One of the biggest mistakes in federal contracting is to set up a keyword on FBO.gov, wait for opportunities to land in your email inbox. and pounce on the one that makes you think, "This one is PERFECT for us!"
If you don't know the buyer, the incumbent, the budget, or the story, your chances of winning are under 5%.
Another mistake is to charge ahead and write a loser bid, "Just to get our name out there" or "Get our foot in the door."
But the most costly mistake in federal contracting can be to take a year of your time - to submit a General Services Administration (GSA) Schedule Contract Proposal - when you have no proof that the agencies that buy exactly what you sell even use the GSA Schedule to purchase your products and services! Even worse than that is the agony of investing thousands of dollars and months of time to st up this contract vehicle and waiting for the business that never comes.
Here's a shocking fact: GSA will drop contractors who are below the $25k minimum sales requirement after the first two years. Once you get that GSA Schedule, you've got to step up your sales game and win the business, or you'll get dropped like 1,000 vendors on the IT70 Schedule did in 2014.
So what should you do when you see a Federal opportunity that is a fit for your company?
First, comb the bid for points of contact. Add those names, numbers, addresses and locations to your federal sales action plan or marketing database. Start reaching out to them and begin developing relationships for next time. You can find the contact intelligence at the bottom of the solicitation and sometimes you can find end user names hidden under the title of Contracting Officer Technical Representative.
Second, do your homework and take the time - before you write a bid, to make a rational bid/no-bid decision.
When everyone is seeing green and thinking "This is perfect for us" about an opportunity you find on a Federal bid website, SLOW DOWN. Remember, every bid effort will cost you a lot of time and money. First, make a a bid/no-bid assessment.
~ Eileen Kent, Federal Sales Sherpa
Here are some questions to get your bid/no-bid discussion started.
- Who is the incumbent doing the work or delivering the products to that agency?
- Who is the Contracting Officer, the Contracting Specialist and anyone else involved in the process? What are their specific bidding protocols? What contract vehicle, or "hallway" are they going to use? Do you have that contract vehicle? Are they going to set it aside for a specific small business preference? Do you have it? Does a teaming partner have it?
- Is it posted at GSA eBUY, or in a hallway on the Acquisition Gateway via another contract like Seaport-e or SEWP? (Do you even know what the Acquisition Gateway is?) Do you have partners who will keep an eye out for the opportunity for you?
- If it's posted on FBO.gov, why did your buyer posted it there, when they could have easily used an existing contracting vehicle? For example, are they looking for something unique that's difficult to find? Or is it such a high-profile project that they need to show the publicly that they sought maxiumum competition
- Is it an Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contract? If so, a win won't guarantee business. Think of it like an empty bridge that connects that the buyer with a small group of selected vendors. Once IDIQ is awarded, she can make fast, easy purchases from that exclusive group for the next one to five years. So, if you go to the effort to bid an IDIQ, are you ready invest in sales and marketing activities to drive business across that IDIQ "bridge"? Do you have a proposal team ready to respond to the multiple bidding opportunities after the so-called IDIQ "win"?
- Did your sales team talk to the end user shopping for this service or product? Did your team take part in the client's market research or discovery meetings prior to the bid? (If you don't think you're allowed to do that, read White House's mythbuster article. You can indeed speak with people prior to the bid being released! FAR 15.201 says the government is encouraged to discuss innovations with industry.
- How do you know you'll win? Do you know their budget?
- Are you offering the name brand they requested, or the equivalent?
- Do you have exactly what they told you they wanted? Can you deliver it on-time, within budget, and still make money?
- Can you meet all the requirements? Or are you scrambling to find a partner who can perform tasks the buyer wants but your company doesn't handle?
- Are you wasting your buyer's time with endless questions to find out if they'd buy your off-the-shelf proposal because you don't understand the scope of work?
- Will your proposal make you look good for future opportunities? If you don't have the information and resources to prepare a strong, complete offer, you're not just losing. You're also wasting your precious resources and damaging your reputation. That's a high price to pay for a potential opportunity for what might be an embarrassing debriefing.
How to turn "No Bid" Into A Win
Why not start making calls for next time, build some relationships, set appointments, perform capabilities briefings and get to know them - first?
If you're puzzled by these questions, you need to learn the Federal Sales Game: how to get inside the heads, and the offices, of people you've never heard of who are already doing business with someone else. That's what it takes to walk into this marketplace, visit the agencies who buy what you sell with intelligence about their current incumbents and understand the strategies that work to position your company to win well before a bid hits the streets.
If you're blindly writing a bid that is "perfect for us" to "get our foot in the door" and you're "seeing green" with every opportunity that crosses your screen - with no intelligence whatsoever - you're going to lose more than the bid. You'll also lose the respect and heart from your team who spent late nights and weekends preparing the bid. After enough loser bids, you'll also be losing big time and money, and quite possibly start losing those key employees, too.
Implement a bid/no-bid process. You'll see much better return on your pre-bid sales activity investment, and put a lot less time and effort into writing proposals.
Are YOU ready to dig in and talk to a lot of people about what's important to them, and teach them about your company? That's what success takes in this market.
About the co-Authors: Judy Bradt and Eileen Kent deliver competitive intelligence analysis and build custom federal sales action plans for established companies who understand they need to build relationships well before the bids hit the streets. For more information on how they can help you accelerate their Federal business success, call (703) 627 1074 or check out our Lightning Launch service today.