Harness the Power of Your Past Performance to Win Government Contracts

Our organization is often approached by fellow small businesses who are at the beginning stages of breaking into the government space and looking to establish a potential partnership. We love partnerships, as they have been crucial to our success when working with the government. Many times, the companies who approach us have incredible technical capabilities, offerings and experience (ie past performance) in the commercial space, but they are unsure of how to translate that experience into something that can be sold to the government.

It’s an exercise we have walked through ourselves, and in the spirit of ongoing partnerships and seeing fellow small businesses succeed, I want to share what has worked for our organization and what has helped us become a valued and trusted partner to large primes, small partners and federal agencies.

The Problem

For the sake of analogy, imagine that you are the owner of an office supply company. You have recently acquired a large warehouse filled with inventory that you can sell to your customers. While you have a general idea of what you think is in this warehouse – paper goods, pens, paper clips etc. – the details are a blur. You aren’t sure how much you have of each item, the brand, color or even quality of the inventory in your possession. You have a warehouse full of potential revenue, but you aren’t able to sell any of it because you don’t know what you have to work with. While it may seem far-fetched, this is the situation many small businesses find themselves in when it comes to their own past performance.

Past Performance Chaos

When doing business with the government, past performance is crucial- it is more than your experience, it is the product you are selling. It allows you to target the right customers and opportunities, is a key indicator when assessing your chances of winning a contract, will improve the quality of your proposals and teams, and most importantly, is the quantifiable proof contracting officers need to justify awarding a contract to your organization.

Much like the warehouse analogy, many companies have a general idea of what they can claim as past performance but the details are unclear. A “track record” often looks like contract documents stored in various locations (if at all), key details missing, very sparse or non-existent statements of work, no organization of data and no way for the members of your team to access it even if it were organized. Without a comprehensive understanding of your organization’s past performance, you can’t sell any of it.

The Solution

So, where do you go from here? Whether you are staring at a warehouse of office supplies or trying to make sense of the past performance chaos, the answer is the same: you take inventory.

1) Locate your data and centralize it. The first and most daunting step in this process will be to locate all pertinent documents (contracts, SOWs, resumes, invoices etc.) and put them in a central electronic location that is accessible to the appropriate individuals on your team. Depending on preference and need, this could be done on shared server, a cloud-based document sharing service or a collaboration platform like SharePoint. While this is going to be a time investment- the files and records will be the foundation of your inventory. It’s worth it.

2) Create a master list. If your company has sold something to someone, you have a record of past performance. Your next job is to lay the framework for your past performance track record. Using the data from Step 1, systematically review each document and build a list that shows what you sold, who you sold it to, when you sold it and how much you sold it for. Each item on this list should have a corresponding contract, as that is how the government often asks for past performance. If you sell goods, this list will reflect products. If you sell services, it will likely reflect people and projects. You may find that you have big gaps in data and that’s ok! You now you have the visibility required to track down the information needed to fill those gaps and create an accurate master list.

3) Write a mock proposal. Don’t worry, not the whole proposal – just the past performance volume. Identify a government contract that is an ideal fit for what your organization does, this could be an active contract or one that has expired, but the important part is that the work outline in the SOW or PWS is a fit for the services or products you are selling. Locate the RFP and then find the PWS, and Section L/M requirements for the volume that deals with past performance.
This is where the fun starts: for each contract identified in step 2, you will write a past performance summary that meets all requirements outlined in the RFP. Some of the most commonly asked for data points include period of performance, value, location, contract type and points of contact. It will also be imperative that you write a detailed technical summary of the work you performed for each contract.

4) Own the process. So, now you’ve completed the inventory. Congratulations! Now that you know the level of detail and organization required to maximize the potential of your past performance, it is up to you to create an internal process that will facilitate the growth of your track record. Be diligent about storing documents. Keep your master list up to date. If a customer provides a minimal SOW describing the technical requirements of your contract, take matters into your own hands and get creative! Use information from the RFP or ask your employees who are doing the work to write more detailed technical summaries of your projects.

When doing business with the government, your track record of past performance is an invaluable asset that can be turned into revenue. Armed with this knowledge, it’s now up to you to foster and maintain your organization’s biggest asset. If you don’t, no one else will.

By Meryl Angelicola