In federal offices across the country, you can hear two types of sales conversations, especially as fiscal year-end is closing in.
The first type goes something like this:
Buyer: Great demo! How can I buy from you right now?
Vendor 1: Well, I'm not sure. But once you find out, we're ready!
Buyer: Gosh, look at the time. Let me get back to you on that.
The second type goes more like this:
Buyer: This is the presentation I've been waiting for. We’re ready to order.
Vendor 2: Great! We could do a micro-purchase today to get going in the three offices that want to start right now. Once we see the results, and you want to go for agency-wide implementation, you can choose the contract vehicle you like best. We're 8(a) and we're also on Seaport-e, OASIS, and EAGLE II, Alliant Small Business, and GSA Schedule.
Buyer: Let's walk down to contracting together, get the micro-purchase done, and we can start tomorrow. My contracting officer know which vehicle gives us the quickest lead time for the follow on work.
Government buyers have two problems. First, they needstuff– products and services to deliver their mission. Second, though, they need legitimate, expedientways to get stuff. Successful vendors come ready to solve both problems.
If you aren't ready to sell the way they want to buy, you're handing opportunities to your competitors.
How can you find out how your federal customer buys? Take these simple steps.
- Get online at USASpending.gov.
- Go to “Advanced Search.”
- Set up your search with the following criteria:
- “Contracts” only
- The most recent full fiscal year
- The NAICS code, key words, and Product/Service code that most closely define what you sell
- The federal agency and office you want to sell to
- Hit “Search.”
- Export the results to a .csv file.
- Open the file.
- Expand the column width of the first row of data so you can read the column labels. There is a LOT of extremely useful data here, but right now we're going to concentrate on finding how your buyer buys.
- Scroll across to Column CW = IDVPIID. That's short for “Indefinite Delivery Vehicle (IDV) Procurement Instrument Identifier (PIID).” Entries in this column identify purchases made through a single contract that enables a federal buyer to make multiple purchases.
- Sort your data by this column. The more times an identifier repeats, the more often your buyer used that contract.
- If the contract number in this column starts with “GS…” then your buyer used a contract managed by the General Services Administration.
- But not all such contracts are GSA Schedules! Cross check with Column CX to see whether your buyer used a GSA Schedule for the purchase.
- If the contract starts with an abbreviation of the agency you targeted in your search, then the buyer used an IDV that is administered by that agency.
- If the contract number in this column starts with neither of those, then the buyer used another Government-Wide Acquisition contract that is administered by another agency. For example, NASA SEWP is a technology contract administered by NASA but accessible to all federal agencies.
- If there is NO entry in this column, then the buyer used a definitive contract, suitable for a single requirement only.
Once you see the patterns, you can ask for a meeting with the agency's contracting officer to find out more about the contracts that seem to be most popular. Then you can start to look into how your company can get access to those IDVs.
Some IDVs – like GSA Schedules – are always accepting proposals for new vendors. Others have an annual application window. Still others take new proposals only every couple of years, or not at all.
Get the whole story before applying for an IDV
If your buyer says outright, “I can only buy off the [GSA] Schedule,” that may not be the whole story. It may be that, given the time left in the fiscal year, it’s the only way that your buyer has left that can meet competitive requirements. But buyers have a lot of options—including micro-purchase, simplified acquisition, reverse auction, and sole source.
If your major target buyer’s agency prefers or requires buyers to use its own agency-wide contract, or another government-wide acquisition contract (GWAC), then put your attention and resources there. You might not need a GSA Schedule at all! Instead, you’ll need to find out whether, when, and how your company can submit a proposal to be added to your buyer’s preferred contract vehicle.
If they don’t mention these options, then brush up on these rules in the Federal Acquisition Regulations. Which ones would be open to you and lower your cost of sales? Ask for a meeting with the contracting officer to discuss these alternative acquisition options.
If you're facing a long horizon to the next proposal season, but you have an eager buyer who really prefers a vehicle you're not on, then you'll want to start researching potential partners with whom you can subcontract until the next opportunity opens.
Have questions about how to know how your government prospects want to buy from you? Want assistance if researching and strategizing your best contract options? Call Judy Bradt of Summit Insight at (703) 627-1074 or email her at judy.bradt@SummitInsight.com