Growth is a part of every business strategy, yet many companies are hesitant to work with the largest buyer in the world, the U.S. Federal Government. This article aims to provide insight into the federal government framework so vendors who mainly do business in the SLED (State, Local and Education) market can expand their government business and win at the federal level.
Vendors that sell at the state and local levels already know that the right preparation, knowledge of government regulations, access to capital and identifying the required documents are part of a successful strategy to win government business. The following seven tips will help introduce SLED contractors to the skills needed to begin winning in the federal market.
1. Register in SAM
Many SLED entities require vendors to register in a procurement portal to become a supplier. The federal government is no exception. The System for Award Management (SAM) is the official U.S. government system where vendors provide company information, a DUNS number, a business category, business size and confirm agreement with government regulations. The registration is free. Once the registration is complete, vendors will get a CAGE code registration number which will be required on all proposal submissions.
This system can be used without registering. SAM can be used to gather information on competitors or to vet potential partners and teaming opportunities. For each registered entity, SAM will show if the company has delinquent taxes or has been debarred or excluded. SAM also provides key regulatory clauses used in federal government contracting.
2. Get comfortable with FAR
FAR is the Federal Acquisition Regulation portal for federal government procurement. There are specific rules on contractor discussion, bidding, market research, costs, protests, etc. The federal government uses three main contract types: Time and Materials, Cost Reimbursement, and Fixed Price. Each one of these carries different levels of risks. The FAR will help vendors understand the rules and how to assess the impact on business. Vendors can use these regulations to help develop policies and procedures required for federal government business. Vendors interested in teaming partners can find requirements as well as government clauses that are not required of the vendor by a large contractor.
3. Identify business NAICS codes
When the federal government wants to buy goods or services, it identifies the NAICS code that describes the principal purpose of that procurement. Selecting words or phrases from NIGP commodity/services codes can help find the best NAICS codes for a business. This list may change over time. Vendors should add any new NAICS codes to their NAICS code list and update in SAM.
NAICS codes are chosen by the contracting officer. It is important to learn the language of federal government contracting to increase the probability of winning and being noticed by potential partners and government agencies. If a NAICS code is more aligned with the requirement than what is listed in the RFP, vendors can request it be changed with the contracting officer. If it is not changed, but a vendor qualifies, the vendor can add it to their list.
4. Past performance
Vendors that do business in the SLED market know that agencies want to hire contractors that have knowledge and experience with the work required. The federal government is no different and has a detailed approach to gather vendor data on related past project experience. A federal agency may request the vendor’s clients to complete and return a past performance questionnaire or a vendor may be asked to complete a description. As in any level of government, it is good practice for vendors to specify in the bid or RFP how their work is similar in scope, size, and complexity to the work being requested, provide a point of contact, period of performance and contract award amount. All agencies want to be confident that the awarded contractor can perform quality work and will successfully complete the project on time.
Vendors should also create past project profiles to have them available when needed. The order of precedence for federal government past performance is federal, state/local then commercial. No past performance is to be deemed neutral. If a vendor has no project experience, the vendor can use the experience of its key personnel.
5. Identify opportunities
While SLED contractors can access Onvia’s platform for a single point of entry for past awards, current projects, future opportunities, agency contacts, agency buying cycles, vendor information, purchase order details and more, many federal government vendors rely on Federal Business Opportunities (FedBizOpps) as a source for federal contracting leads. Once vendors create an account on the website, they can find projects, agency details, project documents, proposal conference information and requirements of potential opportunities. Vendors can choose to “watch” these opportunities.
Similar to using Onvia’s Agency Center and Spending Forecast Center for identifying SLED opportunities, vendors should seek to identify the federal agencies that spend the most money on their product or service. This will help build agency profiles, create buyer agency target lists and develop relationships with key agency decision makers. Participation in pre-proposal conferences, industry days, etc. is also useful to gather more information about the agency, potential partners and the competition. On a routine basis, vendors should assess the environment and stay abreast of current agency needs and related policy issues.
It’s good practice to take time to read federal publications and blogs by industry leaders. Some sources are Federal Times, Washington Technology, Government Executive, Army Times and NCMA Contract Management magazine. Additionally, free training is available from GSA interact (vendors do not need a GSA schedule), SBA, and the local PTAC office. The Government Accountability Office also provides helpful information on cases from government audits and bid protests.
By doing the research, vendors can to stay informed on what is going on in the federal market and also identify areas of improvement. If there is a proposed rule or legislation change which impacts business, vendors should submit comments.
7. Build Relationships and Follow Up
To be successful at all levels of government, vendors must be knowledgeable, resourceful, timely and sincere. Vendors currently winning contracts in the SLED market already know that the strongest relationships are built on trust and service. By following the tips discussed in this article, SLED vendors can start building relationships with federal agencies with confidence and stay in contact with key players such as the Contract Officer, Program Manager, and Small Business Office Representative. Vendors can learn valuable information such as when they buy, how they buy, who they like to buy from and what they are responsible for buying. Vendors can set up meetings to discuss agency needs and find out how they may be able to help.
Some contract officers or program managers are responsible for buying more than one group of service. The procurement world is large, but small, referrals are important. Good work performance and company practices could help your company get a referral to another agency for more work.
Sustainable businesses have more than one line of revenue; for vendors already selling into the SLED market, the expansion into the world federal contracting is the logical way to expand government sales. Develop long lasting relationships. Win federal contracts. Accelerate business growth. Stay in business.