Innovation in Federal BD: The Players and Layers Methodology

By Judy Bradt on June 11, 2021


Would it surprise you to know that there are FIVE LAYERS to every federal business opportunity?

For over 33 years, I’ve worked with established companies in every industry from the intelligence community to additive manufacturing. And every time I unpack this for seasoned business development professionals, their eyes light up.

Here’s why.

Once you know what to do, what to say, and what to ask when you meet the players at every layer, you’ve learned how to speak the unique language of federal relationships that puts you on the inside track to close the work you want to win.

Introducing the Players And Layers Methodology (PALM). It’s the proven way to get in front of the federal buyers you were meant to serve: faster, with less stress, with greater power, and closer than you ever imagined.

The Players And Layers Methodology is a defined, proven, repeatable, relationship-based approach to federal business development that our clients have used to drive millions of dollars in wins in a matter of months.

My proprietary process has been shared with hundreds of savvy GovCons who use these steps to focus their efforts and win millions of dollars in federal contracts. This simple, powerful, approach creates transformative success for teams who have past performance and are ready to grow.

Summit Insight’s The Players And Layers Methodology: GovCon business in the PALM of your hand.

Five Things About Federal Business

Here are the five things about federal business you need to know.

  1. There’s no such thing as doing business with “The GOVERNMENT.” We do business as people, with individual federal humans.
  2. Marketing is about helping them find you.
  3. Sales is about helping them choose you.
  4. You own a successful business, so you already know how to build relationships.
  5. Success simply takes using that savvy a new way, once you find your players are at all the layers.

Ever put a ton of time and effort (and money) into a big proposal, only to lose by a small margin? Or, worse, to someone whose price was actually higher?

That shouldn’t happen to you. At least, not often.

The biggest misunderstanding people have about federal business is that it’s a mechanical process. It’s not. All those amazing pricing strategies have their roots in human intelligence as well as competitive intelligence.

Time after time, my successful clients tell me things like, “The Contracting Officer told us just what they wanted…” That doesn’t happen for everyone. It does happen once you build trusted relationships.

And that’s actually the essence of selling.

That being said,  if you’re struggling with the idea of selling…you are not alone.

I’ve been where you are. In fact, when I was a fresh MBA grad working for IBM in Canada, I was so squeaked out by the whole idea of sales that I literally left the country (a story for another day). Turns out I could run from sales for over 25 years, but I couldn’t hide. Once I faced my fears, and spent a full year in the trenches — thousands of calls, hundreds of introductions, and dozens of sleepless nights  — I decided NO govcon needed to live like that.

Are you a subject matter expert who loves structure and process? Like the Mandalorian, you’re all about The Way?


Sales might seem like an oooey-gooey-icky art, but the Players and Layers Methodology (PALM) makes sense of it all. Once you see who you know in a new way, you realize who the data shows you don’t know, but need to know.

It’s all about knowing what to do, and what to say, and what to ask to build relationships with your federal humans…who have everything on the line when they choose you.


Introducing The Players And Layers Methodology

Introducing the Players And Layers Methodology (PALM): five steps, five players, five layers, designed to put federal business in the palm of your hand. The PALM gives you a methodical, systematic, way to discover, connect with, and strengthen relationships with all the people you need to meet. What that means for you: face time to become top-of-mind with the key players long before they’re drafting their next requirement with someone else in mind.

It all starts with these five steps, to choose and get to know at least one player at each of five layers.

The steps are easy to learn…and drive results when you commit to the consistent practice to master them! Here they are:

  1. Choose your target agencies, probably no more than three.
  2. Choose specific offices and programs within those agencies.
  3. Identify all the players at each of five layers, where you must have relationships to succeed.
  4. Within each layer and for each person, work out what their needs, goals, and milestones might be. How can you help them, even a little, right now?
  5. Start to connect and build relationships with the players at each level. (“Oho,” you say, “easier said than done!” Relax. I’ve got your back. We’ll get there.)


What’s The Players And Layers Methodology and Why You Want To Know

What’s The Player And Layers Methodology?

Think of it this way: what percentage of the business you’ve won — federal, state, local, corporate — is built on relationships? 

Any time I ask this question, people always give me a figure that’s at least 80%, and regularly 100%. If that’s your answer, too, then even if you say you hate sales, you or someone in your business already has the human savvy you need to use the Players And Layers Methodology with great success!

First, I’ll outline the steps. Then, we’ll go deeper to discover a bit more about the players at each layer, what they need, what they want, and what they care about when you get in touch with them.

