors provide. These are technical experts and likely to appreciate the details about why your product or service is better than a competitor’s.
The Small Business Administration’s Procurement Center Representatives (PCRs) help small businesses obtain federal contracts. They review agencies’ acquisition strategies to ensure that small businesses get their fair share of contracting opportunities. You can find your local PCR here.
Step 8: Bid on Your First Contract
Get in the game! To succeed, you need to be resilient. You may have only 30 days to put together a top-notch technical proposal. It’s not uncommon for small businesses to spend hundreds of hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars developing proposals that they don’t win.
If your first proposal is rejected, don’t give up.
You may wish to start with simplified acquisitions. Procurements worth $250,000 or less are typically set aside for small businesses under simplified-acquisition procedures. One way to find such procurements is to search for “simplified acquisition” on www.fbo.gov.
Step 9: Win Your First Contract
Congratulations, you won your first contract!
Step 10: Provide Stellar Performance
Winning your first contract isn’t the end; it’s just the beginning. Have a plan for executing the contract to DoD’s high standards.