Companies pursuing contracts and subcontracts with civilian, defense and intelligence agencies of the federal government have a multitude of data and information sources to use in becoming ‘smarter’ about those pursuits. Being ‘smarter’ often correlates to one’s ability to increase win probability by efficiently acquiring knowledge related to the program-at-hand, procurement strategy, deliverables, competitors, customer hot-buttons, evaluation criteria (and how they are weighted), pricing, teaming and more. All of this also dependent on who knows you and what they think of you, with the ‘who’ being someone related to or having some influence with the customer organization
Minimizing risk and the cost of acquiring business (C.A.B. fare) is a philosophy based on top and bottom line objectives.
Within the oceans of free and fee-based information, one can acquire extremely useful details about customer organizations, competitor organizations, current, future and historical business opportunities, spending trends, purchasing methods and so much more. These are the ‘dots’ so many of us refer to on a daily basis.
Much of the transaction-related information is freely available in ‘raw data’ formats such as CSV or XML and variations of that free data are available via fee-based subscription from companies who compile and make portions of the raw data and information more aesthetically pleasing for the average consumer. When asked, my recommendation on best approach depends on the offering, customer alignment and maturity of a company’s ability and capacity to collect and use market information. Sometimes the need is for such a small amount of information of very specific information that it’s more efficient to guide them to the source(s) and show them tactics for prosecuting the information. For others with more robust business development activities, it makes sense to layout a blended and harmonious approach of using free and paid resources. Either way, providing tactics and resources so companies can map raw and compiled information to their knowledge and intelligence needs is paramount.
Nonetheless, the top obstacle impeding the average small, medium or large company from developing actionable competitive intelligence is not doing it. This typically has its origins in not understanding the government contracting opportunity lifecycle which also means they likely don’t know what information is needed, where to get the information and how to understand the information to develop and execute a plan for business growth.
One misconception widely-held by companies of all sizes is the belief one source can provide everything needed to execute effective marketing, business development and capture management activities. Nothing could be further from the truth. Whether cultivating your own competitive intelligence using publicly available sources or paying to access compiled repositories, one-stop shopping for competitive intelligence is a myth.
Multiple pieces of information from a host of sources are needed to develop a more complete picture and this includes that information gained through conversations with those in your network. I have yet to see a single source that comes close to capturing and presenting a complete solution for opportunity intelligence. Understanding the need to leverage multiple resources is key to developing good market research habits.
Case in point, the Federal Procurement Data System – Next Generation (FPDS-NG) houses more information than most of us know and only a portion of that information is available via data feeds. This means, interfaces such as USASpending.gov and the host of fee-based services that tap FPDS-NG (the primary source of information related to historical transactions) only acquire some of the data points present in the system via the XML feeds made available. At last check just over two-thirds of the attributes in FPDS-NG are available via the XML feeds which means in order to tap certain pieces of information, a manual query and manual export must be executed.
To that end, here are four ways companies can leverage FPDS-NG and pivot tables to increase their view of the government contracting opportunity landscape:
1 – Before you call or knock on the door of an agency, know how they buy what you sell.
Understanding how agencies make their buys is important. If you aren’t familiar with the meaning and significance of contracting terms such as BOA, BPA, BPA Call, Definitive Contract, Delivery Order, FSS, GWAC, IDC or Purchase Order when reviewing contract-related information, you’re operating from a point of disadvantage. How is your company currently postured to sell to an agency, and how does the one or ones you’re looking at (from the Department level all the way down to individual Contracting Offices) make awards for what you sell? The level of effort to identify this information is less than five minutes, but it does require some background information such as, how an agency describes what they are buying.
2 – Understand how agencies describe what you sell.
NAICS Codes are important but they don’t provide you the big picture. Plus, if your marketing and market research is based largely or solely on the NAICS Code assigned to upcoming and previous purchases, you are missing opportunities. Keyword searches are hit or miss in any system because it begins and ends with the information originally entered into an agency’s contract writing system, or not. If descriptive information about a transaction didn’t originate there, it’s unofficial and subject to scrutiny. Make sure you understand both classification systems used by agencies to describe procurements.
3 – Identify which organization is most important to your efforts, the buyers or the payers.
Especially when interagency contracting is involved. But even when the funding agency is related to the contracting agency, you need to determine where to aim your marketing arrows. Selling name brand products? It’s probably not as important for you to get ‘buy-in’ from the end-user element because they’re likely going to buy that brand based on your homework. In this case, the buyers, all of them, are who you want to target. If you sell goods and services where end-user adoption is critical, you want to focus on the payers, very often a specific bureau or program office within the customer agency. In many cases, this information is ready and waiting for you to get it and run with it in both the ezSearch and Ad Hoc Query tools.
4- How and where are the opportunities being solicited?
Don’t assume, verify. While I tell everyone to Ignore FedBizOpps at Their Own Risk, there are plenty of buys that never see the light of day on this Government Point of Entry. Understanding the solicitation procedures used by agencies (or again, specific contracting offices) for the various buys they make will clue you in on where to look for future opportunities. If your company is looking at the buying habits of a specific organization, knowing the difference between ‘Fair Opportunity‘ and ‘Simplified Acquisition‘ could be what determines your angle of approach. Additionally, if you’re tracking buys that don’t require a synopsis (I’m not talking sole source), agencies obligate billions to purchases where the posting location was on corkboard outside the contracting office or similar. Again, this information is easy to find and make use of in FPDS-NG.
If you use a subscription service to support your business development and capture efforts, be sure you understand the gaps that exist between what your subscription(s) can show you and what FPDS-NG (and other sources) can provide. If you opt to take the grassroots approach (my preference) to your competitive intelligence just be aware of the many robust public sources that exist and how to leverage them as you grow your GovCon footprint.
If leveraged, the four items I discussed are knowledge points that can save your company time and money and serve to help increase your win probability when pursuing government contracting and subcontracting opportunities.
Guy Timberlake, The Chief Visionary
“The person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the person doing it.”