11 tips for teaming with prime contractors

Gettyimages.com/Klaus Vedfelt

There are plenty of pitfalls and possible mistakes when you form partnerships. Here's a guide for what to do and what to avoid.

Adapted from the new book: How to Win in the Government Market (co-authored with Mark Amtower)

There is no such thing as a risk-free proposition as a subcontractor. But here are eleven guidelines that can increase your chances of picking the winning prime contractor.

  1. While established relationships often influence teaming decisions, business associates can be re-assigned or leave their company. Having a definitive teaming agreement is one of the few ways you can mitigate this risk.
  2. Your company’s technical role and work percentage should be clearly defined in a written teaming agreement (usually Attachment A). Avoid terms like “best efforts” or “goals.” These rarely pan out. On IDIQ and GWAC bids where work content is guaranteed, get an agreement on which technical areas you will lead...something like "all the work in our core competency."
  3. It is a good practice to request a Dun & Bradstreet credit report on a potential small business prime contractor to assess whether they will be deemed financially credible in the eyes of the client. I’ve seen the government throw out bids because the small business prime couldn’t pay their bills. This was incredibly frustrating for subs.
  4. Ask the client what they think of potential teammates – the worst that can happen is they’ll decline to comment.
  5. Most acquisitions require either the prime contractor or the entire team to provide a certain number of project citations. Confirm that the prime has the necessary past performance and relevant projects to cite in the proposal.
  6. Look for a prime that has subject matter experts who meet the key personnel requirements. Negotiate having some of these be from your company.
  7. Many government acquisition re-competes assume the winning team will hire some or all the incumbent contractor’s staff. This will need to be considered as part of your teaming and win strategy.
  8. Make sure the potential prime contractor has the resources and ability to develop a professional winning proposal. Find out up front how much effort you will be expected to expend.
  9. Discuss pricing strategy up front so you know whether the rates you will have to bid will fit within your company’s pricing model. This means you need to know whether the target agency has a history of best value or lowest price ‘barely’ technically capable awards. And the prime's ability to be competitive.
  10. Avoid companies that have a reputation for treating their subcontractors unfairly especially when negotiating a subcontract after the award and sharing the resulting work. Query your industry partners for their experience teaming with the prime. And, just as you should when hiring someone, trust your instincts. It won’t get better after the award.
  11. One final suggestion -- use a decision matrix to evaluate the teaming landscape for each specific new business opportunity. This will take some of the emotion out of the selection process. First, develop the important win strategy criteria (column 1). These should be based on both stated and perceived procurement needs as a result of client discussions and reading procurement documentation. Next assess your own company’s ability to meet these criteria and any gaps you can’t fill (column 2). Then, evaluate each candidate prime against the same criteria using colors; high, medium, low; or a numerical score to determine the best fit (one column for each company).

And, above all, avoid teaming just because it’s someone you already know…team to win!


A (usually) retired writer, gov't contractor BD & PM expert, and blues musician, Mike Lisagor is the founder of Celerity Works and a co-founder of GovFlex.com. His books include the just released, How to Win in the Government Market (with Mark Amtower), The Essential Guide to Managing a Government Project, and How to Develop a Winning SBIR Proposal (with Eric Adolphe). He can be reached at LinkedIn.com/in/mikelisagor and mike@celerityworks.com

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