Understandably, many contractors can be frustrated by the Request for Proposal (RFP) process to bid on U.S. government contracts. It’s not surprising since government RFPs are often complicated and difficult to read. Here’s an example:
“Section 18.104.22.168: The proponent must demonstrate how … with reference to the issues provided in addendum C … in detail in section 1.3 and 1.4 in this document, provided that 75% of the design of your solution has already been complete prior to … Any omissions to this response will result in non-compliance.”
After reading language like this in government RFPs, some qualified and successful contractors will simply abandon any thought of even trying to find government contracts, let alone aggressively pursuing or bidding on them.
The traditional RFP process represents a challenging approach to new business development. By its nature, it is a complicated method that makes winning government contracts very time-consuming. In fact, companies that bid on government contracts, RFPs and other bid opportunities often go about it in a costly and inefficient way. Much of that effort can be avoided by engaging in a targeted approach for finding government contracts that considers:
- Owner/agency intelligence
- Competitive intelligence
- A well thought-out bid strategy.
Knowledge of the owner/agency, combined with knowledge of the competition can produce the best strategy for bidding on government contracts. It’s not rocket science. This approach simply brings in more quality projects, using less labor and other company resources. In the long term, the cost of acquiring new business decreases, and profit is likely to increase.
Government Contracts: Owner/Agency Intelligence
The first step in the business development process after finding a project to consider is to gather background information on the owner/agency itself. To assist with the finding and gathering of owner/agency intelligence, ask and answer the following questions:
- Do you know anyone at the government agency?
- What types of projects can you find that the agency published in the past?
- How does the government agency view your company?
- Who is responsible, at the agency, for approving procurement projects?
- Do you know of any major issues concerning the owner/agency, such as problems, trends, needs, sensitivities, internal pressures, external pressures, preferences, etc.?
- What procedures does the government agency follow? What are their ordering/acquisition practices? Are they innovative or conservative?
- What is the ranking of the evaluation considerations in order of importance to the owner/agency? (Do they favor value or price? Do they have any preferences?)
- Who would likely participate in the evaluation and decision-making?
- What agency-related documents do you have access to, such as organization charts, contact lists, past procurement history/relationships, policy guidelines, procedures, budgets, forecasts, plans, etc.?
- What is the scope of the work? What is the size of the government contract? For example, what is included/excluded; how many locations need to be supplied; requirements for equipment, technology, resources, staffing and other requirements?
- What is the owner/agency’s budget for this government contract? Is funding available?
- When is the RFP going to be released? Is there a bidder’s conference or site visit? What is the schedule for award of the contract? Project start date? Is there any history available indicating pattern of RFP solicitation?
- What are the terms of the contract?
Researching Government Contracts: Competitive Intelligence
If the contractor decides to continue on with the bid, the second area of essential information is background on the agency’s previous contractors. Determine how your company’s strengths align with those of the competition. And most importantly, know what the competition is offering in their bid. Specifically consider the following:
- Who is currently doing work for the owner/agency and who has done work in the past?
- The strengths and weaknesses of potential competitors
- How the government agency views your potential competitors
- What contractual items will be attractive to the buyer
- Access to insight and/or information into the competition’s pricing
- The feasibility and impact of partnering with other companies on a specific government project.
Through this information-gathering process, you will have a good profile of the type of contractor that is likely to obtain this work. But it won’t show whether your company has the wherewithal to obtain this government contract. That’s the next step.
Winning U.S. Government Contracts: Bid Strategies
Knowing your company’s strengths and having a portfolio of references are key components in the development of a bid strategy. The business must be right for your company, based on your background and expertise.
If there is a substantial portion of the contract that depends on other skills (such as those of a landscape architecture firm), partnering or subcontracting should also be part of the bid strategy for the contract. Questions to consider include:
- What is your company’s technical experience performing the same or similar work?
- How do the company’s strengths align with owner/agency evaluation criteria? How will an agency benefit from your strengths?
- How will an agency benefit from any teaming arrangements? Will teaming improve your evaluation ranking?
- What are the aspects of your company’s offering that are unique and differentiate you from the rest of the competition?
- What are the chances of not being able to deliver within budget? What are the chances of the work not being profitable?
- What can your company do to influence the RFP or solicitation? How can you get in early to influence the scope of work?
- How will you demonstrate that your offering is the best value to the owner/agency?
By following this information-gathering process when pursuing government contracts, you will have more key intelligence to make a more strategic response to government bids and RFPs.