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Jun 22, 2021

How to Contact a Potential Partner

Time to read: 6 min

As we discussed in an earlier post, there are a number of reasons why you may want to partner with another company to pursue and federal RFP.  You may need their set-aside, past performance, their experience doing a slice of the work, or maybe they have a great customer relationship.  

In the earlier post, we shared our approach to using data from the Federal Procurement Data System to find suitable partners. But once you’ve identified them, how do you start a conversation about a possible pair-up?


Making Real Contact 

The first step is an introduction. That sounds simple, but a successful introduction requires some thought. We’re all surrounded by a lot of noise when it comes to business communication these days, so it’s good to keep some things in mind. 

First, remember that the goal of an introduction is not to convince others to work with you—it’s simply to get them interested enough that they will take a meeting or phone call to explore the possibility of partnering with them. 

Sounds easy but think about all the emails you get asking for a phone call and how many of them you respond to. So what can we do to improve the response rate?


Warm Introductions

The best type of introduction is a so-called warm introduction—one made through a connection you share with your potential business partner. Getting a mutual friend to give you a personal referral to the other party is a great example of this. A referral through a group such as a trade association also comes under this category. 

A more general strategy that can work really well in both the short- and long-term for securing truly organic referrals of all sorts involves sites like LinkedIn. If you post something aimed at people like your potential partner, you can build name recognition for yourself and get conversations going in the comments. The people you have in mind for partnership may then get involved in the commenting themselves, and you’ll have grounds for an introduction. 

Other places for pursuing these kinds of “warm” connections include:

  • LinkedIn groups
  • Procurement Technical Assistance Centers (PTACs)
  • Small Business Administration-funded development centers
  • County-level economic development agencies

Cold Introductions

You may not always be able to find a warm introduction to a potential business partner. While this path may be a bit harder, it’s still entirely viable.

First, you’ll need to find an email for the person you’re trying to reach. You can usually find that on the company’s website, or from a source like

When you’re drafting your opening email, put yourself in your potential partner’s shoes. Think about how many emails you receive every day that you simply delete without reading. Which emails do you open? Which ones do you actually read?

To craft an email that someone you don’t know will actually want to read, avoid impersonal templates that only ask for things. You’ll want to make your message both personal and specific.

Start with a specific point. For example, if you can see from the USA Spending that a contract won by your potential partner may be coming up for renewal within the next 6 to 12 months, and it’s in an area in which you’d like to work, you can use that as a hook for your intro: “I noticed that your contract with X will be ending in a few months. I’m new to this field and wondered whether you might be looking for subcontractors to participate in a recompete.”

You can follow up with a few words about how you’d bring helpful skills or experience to the table. Emphasizing how your skills could benefit the other company invites them to think of you as a potential partner—not as someone who wants to compete against them. 

It’s also a good idea to build up any sort of connection you may have with them. Did you go to the same college, or do both businesses belong to the same professional association?


Big or Small? 

To ensure you get a response when you’re approaching companies bigger than yours, find out who the capture managers are. Don’t rely on the company’s small business office—you need to find a person who is working on the RFP you’re pursuing.

If you’re with a large company and are emailing a smaller company, write an email that will convince them that you’re not a threat. Reach out to people in their C-suite and, as we discuss above, emphasize how you can be helpful to them by bringing skills and experience that can help them win.

Finally, whoever you’re emailing, whatever the circumstances, always follow up with a phone call a few days later. Letting potential partners hear what you have to say first-hand after an initial email introduction sends a warm, professional message that you’re here to do business.


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