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Beating the Game of RFP Whack-a-Mole


We’ve all been there. The out-of-nowhere RFP arrives. It looks like what your business does. Maybe it’s the golden opportunity government contract you’ve been waiting to arrive. That’s the good news. Now we deal with the bad news.

You have absolutely no idea about the customer’s needs, wants and fears. You have only cursory
information about the competitor and how good or poorly the contract is going. You’re also struggling to develop the right solution because you have little to no understanding of the customer’s wants, needs and fears. You’re playing the vicious game of RFP Whac-a-Mole.

Are you stuck in this cycle? Wouldn’t you rather bid less and win more? Knowledge is power and that power can help you build a better opportunity pipeline. A robust opportunity pipeline allows you to better anticipate and more selectively pursue opportunities to grow your business.

The identify process

What can do you do to enhance your chance to identify, pursue and win contracts? The identify process is fueled by multiple sources of intelligence to acquire viable opportunities to pursue. Obviously, creating and developing customer relationships is crucial for the identify process. However, business development cannot solely rely on creating and developing customer relationships. You may not be entirely aware of what relationships to build without other sources of intelligence to guide your efforts.

Let’s turn our attention to your competition. Understanding what government contracts your competition possesses allows you to add some viable takeaway targets to your pipeline. Collecting information on prime contracting activity allows you to understand what your competition has which in turn may translate to viable takeaway targets. This is possible to do through the use of public data.

1) Get their DUNS Number
Gather information on your competitor. Go to SAM to look up some basics on your competitor. Collect their DUNS number(s). Why do I focus on the DUNS number? Company name information in FPDS is sloppy. DUNS numbers are as unique and reliable as a person’s social security number. Consider this as a unique identifier to collect information on their contracts.

2) Use FPDS for Data Gathering
Collect data on their government contracts. It’s time to go to the Federal Procurement Database System Next Generation (FPDS-NG) to collect contracting data. Some find USASpending.gov easier; FPDS has a lot more information and flexibility. USASpending.gov is useful for broad reaching high level data, but FPDS allows you to dive much deeper into what happens at a contract level.

Start with the E-Z Search in FPDS. Type the competitor DUNS numbers into E-Z Search one-by-one. Collect the information in a MS Excel file via the export function in FPDS (look for the CSV button). Limit the data that you examine for the last five years. Otherwise you might end up reviewing data on contracts from so many years ago that it is not relevant. The key is to study the contracts. That is what you’re after. How you organize the information is up to you, but most people will use pivot tables or SUMIF formula to begin to assess values on contracts.

Note that you’re looking at two different fields with contract numbers. Look at both the “Reference IDV” and the “Contract ID.” The Reference IDV captures the primary contract against which obligations (funding) occur. This is especially important to understand when it comes to IDIQ contracts (like a GSA Contract). Capturing the IDIQ contract can also serve to highlight to you an IDIQ you don’t know exists. I always combine the Reference IDV and Contract ID fields where a Reference IDV field has a blank entry. The bottom line is you want to use that combined field to collect all of the relevant contract numbers. Contract numbers are crucial to the process because each one is unique to an opportunity.

3) Figure Out the Value
I always prioritize my efforts based on the values of the federal contracts. Follow the money! Either use SUMIF functions or pivot tables to total the value of contracts collected. Be mindful that contract vehicles captured might create an exaggerated value because they contain multiple task orders so be prepared to bore down further into task orders (denoted in Contract ID) to understand what is being purchased.

4) Define the Contracts
Above all things you’re focusing on dissecting what is being bought. Maybe you have a license for one of the commercially available databases in which you can plug in contract numbers to begin to identify the contracts. When your databases don’t have information on a contract (don’t be surprised if they don’t) use resources such as FedBizOpps or even just type it into a common search engine like Google or Bing. Old RFPs or contract award notices may surface. Now you know more about what the contract is. The challenge comes in when you’re pursuing a task order under a GSA Schedule or other IDIQ. Finding those details are challenging. However, when all else fails you can work the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) process.

5) Don’t be afraid to FOIA
Yes, we love and hate FOIA. It’s a great resource to get your hands on contract documents. However, the process is clumsy and very slow. Use the main FOIA website to start or if it lacks the information go to the agency website itself to start the process. Despite the challenges of FOIA it will allow you to acquire contract documents vital to better understand the nature of work performed. This is especially valuable in acquiring task orders under a multiple award IDIQ contract. Knowledge is power and that’s the kind of power you need to better identify opportunities.

Why Do This?
Ultimately, you’re building an opportunity pipeline that will help drive your business development efforts. Leaping from near-term opportunity to another near-term opportunity may feel good, but aren’t you just running on a treadmill? When you have a longer vision it allows you to build relationships with the customers with the opportunities that fit your business the best. Further, it allows you to build relationships with partners that are crucial to several opportunities. Knowledge of what is yet to come will allow you to create a network of partners in which you can help each other thrive.

The good news is you can do this. RFP Whack-a-Mole is not a game you have to play. Obviously this “trick” is only one of many needed to succeed in the federal contracting market. However, it is a useful element in your arsenal of weapons needed to succeed.

Hopefully this blog has given you some useful knowledge that you can use to gain market intelligence. Stay focused. Keep planning. Do your research. Identify government contract opportunities early and often. Good hunting!

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