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Ten Ways To Tell If That Federal Contract Is Wired For Someone Else

You’ve just seen that federal contract opportunity on FedBizOps. It looks perfect for you! But there’s not a lot of lead time. You want to give it your best effort to win!

Should you submit that Federal bid? Or do they have someone else in mind?

Here are ten things you need to look at!

     1. Incumbent: Is there an incumbent? If so, do you know whether or not the agency is happy with their vendor? If they’re in love with their current contractor, your best moves may be either to develop a teaming relationship or to back off now and build a longer term relationship with this prospect based on what you do better than the incumbent. If you don’t know anything about the incumbent, then you’re at a disadvantage…and are courting the risk of costly failure.
     2. Set Aside: Is the opportunity set aside for some kind of small business? Is your company eligible? That may be a necessary but not sufficient condition to win. Is the incumbent also eligible? That might suggest that the buyer has at least some interest in working with the incumbent again. Did the set aside get changed at the last minute? If so, and you don’t know why that happened, you’re missing out on critical bid/no-bid intelligence. This kind of last-minute change usually isn’t just to correct a clerical error. It’s more often done to ensure that a favored candidate can participate in bidding. If your company isn’t the favored candidate, then who is? How much do you know about them and why would the buyer choose you instead — especially if they’ve never heard of you before? If you have too many unanswered questions here, consider taking a pass on this opportunity.
     3. Proprietary Technology: Does the RFP require a specific technology or does it just say “Brand name or equal”? Ask the Contracting Officer for clarification if you’re not sure whether your company has the right stuff to meet their needs. If you bid when you either know you don’t meet the requirement, or decided just to guess that you do, what might the buyer think of you? Maybe you want her to think you’re eager to build a relationship, but she could just as easily decide that you’re careless and don’t pay attention to detail. Don’t guess. ASK first.
     4. Vague Statement of Work: When you see poorly-written or scantily-described requirements, the opportunity generally favors the incumbent. If there is no incumbent, there’s almost certainly been at least one vendor who’s been in there getting to know the buyer months before this requirement was published. If you weren’t that early-bird, and this fuzzy requirement is already on the street, you need to at least seek clarity so that you understand the requirement and whether you have the past performance and capacity to do the job before you spend time and money on a proposal. Don’t just throw something together and hope you win. You’d be better off buying a Powerball ticket. Better yet, walk away this time. Get to know the buyer after this competition is done and start to build a relationship for another day.
     5. Key Personnel Emphasis: The statement of work or evaluation criteria includes detailed descriptions of the qualifications and experience of key personnel. That’s a big clue that even if they are not in love with the incumbent, they really like at least some of her staff. SO…read the RFP and the FAR carefully, and then confirm your thinking with the Contracting Officer. Which of the incumbent’s staff could you hire if you won the business away from them? If the answer is “None,” then think carefully about how well your own team really gives the buyer what she wants.
     6. Past Performance Requirement: Is it specific such as: “Contractor must have an office location within five miles of our base” or “Contractor must offer key staff who have a PhD and over 20 years of experience” yet that’s not your office location or the background of your key staff? This is the NUMBER ONE CLUE that the buyer has a specific contractor (who is NOT you) in mind. In which case, “no-bid” is the smart move. But did this opportunity come to your attention because the contracting officer approached you and ASKED you to bid? Even though it seems clear they want someone else? Helping your CO/KO with a “loser bid” can also be a way to build trust. Talk to her and figure out what the appropriate level of effort would be to prepare something for her file that shows she shopped for vendors, do a minimally-responsive proposal accordingly, and decide what you’d like to ask her for in return. An office meeting? A debriefing? More advance notice next time to have a better chance of being selected? Treat this as another opportunity to build trust.
     7. Minimal lead time and complex requirements? Advantage goes to people who’ve known about this for a long time, and already have most of their proposals drafted. If that’s not you, consider no-bid.
     8. Big project but no pre-solicitation, sources sought, RFI, or draft RFP? Advantage is to the incumbent. If that’s not you, walk away.
     9. RFP/Statement of Work written by the incumbent? Favors the incumbent! How can you find out who wrote it? Start by downloading the document and the Document Properties and see who the author is!
     10. NAICS Code Strangeness: Is the NAICS code odd or was it amended at the last minute? Find out why. The change might favor a specific bidder the buyer really wants. If it’s not you, or you don’t know why it was changed…be wary, and find out.


Is “No-Bid” the smart move? Here’s one thing to do instead.

Add the names, numbers, addresses and locations you see in the bid documents to your federal sales action plan or marketing database. You can find the contact intelligence at the bottom of the solicitation and sometimes you can find end user names hidden under the title of Contracting Officer Technical Representative. Call on them to start developing relationships for next time!

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