By Gloria Larkin and Cindy Gaddis
Winning government contracts with a high return on the investment (ROI) of time, money, and effort requires a well-thought-out process that incorporates a targeted marketing, sales, capture, and request for proposal (RFP) response process specific to the government marketplace. Many businesses do not have a proactive marketing process in place for any market segment and those focusing on the federal market have a tough time understanding why the federal contracting market requires a tailored marketing approach as opposed to a traditional approach.
Of the few companies selling to the federal government who do proactively market, traditional consumer or business-to-business tactics are most often used instead of federal-specific tactics, resulting in a very low ROI. Unfortunately, traditional tactics such as ad-buying, social media sales, pay-per-click, and search engine optimization (SEO) are not the best marketing fits for the federal customer.
Instead, a company that understands the value of research, planning, and effective market positioning before the RFP is released has a much higher chance of winning federal contracts.
In a recent study of the federal marketplace Hinge Research Institute stated that “…firms with high growth and high profits conduct regular research on their target clients….with those conducting frequent research (at least once per quarter) realizing a 33.3% growth and a profitability of 20%.” Ideally, this planning and research process starts well ahead of the RFP becoming public and is ongoing on a year-round basis. Research may be conducted using free government resources such as FedBizOpps.gov, USASpending.gov, agency forecasts and the Federal Procurement Data System-Next Generation. Results of this research may indicate upcoming projects and recompete contracts, past awardees, and the use of specific contract vehicles. Planning a proactive marketing calendar is the next step to success.
This calendar should include a decision-maker touch scheduled for at least once a month; incorporating a range of tactics including in-person meetings, attending conferences and matchmaking sessions, sending emails and news releases, and making phone calls. All of these touches should be targeted to specific people involved in upcoming projects, including government small business officers, contracting and acquisition staff as well as program managers and end users. Corporate targets could include prime contractors, teaming partners, andsubcontractors.
One of the least understood factors in proactively positioning a company is developing differentiators that impress the range of decision-makers involved. Too many companies rely upon socio-economic certifications and generic statements of ability instead of developing truly unique metrics related to the services and products offered. Other ideal differentiators are patents, trademarks, measurable expertise, and capacity. Execution of an effective marketing plan strengthens the company in the decision-makers thoughts as a capable choice with the capacity to perform.
Once the vendor has marketed, planned, and positioned to pursue opportunities within their target market, it is time to respond to the solicitation or RFP, plan for the win, and successfully execute them contract. One of the greatest mistakes bidders make in the Federal market RFP response process, is asking the wrong questions. Typically, bidders download the solicitation, jump to the statement of work (SOW) or performance work statement (PWS) to see if they can do the work, say yes, and get to writing. The most important question is, “Can we WIN the bid?” While it is a simple question, it takes thought and time to answer. The most effective way to reach an answer is a quick and methodical approach.
First, quickly dissect the solicitation by its major areas and review in order of importance. For example, all Federal acquisitions include these critical elements and the fastest way to get to the ‘can we win’ question is to review the following sections or elements, in this order and here is why: Section A, the contract form, is typically the first page of the solicitation and includes critical elements such as the NAICS, size standard, set-aside, acquisition method (quote or proposal), along with the due date. If the organization does not meet the size requirement, it is important to know early on. Likewise, many companies realize they cannot submit a winning response with only a week to prepare the response.
Section L provides the instructions which explain all the requirements for bid or proposal submission; an inability to meet one or more of these instructions can quickly determine if it is possible to win. Section M. If sections A and L didn’t present any deal breakers, the next most common place to expect one is within Section M, the evaluation criteria. The contracting officials make it clear how the bid or proposal submission will be evaluated; think, “what does one have to do to get an A” and as an alternative to getting an A, perhaps re-consider the initial bid decision and save valuable resources for something the organization can win. The most important question is, “Can we WIN the bid?”
Section C, the SOW or PWS, describes the actual work to be done. Every ’shall’ or ‘will’ statement should be reviewed as a directive from the customer and, if the prime or teammate cannot explain the who, what, when, where, and how of each item AND there’s simply not enough time to submit a complete, compliant, and compelling response, (see Section A for proposal response deadline) the company might consider passing on the bid.
All other Sections. While the sections above are usually where the answer to the question, “can we win” is quickly answered, all other sections of the solicitation requirements should never be overlooked. For example, if an organization isn’t familiar with the federal acquisition regulation (FAR) and they are incorporated by reference, a contracts manager or other subject matter expert should review to ensure all potential ‘hidden’ requirements are addressed.
The proposal response will essentially become the contract and should be used as the start of the project plan during contract execution. If a company has really good ideas for how to improve the cost, quality, or schedule but did not include in their response due to proposal compliance issues, they should plan on discussing these items at the kickoff meeting. Create this project plan and use throughout the life of the contract to document every aspect of its execution. Documenting the successful execution is the right thing to do for the customer but it also ensures the organization is credited for and validates the highest possible rating in the Contractor Performance Assessment Reporting System (CPARS). CPARS ratings are provided on each contract over a certain dollar threshold, depending on the industry and is one of the most overlooked and most critical elements to winning the next bid. Companies who know what it takes to achieve the highest possible rating for all their contracts understand and work to that end.
This article was pubilshed in APTAC Connection.