A longtime GovCon veteran, Rebecca Miller joined Salient CRGT three years ago as sector president of health and civilian agencies.
These days, she’s laser focused on generating new business in the face of increased competition across the industry. At the same time, she’s balancing the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic with the opportunities it has created in federal health agencies.
What are your top priorities these days?
We are largely focused on growth and winning new business, so that we have opportunities for our employees as they grow their careers.
The competition has become ever more fierce, with all of the consolidation of mergers and acquisitions. Companies are buying companies, and then instead of being a $5 billion company, all of a sudden, they’re an $8 billion company and it takes a lot to feed the beast. Traditionally, an $8 billion company would not go after, say, a $10 million deal. We are seeing that very, very large companies have lowered their threshold of the average deal size that they’re going after.
How do you compete effectively in that environment?
It’s about having the highest-quality capture that you can: Really knowing the customer and targeting things that you think you can win. You always have to have a reason to pursue something, but when the competition is really fierce like this, you need several reasons to pursue it.
What does that mean in practice?
First, it means that you go where you have past performance and you have customer relationships. We have a very heterogeneous portfolio and that is a strength. We have a presence in nearly every single agency, and when you have a presence, it’s easier to break into expanding your work in those agencies.
We also are agile. We don’t have a huge hierarchy of people that have to approve different things. I work directly for the CEO and we are always looking as to why it makes sense to bid on new opportunities, rather than why it doesn’t, so we can very quickly mobilize to go after new business.
IT modernization is a crowded space. How do you differentiate?
I have a one-word answer: people. Everybody in the GovCon space virtually has the same offering, give or take, so it’s really about the people. When you’re bidding on work for a government customer, you need to ask: Will that person resonate? Does that person know the customer? Will their experiences be relevant to that customer?
How do you ensure you can bring the best people, and the right people, to the table?
We do it by having a people-focused mentality in place. Team-building events are important. People have to feel connected to the company, not only to their customers. A large portion of our workforce are at the government site every day, working on government programs. We have to make them feel included as part of our organization, as a company, so they know they are valued.
We did a contest where we had each project team put a video together about the mission of their project and why they’re so excited about it. Then we had a review team pick a winning project. It got everybody excited and energized around their projects.
With COVID, we have had a lot of virtual happy hours. We also had a virtual 5k over the summer where we all took pictures and ran it in a safe way with our families, and had team T-shirts to sponsor health and wellness during the pandemic.
At the same time, COVID has created new opportunities…
The health agencies have received additional budget and you can see that coming down the pike. There’ll be some additional IT dollars focused toward analytics and the COVID space.
We’ve seen some additional funding that the Department of Health and Human Services has gotten, and I think we’ll see that continue to happen in the different health operating divisions in the future.
COVID has also forced government customers to rethink viable service delivery models and more fully embrace telework, etc. That allows more agile and progressive companies to offer compelling alternatives and avoid the stagnation that has taken place in some customer environments.
What’s your strategy for partnering with other GovCons?
We are interested in partnering with companies that are value-add on both the large and small side. There are a lot of small businesses that just want to be added to the team because they meet the socioeconomic requirements of the solicitation. We look for strategic partners that can bring value to us and help us win.
On the large side, we look for companies where we can have a reciprocal relationship with them: For example, we prime one opportunity and they subcontract to us, and they prime a different opportunity, and we subcontract to them.
Partnering with both small and large businesses is usually tied to their customer relationships and insights. Say, for example, I would like to do work at the Social Security Administration. Maybe I don’t have any work there today, but there are many small businesses that do. I would select small businesses that have relevant work experience, so that when Social Security gets my bid, they would see a Social Security flavor to our proposal with respect to current pains and future roadmap, giving them comfort with us as a potential new vendor during a transition period.
What makes this work fun and satisfying for you?
Winning makes it fun. We have won major contracts with new customers by following this philosophy. For example, we’ve won a $115 million IT managed services contract for the Government Accountability Office, a $72 million cybersecurity contract for the Department of Homeland Security, and a $105 million strategic services contract with the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Each represents a different service capability where we had qualifications, and each was a result of bringing the right people to bear — both Salient CRGT employees and teammates — to apply those capabilities to the unique considerations for that customer.
Winning is very rewarding, especially in a hypercompetitive environment. It’s also the mission of our customers, especially in the health and civil space: Just the missions of the programs, the passion of the people on the government side. There’s real satisfaction in helping the mission come to fruition.