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In government contracting, the strategies a business employs before submitting a proposal are more often than not the ones that make or break a bid.
The pre-proposal phase can be particularly daunting to contractors new to this world, and even the most seasoned professionals can find navigating the system difficult. I’ve gathered several rules of thumb in my 50+ year career that consistently lead to an award.
Here are the things winning bidders always do before they even submit a proposal.
Note Strengths, Weaknesses
The first and most important step to developing a winning bid is preparation. With so many questions, deadlines, and pricing calculations, a fine toothed comb is hardly enough. You need a team to plan and then double and triple check each requirement.
That’s just the beginning. Any successful contractor has a deep understanding of the company’s unique strengths that make it competitive for any given project, but bidders must also be realistic about weaknesses.
For example, a small, minority-owned, women-owned, or veteran-owned business can have an immediate advantage, but these businesses may need additional resources to handle the preparation required for a winning bid.
- This company may not be the most competitively priced, but it can offer diversity where others can’t, and that is of extreme value in the bid proposal process.
- Highlighting these strengths and building in a narrative to address the weaknesses will maximize the chances of succeeding.
It may seem burdensome, and it certainly can be, but a bid worth making is a bid worth doing well.
Know Your Competition
It’s also crucial for contractors to understand their competition. Who are the players and what are their strengths and weaknesses? Just as a football team may design their game strategy around the likely offensive and defensive plays of its opponent, so too must you, the government contractor, design your bid.
Pricing, special category status (such as veteran-owned), technical solutions, or agility may be weak spots for other bidders. Thoroughly examining their potential shortfalls creates an opportunity to design your bid in a way that highlights your ability to outwork or outprice them.
The cheapest bid won’t necessarily win the contract, so draft your responses in a way that clearly demonstrates the value for the government’s dollar.
Prepare to Protest
Proper planning can turn a crack into a wide open door, but it takes attention to detail and experience to walk through. You will likely need outside help, especially if there’s an opportunity to protest.
Time is of the essence when a company wants to protest a contract award, and not every business has the in-house resources to prepare for and act on a flawed RFP or award. A protest is useless if not submitted in time, no matter how valid the argument.
- It’s incumbent on the contractor to raise the flag early on in the case of an imperfect opportunity. Failing to do so means being stuck with an RFP that puts your business at a disadvantage.
- Even if the RFP is imperfect, actually submitting a proposal is almost always a must if you want a chance. Without a submitted proposal, there is no way to jump back into the competition if your protest fails.
Government rules leave no room for error, and too many contractors have lost out on lucrative opportunities because of a failure to enter the fray, even when the fray is far from perfect.
As with most things in life, a successful award takes long-term planning. With careful attention to the strengths and weaknesses of all the players and scrupulous preparation, contractors can increase their chances of winning major business, even if a first attempt doesn’t work.
The right preparation ahead of the bid process itself will ensure a juicy bite at what can ultimately be a very lucrative apple.
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John Chierichella is the founder of Chierichella Procurement Strategies , a consultancy helping contractors pursue and perform federal contracts and subcontracts. An alum of Shepard and Mullins, Chierichella has 50 years of bid experience and is nationally recognized by Chambers & Partners, Legal 500, and most recently by Who’s Who Legal as one of the most instantly recognizable names in government contracts law.
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