There are five steps to engage your fellow federal humans at the five layers where they play. If you want more wins for your federal business, with more ease and less stress, these 5 steps make all the difference! They are:

  1. Identify the federal departments or agencies who need or buy what we do. Then we prioritize our list, supported by past contract data that shows who spends money to buy what we do. That will let us pick the top 3-5 departments or agencies with confidence, and stay focused.
  2. Niche down: within our top choices, identify the specific agencies, divisions, regions, offices, and/or programs that most need or use what we do. Set priority again, starting with the offices where we know people, ideally those who know us and know our work and expertise. Sort again based on our geographic reach, capacity, and proven experience, to help them solve their problems. Set goals for our efforts in each office. There might be a specific contract we want to win, but think beyond that. What would ultimate success look like in each? Now, get granular: what might be the markers that we’re on track to achieve those goals. When I do this with our clients, we pick three offices or programs to start with:
  3. The first one, where we’ve got lots of friends and contacts and clients, people know us and love us, we know pretty much everybody
  4. The second one, where we might know a couple of people, and we could probably figure out the rest once we sat down and worked on it
  5. The third one, where we’ve got great experience and solution for them, we’re a great fit, but we’ve never really tried or been successful, or just don’t know anyone there.
  6. Detective work: At this step, we build what I call a “Contact Set.” The goal of the contact set is to identify all the “players” at each of the five layers in each office or location where we want to win business who are actively involved in framing requirements for and acquiring and using the products or services we provide. Start easy: who do we already know in each office? What’s their job title…and what role do they play? That determines the “layer” they’re in (more about that below).  This is where a simple spreadsheet is super helpful, fast, and effective. You don’t need a fancy-schmancy pricey database to do this! Most importantly: where are the gaps? At which layers are there people we know are important, who we haven’t met yet? And who might already be doing business with our competition? Once we lay this out, we’ve got our federal sales plan. Objective: to get to know everyone, in each office where we want to be successful, who’s involved in buying or using what we do, in a way that means they see us as the low-risk choice.
  7. Contact! Get to know those individual federal humans. Understand their big goals (which might be different from our big goals. Then take a step back and brainstorm a bit: what would their milestones be on the way to those goals? What kinds of things — even small things, not necessarily paid services every time — could we offer to each person to help them be successful?
  8. Stay in the game! Use the plan, relentlessly, persistently, consistently. Because we’ve chosen our target agencies with confidence, that gives us the resilience to keep going, to keep up the effort, to work every angle, even when they don’t return our calls. The quality of our efforts here — to bring value every time, to really get to know our individual fellow federal humans, to support them on what matters to them, and create a great experience with every conversation, email, voicemail, no matter how small the call — is vital to opening hearts and minds as well as pocketbooks, and building the trust that is the foundation of every win.

These are the steps if you want to be successful in federal business. If you want to move the needle on your federal wins, these steps make all the difference.


The Players and Layers!

Who exactly is “the federal buyer?” Ask GovCon, and you’ll get a lot of different answers. In truth, the “buyer” is made up of a set of players and layers. To be successful we need to understand each one, and what they’re thinking about when we call them. Generally, players at each layer have different kinds of goals and typical milestones that mark the way to get there. Then, that’s going to be unique for each individual person, in each office where we’re doing business!

If that sounds like a lot of work…well, yes, it is. It might even be something we suspected and have been avoiding tackling. The sooner we realize that, and start thinking of federal buyers as human beings, the sooner we change our results. Because there’s no such thing as “selling to the government.” We’re dealing with individual federal humans, who have everything on the line when they choose us.

We’ve got to know who they are, know what they do, and build a solid relationship with each of them. They have to know us, like us, and trust us…and we have to be willing to play the long game to make that happen as we build those relationships.

Small Business Specialist

Odds are good that we already know a lot of the players at this layer! The Small Business Specialist has inward-facing and outward-facing responsibilities. To their colleagues inside the agency, they’re the lead player who’s on the hook, day to day, for meeting the small business contracting goals that their agency has negotiated with the Small Business Administration. To us, vendors on the outside, they are advocates and guides as well as gatekeepers. Paradoxically, the more research we’ve done before we contact them, and the more specific our questions, the more helpful they’re going to be. When we talk to them, we have to be ready to show how our past performance and experience supports the requirements of the specific programs, office, and individual federal humans who need what we do.

Even if we’re a new vendor in that agency, the first stop is to read the agency’s online information for small business before asking the Business Specialist for advice and feedback. The more specific our questions, the better! For instance, if we ask for advice about our capability statement, they’re going to read it.

Oh, and they don’t award contracts. If you look at the job titles on the business cards of the contacts you have in any agency, and you’re seeing lots of “OSDBU” or “Small Business Programs,” but not many other titles, you’ve got work to do. These people are not your buyers. They can help, but they don’t award contracts.


The Contracting Shop

At the next layer, we find the Contracting Officers and Contracting Specialists. They run the competitions, sign the contracts, and make sure we get paid. They are entirely focused on, and have legal responsibility to ensure, that the end users are served by suppliers who can do the work well at a fair and reasonable price. To do that well, they also do the market research to identify qualified suppliers. That legal responsibility is a heavy burden that makes them particularly risk-averse! They’re the ones who get into trouble if something goes wrong with a vendor — anything from protests to poor contract performance. At this layer, we want to constantly show why our experience and past performance makes us the low risk choice for the specific problem or mission their agency has. Before we make first contact, we start planning our call by researching everything about how the Contracting Officer in that office does business and who they’re doing business with now.


