Unless you have a small army of business development professionals on your payroll, you can’t pursue all the government solicitations that match your capabilities. You need to make smart decisions about where to invest your limited resources to give your company the best chance to succeed without burning out in the process.
Thus, it’s crucial to develop an ability to scan a solicitation and quickly determine whether it’s worth a deeper, time-consuming review. Regardless of agency or sector of government, all solicitations have common sections that can help you make faster decisions about whether to add a new solicitation to your government opportunity pipeline. We discussed these in our recent blog on reading and reviewing government solicitations to help business developers understand the basic types of bid packages they’ll see in the market.
In this blog, we want to go a step further by sharing tips and tricks that you and your team can use to create a thriving government opportunity pipeline. So we asked 50 government business development professionals which part of a solicitation they read first when reviewing opportunities. The results follow, along with practical advice for vetting opportunities based on our years of experience in the public sector marketplace and a little help from our friends.
The Contract Line Items (e.g., Schedule of Supplies & Services)
While our survey respondents didn’t vote this as the most important section to read first, we’re going to lead with it because it’s usually the first thing you’ll see in a solicitation. And it’s critical to review this before you get too far into your review.
Maybe the government wants to buy what you offer, but how much do they want to buy, and for how long do they want to continue making purchases? If the agency is procuring far more than you can provide (or less than you’re willing to chase), then it’s an easy decision to move on to the next. If it’s a spot buy for products you have inventoried, or can easily source, then you may have found your first viable opportunity! So where do you go to find out?
If it’s a federal solicitation, you can find this schedule on the first page of the document (or at least a reference to which page of the solicitation it resides). It should at minimum give you an idea for what’s being purchased and where you can look in the remainder of the document for specific quantities or labor categories. While only 8% of our respondents stated the contract line items were the first section they would review, it’s definitely the 2nd or 3rd place they’ll go when making a go or no go decision about whether to pursue.
On state and local contracts, you can skim the bid package for excel attachments (usually an indication of a price worksheet that will show the products and quantities) or tables that contain a list of items being procured. Other times, the contracting professional may simply write out the items in a bulleted list. Look for section headers with product names or specifications, usually a good place to start if there is no obvious schedule of supplies or services.
The Scope of Work
Our poll resoundingly established this as the first section to read when vetting new opportunities, and it should be no surprise. You must understand what the government is buying before you can determine whether you can deliver.
As we mentioned above, the government’s requirement can take many forms. In products-based contracts, the scope of work may be less description of the product, and more a summary of the salient characteristics and required features of qualifying products. For services-based contracts, the scope of work can be more detailed depending on the nature of the work. Simple staffing contracts may focus on qualifications or how the contractor will manage the recruitment, placement, and replacement of staffing roles.
For more strategic services-based contracts, the scope of work may focus on the problem to be solved, the desired results of the contract, and specific deliverables for which your team will be responsible. These opportunities tend to have more complex proposal requirements and instructions, since the evaluation requires more subjectivity than selecting a conforming suite of products or labor categories based on price and compliance.
As you review the scope of work for opportunities that interest you, make sure you note any and all of the basic requirements. These can help you make a quick go/no-go decision about whether to pursue. Examples may range from unique facilities clearances to specific industry certifications, or be as simple as education requirements in a labor category or a safety data sheet for a product that you resell. If your offer won’t meet the minimum requirements (and you can’t easily source it from within your network), then save your time for the next opportunity because there will always be more!
The Evaluation Methodology
This section was the second most important according to our poll. It stands to reason; if a business development professional reads the scope of work first and decides they are capable of delivering the minimum requirements, they need to know how the government intends to decide on the winner.
Overly complex evaluation methods can be warning signs that a contract is “wired” for another company. But they may identify areas where your company has a particular strength (or weakness) in a key area of the evaluation. Either way, it’s important to read this section carefully before you decide to add an opportunity to your pipeline.
Pay particular attention to how the government intends to make its decision. Products-based contracts may be wholly based on price and compliance with the requirements, especially for commodity goods that have little to no differentiation. So long as you offer products that meet the requirements (e.g., a “qualifying” bid), it will come down to whether your price is lower than the next closest competitor. For more complex products where there is a lot of differentiation, like IT hardware, the government may make tradeoffs between the product’s features and its price. This is quite similar to how you might decide a major consumer purchase, where you conclude that paying more for a computer with a faster processor is a better value than the lower-priced, 2nd generation processor.
Services-based contracts are usually evaluated using a similar trade-off approach, but instead of features they may focus more on a firm’s experience, qualifications and the talent of their employees. The larger the value of the potential contract, the more intense the evaluation methods can be (and with that, a more challenging bid preparation). If you’re early in your government contracting journey, tackling a complex services-based opportunity can be an eye-opening experience. It’s worth doing your research before you decide to respond, for instance by researching the incumbent (if one exists) and their competitors.
If those companies are on a different level than you, or the award amounts make your jaw drop down to your desk, your best bet might be to carve out a role as a subcontractor. Especially if there is a small portion of the contract for which you are uniquely qualified (e.g., a skill, certification, or security clearance that is hard to find). Subcontracting opportunities are very important for newer contractors because they provide valuable experience in the government marketplace and give you a place to start developing relationships that can lead to larger opportunities in the future.
Use GovShop to do market research on large prime vendors who participate in your market. Search by product service code or keyword and create a list of targets for outreach. An email with your capability statement is fine, but doing more research into your targets and offering them a succinct email describing how you can help them, or what you can offer, can lead to more promising relationships.
While these four sections are important “first reads” when reviewing opportunities for your pipeline, they should always be followed by a thorough review of the bid package before you make a decision about whether to pursue a government contract. For a deeper dive into how to do just that, we asked our friends and proposal management experts from The Pulse of GovCon to demonstrate how they “shred” solicitations during the capture process.