Startups

Want to work with the Pentagon? Here are 8 crucial tips to successful pitching

The Department of Defense may seem impenetrable to many tech companies who wish to work with it. This op-ed from a Lowenstein Sandler attorney and US Army lieutenant colonel aims to make the process easier with these suggestions.

The Pentagon, the headquarters of the Department of Defense, in Arlington, Virginia.

(Photo by Flickr user gregwest98, used via a Creative Commons license)

This is a guest post by Jeffrey Jones, a DC-based attorney in the law firm Lowenstein Sandler’s global trade and national security practice group, and LTC Andrew Evans, a member of the U.S. Army’s Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Task Force. It was submitted by Lowenstein Sandler and edited by Technical.ly before final approval by the Department of Defense.
Some say it is too difficult for companies with innovative and inventive technology to break into contracting with the US Department of Defense (DoD).

To address this, the department is changing how it works with private companies. With the government spending nearly $400 billion on defense contracting in 2021 alone, innovators need to seriously consider if doing business with the DoD is worth another look.

It is no secret that adversaries are catching up to or surpassing the United States in developing several advanced technologies. To better integrate the various domains of intelligence, as well as innovate more overall, the department is shifting its focus to technological and intelligence collection capabilities that were underfunded or unfunded throughout the last 20 years’ counterterror campaigns. The Pentagon thus aims to acquire much of its future tech and innovation from the private sector.

The streamlined process

The DoD is trying to attract private companies by reevaluating both its risk calculation for acquisitions and what it means for technology to be “ready” for investment. To that end, it has established organizations like the Defense Innovation Unit; the Army’s Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Task Force; NavalX; and the Air Force’s Tech Connect, among others, to avoid bureaucracy and help innovators more rapidly get their inventions before DoD decision makers.

These entities are streamlining the process by embracing what Gen. James C. McConville, the Army’s chief of staff, describes as a drive-before-you-buy approach to acquisitions. This allows the department to test a promising solution against actual department challenges so it can highlight gaps to bridge and strengthen its own ideas for employing the tech. Through this more collaborative approach, businesses can field-test their solutions, familiarize themselves with the DoD’s challenges and provide it a better product. This approach ensures that both the DoD and its contractors benefit from innovative interventions.

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Man in brown military uniform speaks at podium with military insignia

Gen. James C. McConville, chief of staff of the U.S. Army, speaks at the U.S. Military Academy. (Photo by Flickr user West Point – The U.S. Military Academy, used via a Creative Commons license)

How to pitch

The aforementioned organizations’ success depends upon their relationship with private industry. To take full advantage of the DoD’s efforts, a small business needs to perform well when it pitches its tech or solution to a decision-maker, program manager or acquisitions officer. Here are some key elements to consider in your planning, preparation and presentation that will help increase your chances of landing a DoD contract:

  1. Develop your elevator speech: This suggestion is helpful prior to any engagement, but vitally important when seeking a busy DoD representative’s attention. Develop your speech to be delivered on-demand and in under a minute. Keeping your remarks short will help when you’re delivering the same pitch multiple times a day at industry events or trade shows. If you’re connecting via email, the pitch should not exceed three or four sentences. Come with a boilerplate message that can accentuate points relevant to your audience. Your pitch should inform the government about what problem you are solving and why solving that problem is important. Engage your audience with descriptive language and conclude with an “ask,” the lack of which can sink your pitch’s prospects for further engagement.
  2. Conduct exhaustive research: The real work begins once you have piqued enough interest to receive a follow-up invitation. Your presentation should specifically reference the DoD’s own identified priorities, requirements or shortfalls. So, research what agency leaders and influencers declare and report in print, social media, published strategy documents and acquisition forecasts. Start your research on the DoD’s website. Broaden your search to include strategy documents and publications pertinent to the particular agency you seek to attract. For procurement forecasts, navigate to Acquisition.gov, whose resources will help you prepare for the next step:
  3. Tailor your presentation: Employ your research by strategically referencing comments, statements and forecasts throughout the presentation. Businesses should especially focus on the gaps that exist between strategy and capabilities. Incorporate your audience’s own language into your pitch and draw a connection between the problems your research uncovered and the solutions that you are offering. Walk through how your solution would be deployed or what steps you might take to address what your research reveals the department needs.
  4. Differentiate yourself: Every official you brief will want to know what competitors operate in the same space and what makes you different. Rather than waiting for the question, the briefer should anticipate and incorporate it into the briefing’s substantive portion. Provide concrete examples or data that demonstrate your solution’s superiority to the competition’s and notify procurement officials why your product best meets their needs.
  5. Visuals: Make sure your visuals complement, but do not dominate, your presentation. Focus on having fewer words on your slides. Determine the most important points to reinforce and ensure your visuals tell that story. Dwelling on irrelevant features or unnecessary information will slow your overall momentum and ultimately derail the presentation. Hone your pitch and visuals to establish why the government should consider your capability to solve its problems, as well as reinforce how your solution is better than the others.
  6. Timing: Prepare for the unexpected by ensuring your pitch’s substance lasts no longer than 15-20 minutes — not including participant introductions. This limitation will account for late arrivals, technical difficulties, longer-than-expected introductions and schedule changes that prevent attendees from remaining on the call for the scheduled timeframe. It also enables officials to ask follow-up questions.
  7. Questions:  Allow ample time for your audience to ask these. Remember, these discussions are meant to briefly, but comprehensively, inform the officials about your capabilities. It isn’t a forum to speak only about what you think they may want to hear. Encourage them to ask questions at the outset and periodically break from the dialogue to ask if everything is clear.
  8. The last ask: Never leave a discussion without inquiring about next steps. This places the onus on the government to manage your expectations about follow-up conversations or additional information they may need to consider your solution. Guarantee they have a reliable way to contact the company and make sure the person monitoring the email or phone number responds to inquiries and requests within 24 hours.

The suggestions outlined above are designed to reveal that successfully pitching the DoD is not that different from a convincing presentation in the private sector. That said, preparing your pitch using these directions will help you best present your solution’s benefits according to the government’s specifically articulated requirements. We hope that realizing this will encourage small companies with inventive technologies to pursue business opportunities with the DoD.

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