As mentioned earlier, SLGs are slowly starting to transition from best price acquisition processes in favor of best value awards. To help manage the process, many SLGs are contracting with specialized "acquisition" companies. It is important for vending operators who want to win government contracts to understand what these specialists do. These acquisition specialists work directly with an agency's procurement official(s) to ensure best practices are maintained throughout the RFP process.
Soliciting and awarding bids is a time consuming and challenging process for many public agencies. Acquisition specialists handle this process for them. They write the bid specifications and evaluate the bids and recommend who should win the contract.
It is important to know as much about the acquisition company as you do about the customer. Most often, these companies focus on incorporating the federal government's best practices of best value to the process; however, there are several that don't.
There are a few areas vendors should be cautious of when working with acquisition companies:
- Unreasonable business development costs during the proposal phase. In other words, any situation where the scope of the response far exceeds the ultimate value of the contract award. For example, in the federal government, it is not uncommon for a $200,000 award to be based on proposals limited to 150 pages or less. However, I have seen SLG proposals of similar value that require responses in excess of 6,000 pages. This is not a best practice, but it does happen.
Researching the company's track record will help determine any extraneous costs. An acquisition being touted as a "best value" competition sometimes ends as a "cost shootout" and best value criteria are essentially thrown out. When this happens, you've spent unnecessary time and money developing a best value approach.
- Acquisition approaches that unnecessarily string out the proposal phase with multiple "customer" one-on-one sessions. This often results in significant changes in RFP requirements throughout the procurement process and every change can be very expensive. Federal best practices avoid this by soliciting industry inputs through use of Requests for Information (RFIs) and Draft RFPs (DRFPs). Again, researching the acquisition company's history will help determine the probability of this happening with your opportunity.
Again, the majority of acquisition companies follow federal best practice guidelines. Unfortunately, not all do, and it is important to understand what you are dealing with up front. Remember, the path to a win isn't always the easiest path.
KNOW THE CUSTOMERS
It is important to study your customer and understand the primary drivers initiating the procurement. As true in any sales scenario, you need to know who the decision makers and influencers are. An effective way to do this is to develop a "power-player" map with the following information:
- Who are the players?
- What is your relationship with them (good, bad or indifferent)?
- Do you have an inside coach? Identify who it is and who they have relationships with inside the organization.
State and local procurements tend to be much more influenced by elected officials and staffers than federal agencies. Be sure to develop a political plan that does not violate any anti-lobbying laws.
Next, develop and execute a strategic, detailed call plan for the political map specifying who, what, when, where and why. If you leave this to chance, you are taking one.
KNOW THE COMPETITIVE LANDSCAPE
When ranking your opportunities, you need to have a solid understanding of the competitive landscape. Part of this is determining which competitors are likely to bid on the same opportunities, and how you compare. Identify both your strengths and weaknesses. If the weaknesses outweigh the strengths, you may want to reconsider pursuing that opportunity. In some cases, you may decide to act as a subcontractor to a prime, or vice-versa.
One of the most critical factors to winning government RFPs is the development of the winning strategy. A winning strategy is not a list of what makes you great; it is an understanding of what you need to be in order to win. A good strategy is to provide the customer with the compelling reasons your company should be selected over all other vendors.
This is also the most difficult step because it requires you to bridge the gap between your understanding of what you offer and the customer's needs.