A look at the ways market experts determine which suppliers are reliable contractors and which will only cause problems
Suppliers and reliable contractors are vital to almost every business. As such, your relationship with the government contractors you choose to do business with will be some of the most important. The decision to bring on contractors — and which contractors to bring on — is a big one, so it’s important the selection process goes perfectly. Because of the gravity behind these decisions we wanted to put together this helpful guide for finding and selecting only the most reliable contractors so you and your department can succeed.
We’ve divided the selection process in half:
- Setting Criteria
- The Search
We’ll take a look at “Setting Criteria” first because it’s an important first step, but make no mistake, these two aspects of the selection process often occur simultaneously or interchangeably once you get going.
A crucial first step on the road to finding a reliable contractor, setting criteria is an oft-overlooked aspect of market research and the selection process. The reason this step is so important is that it allows you to have a view of the road ahead. Simply diving into lists upon lists of contractors with no clear view of what it is you’re looking for will only result in wasted time, and because time is money, well …
To get this step started, you’re going to want to ask yourself what you’re looking for in a business partner; what do you see in your head when you think of a reliable contractor? We’ve broken down the questions you’ll need to ask in order of importance, starting with:
- Past Performance
Contracting agents and professionals in the GovCon industry often focus solely on this first point, which is understandable. This is the basis for the entire business partnership. That’s why we’re putting it first. It isn’t everything, however.
We also don’t simply mean invoices and cost per unit when we say price. The financial aspect of the contracting relationship has to do with how business is handled between parties, and yes, that does mean how much you will pay. But it also means how will these transactions occur.
Are you going to have to negotiate every bill?
Can you rely on consistent service for consistent payment?
Considering all aspects of the “price” of doing business will help you to develop a sharper image of a reliable contractor and a strong business relationship.
Our #2 for obvious reasons, after Price, Past Performance should be the next topic of concern. In private sector contracting, they refer to this as reliability. It’s what you’re going for after all. To find a reliable contractor can be difficult, however. You don’t want to find yourself already in a contract with a partner you can’t rely on, so look out for the signs before you commit.
- Talk to their other clients, get to know their reputation.
Also, consider if you’re looking to do business with a large or small firm.
- Larger firms mean greater access to materials, capital, and resources. If something does go wrong, larger firms are in a better position to make it right.
This is not to say smaller firms don’t have their benefits.
- Smaller firms can afford you more attention and care of service. Especially if you’re a large partner for them to work with, being a primary client will ensure closer and more careful work on their part.
- They can also help your agency meet socioeconomic goals. Public Spend Forum now features GovShop, an easy to use market research system that makes finding specific small businesses to compete in your set-aside acquisition a breeze. With our government-specific filters, you can find those needle in a haystack contractors and suppliers in a quicker time.
Federal contracting professionals have systems like CPARS (the Contractor Performance Assessment System, which now includes the Past Performance Information Retrieval System or PPIRS) to perform their past performance research. This is the government’s preferred method of past performance evaluation, but contracting professionals may use surveys of prior contracting or program professionals. While these are good sources for information, be mindful that they do require the time of another government program or acquisition professional to complete, which can be awkward for vendors who typically must submit dozens of proposals each year to increase their chances of winning a contract.
Just on the back of Past Performance, Stability is key to finding a reliable contractor. You can’t very well rely on a business partner that doesn’t exist in the next fiscal year. In responding to your RFP, applicants should be asked to include evidence of financial standing or condition. This is also another situation where meeting with or reaching out to current clients can give you a sharper image of what your potential partner is like. Some signs of a stable contractor include:
- A long-standing tenured executive (the more the merrier)
- A long-standing established business in general.
While newer contractors can certainly be reliable, there’s an air of risk that you can be eased by choosing a firm with years of experience in the industry.
Government contracting professionals can use a system like Dun and Bradstreet to check a contractor’s financial performance over past contracts so you can evaluate the stability of firms that you are seriously considering for award.
This is a very real world aspect to the selection process; especially important if your contractor will be providing physical goods through shipments. How far is too far? Distance can mean higher costs so consider the price benefits of maybe a fantastic firm that’s just too far away to justify. Also, when dealing with shipments, consider freight costs and how you can best make your orders so that you are making the best, most cost-effective decisions.
Bringing up the rear on our list — but still incredibly important — Competency is the final quality you want to consider when looking for a reliable contractor. Last on our list because it’s much less concrete than the others, competency is more about the sense you get from a bidder than any evidence to be found. Again, talking to current or past clients can give you a real sense of the competency of a potential business partner. You also want to keep this in mind if or when you actually reach out to the contractor.
- In your correspondence do they seem to really know what they’re doing and talking about?
- How long have they been in the industry?
- Can their experience speak for itself or do I need more reassurance they can be the reliable contractor I need them to be?
These questions can save you from a world of headaches down the road once you’re working with your new contractor.
Now it’s down to the hard part. You have an idea of what you’re looking, for now, you just need to actually look for — and find — it. This part of the selection process has historically — and notoriously — been the most time consuming and difficult part. Relying on market research, RFP responses, networking, event attendance, etc. contracting agents and industry professionals the world over had an overwhelming list of disparate resources at their disposal to try to find a reliable contractor. Pulling from all these different methods (all of which, time-consuming and labor-intensive) was and is notoriously inefficient. So we at Public Spend Forum have decided to put a stop to that. That’s why we’ve launched GovShop, the one stop shop for all those previously disconnected pieces.
Events and Expos and Demos, Oh My!
We all know the value of events and demonstrations and things of that sort. Meeting face to face and seeing products and businesses in the flesh can make the entire process of hunting for a reliable contractor that much easier. What can be easier to find than what’s directly in front of you? Before, however, these meet and greet opportunities could be difficult to come by or sparsely attended. The possibility to not live up to their potential was too great. With GovShop, however, all this can change. Profiled members can receive information and invitations to events of this sort to put them in contact with just the contractor they’re looking for. And with over 733,000 suppliers in general, you’re sure to see something you like.
Word of Mouth
Another strategy often relied on my industry professionals is recommendations or word of mouth marketing. In the past, this would require real-life connections and with nearly a million contractors on the market the odds are no one you know has anything to say about the contractors you’re looking at. This is where GovShop comes in. In the new age of technology and communication, a network like this is just what government buyers need when searching for a reliable contractor. Network and communication with other industry professionals to get a better sense of who’s caught your eye so you know you’re making the right choice.
The Search Itself
You type in Google “reliable contractors”. Over 97,000,000 results come up and most of those have nothing to do with what you’re looking for. Market research in such a flooded industry can near impossible. That’s why GovShop offers 3 different ways of searching so what you’re looking for is what you get. Search by product/services offered, contract vehicle or simply browse and filter your results until you find that diamond in the rough. No more hours of market research online with unsuccessful searches only to find something you were never looking for. GovShop offers easy to use and specialized search engine tools so that you find a reliable contractor every time.
With our help, you should now have all the tools you need to go out and find that ideal, reliable contractor. The business partner you need is out there, all you need now is a clear idea of who that is and a GovShop profile to find them. For more helpful industry tips check out Public Spend Forum.