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How good questions (and the answers!) can make all the difference for government contractors.

Posted By Guy Timberlake, The American Small Business Coalition, LLC, Wednesday, March 12, 2014

I have a question about questions.

Okay, I actually have many questions about a lot of things, but let's start out with an easy one. When you are tasked with finding/acquiring timely information about a customer, competitor or opportunity, what is it you are trying to accomplish? This is not a trick question, I'm trying to make a point, so bear with me. Is it that you are you trying to answer a question? Perhaps many questions? All intended to support one or more decisions to be made by you or someone else associated with your company, right?

There are many types of questions government contractors will ask (should ask) during the business  life cycle. Where you are in the evolution of  that cycle, such as determining if there is a market for you, what and where that market is, and ultimately how to sell to that market (or understanding how that market buys) plays a big role in the type of questions you need to ask.

Which brings me to my point. Where do you go to get those answers? By chance, are you of the opinion you can get all the answers you need from a single source? How is that working? If you don't know this, there are those who wish to separate you from a chunk of your hard-earned dollars in exchange for a data feed they refer to as market intelligence. That's probably not a surprise as that is the norm in government contracting and many other niche industries.

Here's the rub. Some of them (not all of them) would have you believe their services are essentially the 'Holy Grails' of  market information. By having 'faith' in their offering, you will be hereby released from having to do any additional labor related to finding information to support decision-making. They will try to convince you their information is so complete, so up-to-date, so infallible, there is no way any of its 'followers' would not be aware of every upcoming opportunity from every agency or lose any of those opportunities if they chose to pursue them. Now you probably think I'm just being mean, but go search some of the discussion groups for government contractors on LinkedIn and you will clearly see what I mean.

Now, do I even need to say 'Wait for it!' at this point?

Just like there is no silver bullet for winning a government contract, in twenty-six years in this business, I have never seen or heard of a single person or repository of information that could provide me the answer to every question about a particular individual, organization or requirement. I apologize in advance to the services who represent themselves in a way that actually describes what they do (these are the one's who left the smoke, mirrors and carnival barkers for those other organizations) and in some cases truly provide information that is more akin to actual market intelligence. To the others (you know who you are), I say this:

Your collection of data dressed up in a slick interface might technically meet the definition of 'intelligence' since you gathered it and perhaps even analyzed it (for whatever that's worth), but to me it's just a convenient repository of unconnected dots worth very little until someone comes along and applies their context to it. Only after they've determined it to be reliable, relevant to their needs and valid, can it truly be considered intelligence. As far as 'saving' your customers from having to visit other sources,that's hogwash. Nearly everything in your systems needs to be vetted because you don't have any real understanding of the information other than crunching numbers and parroting-back information from other public sources. The economies of scale you boast about is nearly a myth since there are so few questions answered through your 'subscription.'
 
The information you claim to have is the kind that has never and will never exist on your servers. Think about it.

Government Contractors: If you are on the market for a subscription-based information service because you believe it will show you the way, keep this in mind. Until you have a strategy, a process for taking action with the results of the information and a fundamental understanding of what you will be looking for and at (that's how you develop context), you might as well take that money and throw it into the ocean.

Here's the secret to good market research. Purposeful questions.

Peace.

The Chief Visionary
www.theasbc.org/visionary

"The person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the person doing it."

Tags:  information  intelligence  market research 

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