The End User

We’re going to meet lots of players at the third layer: End Users. These are the people we’re meeting with, talking to, working with side by side, every day. They rely on our services for their success. We want to be listening to them constantly about the things they need and want to be successful. End users don’t sign our contracts, but they sure do influence the requirements! They can tell us a lot about what they’re happy about and what they’re not in their work with their current vendors and in their jobs in their lives. They also have performance appraisals every year! How can we help them shine? What little thing could help them stand out at promotion time when lots of other people are bidding for the next job? There are all kinds of ways we can build relationships with end users. End users are a vital source of intelligence, especially when a bid isn’t on the street. That’s a little about the end-user layer.


The Stakeholder

Player number four in our Players and Layers Methodology is the Stakeholder. They’re folks like the cabinet secretary, the chief information officer, the chief human capital officer, or the base commander. They’re visionary, they’re leaders in their organization just like we are in our own companies. The Stakeholder sets the organization’s priorities and themes, and defines the top challenges that are going to get the money and resources. Those priorities also determine which programs get funded, which affects how much money is going to be available to their program managers, including to…ahhh…award contracts! But at their level, they’re not involved in choosing to do business with your company.

Oh yeah, and we want to know who the Stakeholders are so that we don’t look blank when someone in the agency mentions the names of their leadership.

So the last thing we want to be asking them for is an introduction to somebody who needs what we do. What do we talk to them about? Ideas in this video!


The Prime

The players at the final level are our competitors in industry. I’ve called this “The Prime Contractor” but it includes both incumbent primes and past or potential competitors.  Here’s why this matters: our federal buyers are more than likely doing work with somebody else at the moment. We’ll either need to team up with them or push them out or a bit of both.

We need to find out as much as we can about what our buyers like about them, and how we’re different in good ways. How might we work alongside them, or even bring them new business that could be awarded through the contract vehicle they have? When any prime meets us for the first time, they want to know one big thing:  “How are you going to bring me business?”

Ever been frustrated by primes who don’t return calls? Here’s how to change that. We can bring them knowledge of under-the-radar requirements. Maybe something new that isn’t showing up in a forecast or even something that came up in a conversation that the federal buyer would like our help with, and they want to make it easy by running the purchase through a contracting vehicle that’s already on the books.


Okay, Is It Time We Talked?

If your company has more than five million in revenue, you’ve been in business for more than five years, and you’ve got close to five people involved in sales and business development, maybe you’re not growing the way you want to. Maybe your company is veteran-owned and you want to bring the special military expertise and experience that you’ve got in your career to federal buyers and agencies where you can make a difference. Maybe you’ve got an 8(a) certification but you haven’t been bringing in the wins you hoped for, and time is running out. Maybe your minority-owned or woman-owned company is really successful doing business with big corporations, but the very idea of taking on the federal market is intimidating: if you do it, you want to get it right.

If that sounds familiar, let’s talk. These are situations where business owners who choose to work with our team in the Federal Business Intensive get the skills and tools they need to get on track for the wins they’ve always wanted. Find out more about this private program for you and your company team  HERE, and if that sounds right for you, book a call today and let’s chat.


This eight-week experience is ideal for small group teams that want to get everybody pulling together on the same page. In eight weeks or less, we create and activate a custom federal sales plan for you and your team.

There are four steps that you have to take if you want to be successful in the federal market:

  • Learn the federal sales game, what to do, what to say, and what to ask, to build relationships with the players at all five layers.
  • Make a confident choice based on hard data of where you’re going to focus.
  • Build a custom federal sales plan around just those target agencies.
  • Lastly, you’ve got to do the work and use the plan

By the end of eight weeks, and after you’ve done the work, you will have built a solid relationship pipeline into at least three places where you’re confident you can win work. Everyone in your company is pulling together working toward building those relationships.

If you think this might be right for you, let’s book that conversation and find out how we could start making a difference for you this year in the federal arena.

Tap the complete Players and Layers Methodology today!



Watch the WHOLE Players and Layers Playlist

Get the Complimentary GovCon Personas Guide — 22 pages of connection ideas and tips to understand the players at all the layers

ACTUALLY DO THIS in your company:  Create and activate a custom federal Sales Plan so that, in 8 weeks or less, you’ve got a solid *relationship* pipeline into at least three places where you’re confident you can win work. Find out about the Federal Business Intensive HERE 

To learn more about the PALM methodology and how you can make those vital connections with federal customers, look out for Judy Bradt’s upcoming appearance on our New Normal in Government Contracting miniseries!


About the Author

For more than 30 years, Judy Bradt has helped over 10,000 people win hundreds of millions of dollars in Federal contracts. This award-winning consultant is also author of Amazon’s #1 Bestseller “Government Contracts Made Easier.” She’s been a Federal buyer herself, won contracts with Federal agencies, and ran her own business for nearly 20 years. She created the Federal Business Intensive and her proprietary Players and Layers Methodology (PALM) because of what she learned in a giant, painful, multi-million-dollar sales mistake. Because what she learned along the way was too powerful to keep to herself. She combined those lessons learned with the latest research into human motivation, communication, and trust to bring you the proven, powerful, relationship-based approach her clients use today. Summit Insight works with owners of established companies who want to grow their Federal business, and win millions of dollars in new sales in a matter of months.


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