When it comes to business it’s tempting to wait for a request for proposal to come down the pike, then act. Big mistake, says Shawn O’Brien, senior vice president of program/business development for ManTech. In the following Q&A Shawn O’Brien unpacks these and other business development tips, while sharing insights on how smaller and mid-sized businesses can compete with the biggest companies — Boeing, Lockheed Market, NGC — on the same field. He also lets us in on how ManTech tracks its own business devleopment needs so it stays on track to further success.
What does it takes to have a successful BD organization in today’s market?
Shawn O’Brien: There are at least 3 elements common to all successful BD organizations: First, you have to have the right people. Proven, skilled BD professionals in this area, at this time, are in short supply. So finding those people and then aligning their particular skills to the right portion of the BD lifecycle is critically important. Second, process. And by this I should say a customizable process. Having a defined capture and proposal process based on best practices that is customizable to individual opportunities can increase win rates. Third, focus. You have to have policies, incentives and tools that support collaboration and horizontal integration of the enterprise capabilities. Obviously this last part gets tougher the larger a company gets.
Can companies in the $1B – 3B revenue range compete against even larger companies — LM, NGC, Boeing, etc. If so, how?
Shawn O’Brien: Oh, absolutely we can — and we do. Where we may be challenged is on selectivity; meaning we are likely to have less resources to pursue every potential opportunity and therefore have to choose our pursuits more carefully. Still, our solutions are every bit as good and often more flexible and therefore more customizable to a customer’s mission than that of a larger company. And customers can easily choose their desired source as they do their desired solution. If we have done our homework, if we have really developed our understanding of the customer’s requirements and appreciate what keeps him or her up at night, scrubbed our costs, we can be as good a source or better than that of a larger company. ManTech has a great reputation among many of our customer sets and in other newly established areas such as cyber security, we are developing a growing reputation. Finally, it is often helpful to hold the view that you aren’t competing with a larger company, only the unit of the enterprise which holds no more expertise or capability than we do.
Why do incumbents lose?
Shawn O’Brien: There’s a body of work done which advances the idea of bidding to protect vs. bidding to win. Bidding to protect suggests that an incumbent’s knowledge of the requirements actually cloud their judgment rather than enhance it by eliminating promising or alternative solutions because they “won’t work here,” or “they’ve been tried before” or because of loyalties to existing staff. What is important to remember is that the proposal period operates under a set of rules that have no relationship to contract execution — this is extremely difficult to separate if you are the program manager or member of the technical staff of the contract being recompeted. That is why, when reviewing capture efforts I always look to see if we are balancing the three perspectives of every proposal: 1) Is someone focused on winning at all costs? 2) Is someone focused on execution? and, 3) Is someone focused on strict compliance? When these forces are balanced with proper cost control the chances of producing a winning proposal are extremely high.
How can small businesses team with ManTech?
Shawn O’Brien: Ah, good question. I’m proud to say we have a very good reputation for partnering with small business. We have an active mentor protégé program and have consistently received high ratings from government agencies on our small business programs. We have a dedicated corporate small business administrator and each of our major groups have dedicated business development leads who can direct business to the appropriate business leader. There are many strong small businesses out there that have excellent, often specialized capabilities. When we partner with these firms, it broadens ManTech’s offering and increases our ability to meet the needs of our customers. That is the kind of ‘win-win’ partnership we look for with a small business.
Has BD changed over the years in the government marketplace? How?
Shawn O’Brien: Certainly BD has evolved. The past 20 years has given rise to an entire industry we now refer to as Business Development that didn’t exist previously. And in fact it has developed specialties in the field — account managers, capture managers, business development managers, proposal managers and price-to- win managers. All are highly developed and sometimes distinct skill sets. Every company in our market recognizes the impact that winning has on its growth objectives and seeks an edge that might position them above the competition. That edge today is having a dedicated professional business development team. The part-time approach is no longer successful in part because the pursuit timeline is extended. In times past a business could focus its efforts on building a winning proposal. Now it is universally recognized that if you wait for the RFP to come out prior to building your strategy you don’t have a prayer of winning. The emergence of a dedicated professional BD staff also presents a new challenge which is the proper integration with the business leaders and technical staff. There are a range of options for optimizing the use of that staff from fully decentralized to fully centralized and properly sharing accountability for growth.
What role does IT play in BD?
Shawn O’Brien: IT has a significant role in BD. At ManTech we use IT systems to track our leads, manage our proposal workflow, provide search capabilities for proposal re-use material, and even to evaluate the quality of our proposals. We also use a ManTech developed software security tool called Document Detective that prevents the disclosure of hidden data in classified documents.
What are the skills required of the ideal BD professional?
Shawn O’Brien: That depends on where in the pursuit lifecycle the BD professional is employed. As I mentioned previously a BD manager may be different from a Capture Manager, and both are entirely different from a proposal manager. In general, skills required of all are excellent listening skills and follow-through.
What role does marketing (advertising, PR, etc.), play in supporting BD?
Shawn O’Brien: The government market is the driving force behind everything we do, so branding is important, yes. And while PR and advertising are components of that, most of our brand is established by the outstanding efforts of our employees in the field every day. For many years, ManTech by choice kept a low profile. Nonetheless, the company was very successful. So while marketing and PR are important functions they were not as critical to establishing a strong band as quality performance. Nonetheless, it is important to tell your story to your key audiences. And we have a great story to tell. So, on the marketing side we follow an integrated marketing campaign of print and radio advertising designed to build brand awareness but somewhat focused on attracting top talent to our growing company. We have over 700 open requisitions and we are very active users of advertising to get the word out about the attractiveness of ManTech as an employer.
Is it important for federal government contractors to also support the community?
Shawn O’Brien: Absolutely, and since our founding 40 years ago we have a long history of supporting charitable causes. We are strong supporters of both Charity Works which serves as a bridge between donors and charities, and the Fisher House program, which provides temporary housing for family members of soldiers suffering from illness or injury. Our founder and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. George Pederson are very active and ardent supporters of both these causes.
ManTech believes that as a good corporate citizen it is important to give back to the community. This strengthens the communities where our employees live and work; and our community involvement gives our employees a strong sense of pride and increases ManTech’s attractiveness as a potential employer.
What would you say are your top goals in 2008?
Shawn O’Brien: Continued growth, which means we have to continually improve our competitive posture and business development efficiencies. That means we have to increasingly find ways to collaborate across the enterprise, grow into newer markets by leveraging our core competencies such as cyber security, network operations, and global logistic support, and be cost competitive.
What are some of the hot trends you are tracking that will impact your customer base?
Shawn O’Brien: Not so much a hot trend as a critical one is the need for increased security in cyberspace. ManTech is well positioned to provide global solutions for this critical mission support area. Agencies are becoming increasingly aware of the need for complex cyber security in the .gov, .mil and .com spaces. I’ve read estimates that when a new government computer system comes online an attack is attempted within 7 seconds. This need to protect our cyber systems will have to be balanced with the need to share information, which will require greater improved security and identity solutions. This is a ManTech core competency.
Interview with Shawn O’Brien conducted by JD Kathuria
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