The delivery order you have from your customer says you should show up Friday, August 27, 2015, with all of the equipment and installation people required to fulfill your half-million dollar order. Did you look at the calendar? If so, you would have immediately known that the Friday of that week is August 28, not the 27. Does the client want you to show up on the 27 or on Friday? Time to call the client to make sure your firm isn’t a day late, with a client on the phone asking where the heck you are.
This is just one example of why communication in government contracting is so important. Whether it’s making sure you understand the client’s requirements up front, how they will assess your proposal, when and where you have to perform, or some other business element, you can’t afford to guess at ambiguities. The best case under such circumstances is that you’ll end up with an upset client. The worst is that you’ll have no client at all.
Business communications seem so fundamental that it can be hard to understand how it doesn’t get done. Yet, you can probably think of at least three examples right now of where there was either an internal or external problem because someone didn’t clearly communicate what was needed. More than one contractor “just knows” what the customer wants. More than one contractor, though, is often wrong.
Make sure you ask questions. While you may look at yourself as being a nag (and your client may, too), it is far better to get uncertainties nailed down then proceed on assumptions. Once the project is seamlessly fulfilled, your client will have forgotten about the extra questions and will give you a superior rating.
Communication isn’t just from your client to you. You must ensure that you’re telling the client exactly what you’re doing and why.
Are you changing key personnel? Often a bid can be won because your key people were deemed superior. If someone is changing jobs or going to another company, don’t just say nothing and hope that the client doesn’t notice.
Yet, the tendency in many companies in such circumstances is to under-communicate. Avoid that tendency. Put yourself in the client’s shoes. If you don’t understand what’s happening or why, you make assumptions, right? Often, those assumptions are much worse than what’s actually happening. Your company can find itself with a major client problem because the client assumed the worst, when in fact the change was due to a promotion or something far less dire.
If there’s going to be a major change in the fulfillment of your project, your priority has to be how to come up with a workable “Plan B.” Don’t take all year to think it up, but devise a plan, or optional plans, and then request a conference early on. Is a major piece of equipment delayed? Discuss the loaner product, or other work-around, you’ve already thought of as a remedy.
While your client may not be thrilled that there’s a glitch, a glitch is much better than having a major fulfillment issue later on. Your plan and proposal can even show that your company had the common sense to identify the problem up front, devise remedies, and inform the client early on. That shows you’re on top of things and is likely to avoid more costly disputes.
Surprises are best left for birthday parties. Make sure you and your government client communicate often so there are none in the course of your federal business.