As businesses get smarter about writing government proposals, competition for government contracts is tightening. It’s tougher than ever to differentiate your business and technical capabilities from your competition. The knowledge and skills of how to win government contracts are increasingly commonplace, even among small businesses. Affordable graphics, production, and collaboration tools further level the playing field.
The Government is increasingly transitioning to purchasing goods and services from multiple-award indefinite-delivery vehicles (IDVs), federal supply schedules, and government-wide acquisition contracts (GWACs). The General Services Administration is constantly creating and marketing their best-in-class vehicles to agencies for use.
Each year, the Government buys more and more from IDVs and schedules. These IDVs and schedules release request for task order proposals, or call orders, or request for quotes, and they are generally fast turn-around proposals. It’s rare to find a due date that is 30 days or more from issuance like regular requirements contracts. The explosive growth achieved by contractors today is generally done through winning a lot of contracts through IDVs and/or schedules.
To help you meet your growth goals, here are OST’s top 10 strategies for increasing your win rate on short turn-around proposals.
- Train and equip your operations personnel to become your sales force. The majority of project personnel do not know much about capture and proposals. However, your project personnel are an excellent source of customer information; they know what your client likes and dislikes. For project personnel to support your business development efforts, they need training customized to the way they understand things. Then, they can help identify, target, and secure opportunities with existing and new customers.
In fast turnaround proposals, advance notice is key. It is nearly impossible to develop a winning bid in under 30 days unless you are an incumbent or your core business speaks directly to the work requested by the government.
If you want to avoid a fire drill response each time a task order drops, you must train your staff to alert you to elements of the proposal you can prepare ahead of time. Your operations staff have a trusting relationship with the customer because they are not business developers. They can find out what keeps the customer up at night and what unwritten requirements need answering in an upcoming task order. The keys to success are customized BD training for project personnel and establishing formal communication mechanisms between the operations personnel and business developers. Then you can integrate your operations personnel into your capture and proposal process.
- Build a “file” on your IDV customer or set of customers. What we have found helpful is to have a table that lists all key decision-makers; their profile; whether they are a friend, enemy, or neutral; and their top three pet peeves and hot buttons. We then link this table to the customer contact log or whatever customer relationship management system you are using. We also create a “customer map” that places the organization chart in the entire acquisition cycle, from Congressional appropriations to the end-users, with the points at which you can shape acquisition. It is vital to collect and distill all materials and articles about this particular customer into a succinct document. This document should also include salient points from their presentations and interviews. This information allows us to target those creating the requirements, and it provides a quick reference guide when time is short.
- Develop a capture and marketing collateral library. This library should include white papers by your technical gurus that relate to specific areas this IDV or GWAC covers. Also, consider including studies you want to reference, such as Gartner Reports, case studies, brochures, and other information your business development or program staff can offer the customer to help them get to know you better and to build trust.
- Keep a detailed task order win/loss tally. Keep track of what you are winning, what you are losing, and how well your competitors are doing in each area. You can glean all kinds of information from this tally. For example, you can understand your competitors’ best past performances and important customer spending trends. Linked this tally with the competitor profile you develop and your collection of notes from the win and loss debriefs. Keep in mind that many IDVs, GWACs, or schedules do not have archives for you to reference after the fact, so collecting this information as you bid is critical.
- Create a task order manual. The task order manual is a living document that covers a variety of topics important to the contract vehicle. It contains the historical knowledge about the IDIQ or GWAC, how to interact within the team, marketing and customer engagement rules for the team, how you assign task order work, how task orders get evaluated, what solution approaches win for this particular customer, where to find all the important data for this IDIQ or GWAC, and other vital information.
- Populate a collaborative workspace with a library of relevant documents. You need to build a documentation library. This valuable reference resource should include IDIQ proposals you have won and lost; all previous task order RFPs; a library of your and your teammates’ past performance information with kudos from the customer; a database of resumes for personnel you bid frequently; management, subcontracting, quality, and transition plan templates; common win themes; contact lists for everyone who could be involved, including consultants you could call if you are short on resources; price-to-win information; any golden nuggets such as your company’s accomplishments and certifications; and an all-important graphics library.
- Create proposal templates. To avoid spending extra time on formatting, we like having a proposal template with a custom styles built into Word. These styles allow any author to apply professional formatting to the text and saves time for desktop publishers. Other items you will need are a branded cover with a space where you can insert an image and text custom for this bid; a typical transmittal letter; a cost proposal template; and any other documentation that is common from proposal to proposal.
- Create an IDIQ-specific task order proposal process and proposal management toolset. We prefer a process flow that shows the capture and proposal process as applicable to the type of task orders you bid on. The process should include subcontracting, cost proposal, human resources, and other functional milestones. We also build checklists for every stage and task, a typical proposal resources plan, a kick-off template, instructions for reviewers, and typical proposal schedules for varying durations — from the shortest to the longest task order proposal.
- Prepare both abbreviated and detailed style guides for the editor. Your editor, especially if they are new, should not have to guess or assume your conventions and rules. We like to have a style guide at their fingertips that contains all the main rules they need to follow with a full GPO style guide available electronically while editing.
- Collect lessons learned to tweak your process and tools. Every time you finish a proposal, no matter how much you are tempted to catch your breath and forget everything, conduct a brief lessons learned session and document your conclusions. This is not an opportunity for finger-pointing, but rather a practical way to find out which information you can turn into templates and reusable boilerplate, what you can do better, what additional resources you may need, and how to better prepare to win future task orders.
If you implement these 10 strategies, you will be a step ahead of the great majority of your competition. The government market is growing, unlike many other markets just beginning to rebound. The competition will continue to get steeper regardless of what the larger economy is doing. It is up to you to make the right choices and to keep winning and growing.
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