Knowing your end-user customer is critical to getting ahead of the curve on a solicitation. Here are questions you need to ask and answer to get the most out of that relationship.
One of the questions many government contractors ask themselves before deciding whether or not to pursue an opportunity is this: Do we know the end user?
If we know the end user, most business developers would agree that it gives us a benefit when we write the proposal.
There’s a wide range, however, of “know the end user.” Does this mean that somebody from our company can wave at the end user from across the airport and get a wave back, or does it mean that somebody from one of our company’s families have been close friends with the end user’s family for many years, and routinely see each other socially several times a year?
Does it mean that somebody knows him so well that we can probably get an audience to talk about the opportunity prior to finalization and release of the formal solicitation? Does it mean that multiple people from our company know the end user personally?
This is not a question that can be addressed in isolation, either. If we don’t know the end user well, have we identified the opportunity early enough that we can get to know him in time for this to be a factor in our bid decision?
If we do know the end user, what questions might we want to ask him? Some candidates might be:
- Will there be a procurement? Regardless of what we think we know when we start the pursuit process, it’s always possible that there is internal discussion of doing something different, such as bundling the requirements into another procurement, or taking the work in house. If you’re talking to other people inside or outside of government, ask the same questions over and over; you may be surprised at the variety of answers you get. And, you may gain insight into the political jockeying that is going on within the customer agency.
- What is the anticipated schedule for release of drafts and the final solicitation, industry days, and awards.
- How will it be structured? In other words, will it be a single award? Will it be a separate, stand-alone procurement, or will it be just a task on one of the wide variety of multiple-award vehicles that are available?
- Will it be set-aside for small business, and if so, what category or categories of small business?
- What will the solicitation require from bidders for such factors as past performance, resumes, and technical approach?
- You may have already asked about scheduling, but how long will potential bidders have to write proposals from when the solicitation is released?
- Are there any prime or subcontractors that the end user particularly likes or dislikes? One might argue that the end user shouldn’t really answer a question like this, but if you’ve built the relationship well, and guided the conversation appropriately, you may be surprised at what you can learn. Remember that the end user has as strong an interest as you do in seeing that a highly competent bidder wins—his career may ride on the success of the contractor in executing on the contract.
- How is the incumbent doing? Again, you may not get an answer, but you may be surprised at how much you learn if you’ve prepped the respondent well.
At first glance, it may appear that the end user is working against the government’s interest in holding these discussions with you. If this is well done, before the release of the final solicitation, it’s in the government’s interest to get the best possible proposals to choose from. Our end user isn’t sharing information that isn’t available to all potential bidders; he’d give the same answers to any bidder who used the same tool set. What you learn is very valuable to you if the other bidders don’t ask, though.
The important metric for measuring whether, and how well, we know the incumbent, is the value of the information we can gain from the relationship. The more he is willing to share with us, the more important the relationship is to the bid decision process. An old drinking buddy that somebody has known for twenty years, who isn’t willing to engage in a conversation, may not be as valuable as the guy somebody waved at across the airport who is willing to share.
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