Elliott Branch: Retired Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Acquisition and Procurement
Learn to master these things to gain success in the federal marketplace with retired Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Acquisition and Procurement, Elliot Branch!
After over 30 years of service, Elliot B. Branch retired as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Acquisition and Procurement.
During his service, his responsibilities included being the principal civilian advisor to the Navy Acquisition Executive for procurement matters, governing the operation of the agency’s worldwide and multi-billion dollar acquisition system, and being the community leader of the agency’s contracting workforce.
Mr. Branch is also a fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration and the National Contract Management Association, as well as the recipient of the 2012 Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Management Excellence Medal, among others.
Currently, he is a managing member of KJM Consulting wherein he provides acquisition advice and training.
FEDERAL CONTRACTING CHANGES
1. Small Business Programs
“I believe that the numbers demonstrated that we were sending more dollars to small businesses, but we were sending them to fewer small businesses.”
When Branch started working with the Navy, the government had basically three small business programs; then, as the years went by, a handful of business programs were established.
Although these programs are especially helpful for its target small businesses, these also confuse both contractors and contracting officials.
“As you can see we’ve moved from about three pretty well defined programs that didn’t really overlap very much. To this plethora of preference and set aside programs which overlap, can overlap quite a bit. There is a level of confusion for both acquisition personnel as well as the people who sell to them.”
In the ‘70s, desk calculators were cutting edge; but now, we have different platforms, softwares, and applications.
What these changes did is it helped us democratize our government’s works, but this also negated the small things that small businesses used to sell.
“Think about now. What you have is this explosion, this information technology explosion, which has done a couple of things. One, it has really kind of, if you will, it democratized work as I like to say. It’s eliminated some of the clerical specialties we had, stenographers, typists, the typing pool, that whole thing. But the other thing that it has allowed us to do is to aggregate information.”
The other thing that it did is it helped us understand the government’s demand and how different industries supply it. However, this also became a challenge for small businesses.
“Those guys that were sitting outside the gate, selling toner or selling the one-off PC or the one-off software package, no longer have that business. They again have to go approach the big primes in some of these fields to be able to sell into these markets because the introduction of technology has essentially changed the nature of some of the markets that they use to sell into in government.”
ADVICE FOR SMALL BUSINESSES
1. Understand what you’re getting into.
Doing business with the government is different from being in the private industry because it requires some degree of discretion and a handful of rules and regulations.
Hence, you strongly need to understand how the federated model works, or else you’ll just waste your time talking to the wrong people.
“If you’re going to go into this business, you need to understand what business you’re going into because the government does things differently. Because it is the government and frankly the taxpayer expects them to do things differently. Because it’s about integrity. It’s about transparency. It’s about opportunity for everybody to participate.”
2. Define your value proposition.
You might have good ideas but you need to understand that it should have a value proposition towards a target market.
For instance, the tool that you want to provide to Community X might really be needed in Community Y because community Y does function A and Community X does function B. So, Community X is not going to use your tool, but Community Y will.”
“I would argue if you really want to make a sale, if you really want to establish a relationship, the first thing you need to do is you need to really walk in with what I’ll call a ‘listening heart.’ You know, hear the person who needs something and listen to their pain points in the problem that they’re trying to solve.”
3. Your resumes are important.
The government wants to see the resumes and the experiences of your employees because they buy the inputs, instead of measuring the output of a project.
With this, they look at those resumes, check your past performance, organizational structure, and history, and assess how you manage those people in your management plan.
“What I do is I tend to buy the inputs and this is why you see a lot of solicitations structured with levels of effort and the number of hours we want to buy and labor categories. And then I would want to see strong resumes because that’s what gives me the high degree of confidence that you can deliver.”
4. You have to network.
You need to get yourself out there and go to industry days, trade shows, conferences, and any event that the government is present, especially if you have some unique proposition.
You can start with a white paper that doesn’t expose your entire idea and start having conversations with these folks to get you to a place where they can help shape a requirement so that you can at least bid against others.
“I think the key is, how do you get to the folks who made the kinds of decisions to broaden the specifications, to consider unique and innovative proposals. And that’s, I think, where the networking comes in.”
5. These business programs are just footholds.
You should keep in mind that these small business programs are not forever applicable to your business. So, you need to learn how to take advantage of its perks while you are still at it.
“You can rely on these preference programs. They are a good foothold or a good toehold. But if you really want to grow, you’ve got to have a strategy that will launch you in terms of growth, steeply enough that you kind of overcome the, if you will, the inertia that’s pushing you back to be this small business. Because as soon as you get out of those protected programs, that base work, you are depending on disappears.”
THE NATION NEEDS YOU!
Way back in the ‘90s when the Berlin Wall fell down and the Soviet Union imploded, the U.S. were involved in a fairly quiet but intense submarine conflict with the Russians.
However, instead of investing in submarine combat system technology, we shifted into using IT to convert our submarine softwares. And this is where, you, small businesses played a major role.
“My advice is if you have capability, don’t give up because the nation needs you. It’s just as simple as that. You know, come in every day. Learn, you know, from your successes and failures every day; how to get a little bit better at maneuvering in the government space. Talk to people who are in that space. You’d be surprised how helpful they’re willing to be both government and industry because everybody’s looking for new sources. And be a mentor to the next guy who wants to get in the space because, fundamentally, we’re all in this together.”
If you want to learn more on Elliot Branch’s advice in mastering success in the federal marketplace, then be sure to click the resources below. You can also visit the GovCon Giant website or the new GovCon Edu where you learn everything about government contracting!
020: Elliott Branch – Former Director of Contracts Naval Sea Systems Command and SES Member
This LEGEND has 20+ YEARS in Government Procurement!