Despite being in a sea of multiple communication platforms, government contractors and government customers don’t always communicate well. The amazing lack of good, consistent connections can cost everyone time and money, not to mention damaged reputations. The strong, silent type might work in movies, but it’s no way to run your business. Below are three quick things you can do to make sure you don’t end up in a hot box a la Paul Newman in the movie Cool Hand Luke.
Communicate Early and Often: Not sure what your customer meant by his or her last e-mail? Ask. Like sitting in a test and not asking what the directions mean, leaving something open to interpretation increases the risk of failure. Make sure you’re communicating with all of the relevant people on the customer’s team, too, not just one person. Given our experience with federal contractors and customer agencies, you are likely safe in assuming that you under-communicate now. Adjust upward. “Make just someone happy” doesn’t cut it if you’re working with many “someones.”
Communication Takes Many Forms: Internal communication inside your company or among your team members is just as important to external communication with customers. It’s important to have a good, coordinated team. At the same time, however, too much “introspective navel gazing” can make it seem like you’re accomplishing a lot, but are really leaving your customers in the cold.
Once you have a game plan, execute it. The people who are buying are outside your company’s walls. While it may have been a while since you’ve seen the customer, your competitor may have been there last week.
Similarly, it’s important to meet the customer where they are in terms of the communication method. You no doubt have a favored communication method and prefer to use it. If your customer is equally comfortable using another technology, adaptation is essential. If you’re not getting a response to an e-mail, for example, you may want to call or even text. Younger customers, it should be noted, are the texting generation.
Communication is a Two-Way Street: Are you the one that is impossible to reach? Do you insist upon texting to the exclusion of all other communication formats? While being, or appearing, busy can make us all feel important, there is a definite downside. If your federal customers or channel partners can’t reach you, it’s likely you’re losing business. Potential customers – and partners – will likely seek solutions elsewhere.
Remember: The federal market is a small one. This is important for at least two reasons. First, good reputations take a long time to build. Lose yours by being seen as over-committed and you’ll have a doubly tough time getting re-established. Second, that junior programmer you’re blowing off? His family donated handsomely to the recent presidential campaign. He’s the next CIO of your largest customer agency. Remember that the players in this market change seats much more often than career paths.
The annals of government contracting are legion with examples of bad, insufficient, or missed communication between contractors and customers. While that five-minute call on Friday afternoon may keep you from the first tee, it can save your game down the road. Take the time to make sure you and your customer are on the same page.