To understand the competition and your weaknesses, you need to recognize and analyze how your customer makes their procurement decisions.
Over the last 10 years in business, I’ve had the opportunity to analyze many contract pursuits before and after award decisions are made. Pursuing and winning a federal contract is by no means easy…ever. Even the best competitors manage to have an Achilles’ Heel which leads to their downfall.
Failure to understand agency evaluation trends
Are evaluations always a price shoot-out effort? No! Sampling and studying agency evaluation trends can reveal tendencies in evaluations and award decisions. This can be achieved through examination of your own debriefs and public sources such as protest decisions.
An example of this can be derived from work done to examine evaluation and award trends of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA). After sampling award decisions, some trends emerged:
- Most initial bidders (less than 50%) never make it through the downselect.
- Past performance was – in essence – a pass/fail determination…either your past performance was accepted or it led to your exit.
- Management innovations often gave more advantages than technical innovations in an evaluation.
- Incumbency was not a key to victory…in fact many incumbents in our sample lost.
- Price was NOT the determining factor in an award…in fact it was often some particularly clever technical and management innovations offered.
Clearly, there is much more detail that is important to grasp in such analysis, but the point is to study evaluation trends for each customer. They are not the same.
Haphazard collection of competitive intelligence
Routine collection of competitive intelligence is challenging. This requires discipline, resources and the infrastructure to manage intelligence collected. Many businesses lean very heavily on individuals to do this in the form of what they heard. While RUMINT is a source of information, it’s not very reliable and it’s not methodical. This will result in an intelligence picture of a competitor to be whatever an analyst can throw together based on limited time and resources.
Businesses do not typically change radically in the span of a few days. While developments may appear suddenly, in fact those developments have been in the making for months or years. Routine collection enables one to develop a robust database on the targeted competitor to build insight over time. Better yet, use approaches such as signposts to identify and use indicators of change in a targeted competitor. Such a methodical approach helps analysts and decision makers become aware of changes in a competitor as they happen to avoid being caught by surprise.
Oh yes, and if you think most subscription databases which just scrape data from .gov sources accomplish this, let us know. Rumor has it there is some amazing oceanfront property in Switzerland that is ready for the right buyer. Are you that buyer?
Driving to the basement on price
While we all like a good party game such as limbo, do you really want to play how-low-can-you-go? Maybe you win the contract, but did you really win when you (1) gave up more on price than necessary and (2) suffer terrible CPARS in performance because you bid too low? Instead, study evaluation trends to learn if you really need to play limbo.
One might think, “If I offer a greatly lower price than what the incumbent and can match them on technical…I win.” Wrong. Connecting this back to the example in evaluation trends, the incumbents in a sample of DTRA contract award decisions showed that the incumbent never lost on price. The challengers won on some form of innovation offered. Is this always the case with respect to price? Of course not. The moral of the story is to not get anchored in driving to the basement on price as a bidding strategy.
Executing color team reviews to check the box
The check-the- box mentality is a complete and total waste of resources. This is a classic example of you get out of something what you put into it. Period. End of story. Yes, it can be a frustrating and challenging process to line up resources to do any color review (Red, Pink, Green, Blue and Black Hat). However, if you think gathering smart people in a room will make the magic happen…you’re just fooling yourself. Before doing any such review, ensure that you have:
- A competent leader well versed in the specific review process
- Preparation of materials for the team to have sufficient time and expertise to use
- A structured exercise to give participants guidance on how you will conduct the review
- A means of bringing together the results into a coherent and easy to use product to drive the results into making your solution better afterwards
Whenever we have planned, lead and created post session deliverables for Black Hat reviews, we routinely receive feedback that this was the most thorough Black Hat I have ever done. Why? Because we put great effort into all phases of the session.
- Study the trends in your customer or continue to bid based on folk tales at your own peril.
- Routine collection of competitive intelligence helps you understand your competitor in real-time and not when it’s too late.
- Bidding in federal contracts is not always a game of how low can you go but it’s more of a matter of how low do I just need to go to win.
- Checking the box on color teams might as well not do them…invest in this valuable decision-making tool or just don’t bother.
Brian Lindholm is the owner and managing principal of FedSavvy Strategies, a professional services company focused on market and competitive intelligence in the U.S. government market.
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