Every business owner needs to look towards alternative sourcing modalities for their business. Going after the occasional RFP simply isn’t going to cut it. If RFPs are analogous to popular music, then leveraging FOIA requests to source from competitor reference sections, using pre-qualification to receive invite-only requests, and highlighting cooperative agreement weaknesses to your advantage are grudge rock, metal, and jazz respectively.
Let’s explore each of the above.
Leveraging Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Requests
Don’t stop at asking “why?” when you receive less than favorable news about your previously submitted bid. This is one of the most common mistakes in the realm of bidding; not pushing beyond the why question. Debriefs, while good-intentioned by both parties, will not bear much fruit. Procurement officials very rarely provide debriefs of substantial value, and even fewer will provide you with specific details or direction to improve next time. Should you call the agency POC instead? Maybe slightly better, but it will be uncomfortable for both parties, since good news is easier than bad to communicate over that medium.
We discuss FOIA requests at great length here. Suffice to say that business owners and even in-house bid teams do a really bad job at universally submitting the requests every time an award has been made. Even in the 1/5 chance it does get submitted, non-TKS teams rarely follow up after 20 days, which is the federal legal limit an agency has to either 1) provide the documentation requested or 2) provide a justification as to why the documentation will arrive late or not at all. Once competitor proposals are received, they need to be reviewed, categorized, and sourced for future leads. This process is, when followed by in-house teams, haphazard at best and non-existent at worst.
How do you source competitor proposals? We recommend creating a master list of client references from these documents, and adding details such as project value, contract duration, scope descriptions, etc., if made available. Some descriptions will even provide a sense for when the contract will be up for re-bid or renewal. Still, 3 out of 4 buyers will entertain receiving a competitive proposal regardless of when the term expires. Secondary interest vectors should be competitor litigation (if any), pricing, and any alternative pricing provided.
Using Pre-Qualification to Receive Invite-Only Requests
This is another area of confusion, even for seasoned government contractors. Pre-qualification is not about getting on some email list, signing up for a newsletter, or asking to be notified once an RFP has been published. Pre-qualification is a wildly successful proactive approach to become shortlisted before an RFP is realized. It’s essentially introducing your skills, unique value, and qualifications to a (usually) larger private/corporate entity, which gives them a name and a face for future requests. Achieving pre-qualification means you’re immediately “in” with that private entity and can request a great deal of time/information/meetings with them to better understand the project relevant to your firm’s specialty. This vastly differs from the typical RFP process for obvious reasons.
In some special cases, you can even leverage multiple pre-qualifications in a strategic manner. Our team has seen contractors take shortlisting from major banking institutions and leverage talks to have a more substantial talk/presentation elsewhere.
Highlighting Cooperative Agreement Weaknesses
K-12 and universities often source from purchasing cooperatives where they act as members to receive discounts, vouch for vendor quality, and so forth—which seems like a great system until you realize that no one within the individual institutions can agree on what the cooperative membership entails. It’s also incredibly difficult for individual vendors to sell their cooperative-approved service once it’s in the system, mostly because purchasers don’t talk to each other outside of annual conferences…
Education purchasing cooperatives are attempts to streamline bureaucracies and (unfortunately) bring the most value to a small, tight-knit band of schools within the higher ranks of the cooperative entity.
Therefore, it’s possible to source business from the above confusion, and well as the costly inefficiencies and siloed nature of this reality.