Responding to Public Procurements

In the early selling stage prior to a public procurement announcement, you will also be gathering valuable information for writing your proposal (if one is required), making a bid/no bid decision, and pricing the bid.

Gathering Bidding Intelligence Information

Blind bids on public procurements usually do not win and are therefore extremely costly. Even if you should win a blind bid, you run the risk of a low, unprofitable price because you did not completely understand the requirements and/or the performance environment.

As part of the sales process, find out everything you can about the procurement, including insights into the requirements, possible difficulties in performing the work or delivering a product, and any other factors that could influence your costs and price.

Most importantly, if you decide to bid, you will need to prepare a proposal that gives the prospective customer exactly what he wants. Find out what they are by asking for. Ask about the customer's problems, specific needs, and desires. Find out what the customer perceives as value, how they define value, and what their real "hot buttons" are from the end-user prospective.

Gathering Information on the Competition

You can generally obtain the following information from the contracting officer for winning bids (either sealed or negotiated), or for existing contracts that are being re-solicited.

  • The existing (or incumbent) contractor's name.
  • The total amount of the contract and line item pricing.
  • An overview of the requirements.

Further, you may request the following information about an existing contract from the agency's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Officer.

  • Winning bids and proposals.
  • The contract itself, including any modification.

The FOIA Officer will omit any information from the winning bid or proposal considered proprietary.

Whenever possible, ask the contracting officer for information before making a FOIA request. Answers to FOIA requests sometimes take weeks or months, and often the government charges for the information. Recently, the government has been excluding more and more information from responses to FOIA request under the grounds of confidentiality or national security.

Often contracting officers will prefer answering your questions about a procurement rather than having to do the paperwork to satisfy your FOIA request. And they will be happier with you if you use the informal questioning approach. Sometimes lower level clerks will provide more information than the contracting officer. Find out early who is willing to tell what.

Preparing Bids and Proposals

Preparing bids (IFBs and RFQs) and proposals (negotiated procurements) is time consuming and costly, especially if you do not win your share of the business. The following basic rules apply to all three types of public bids:

  • Price and deliver exactly what the customer wants, nothing more and nothing less. Offering less will result in a non-responsive offer and more will price you out of the competition.
  • Ask questions when you do not understand the specifications. Attend scheduled bidder conferences (if held) and ask questions by telephone or electronically.
  • When responding to a request for proposal (RFP), answer every question and requirement specified in the RFP. One trick is to isolate all of the "shall" statements to make sure you do not miss a single requirement.
  • Submit on or before the due date. Proposals submitted past the deadline are not accepted.
  • If a company wishes to change or withdraw a bid, it may send a letter or telegram to this effect to the procurement office. However, the notification must reach the office prior to the time set for the bid opening. Similarly, a bid or proposal that arrives late -- even one minute -- cannot be accepted.

Responding to Negotiated Procurements

Responding to negotiated procurements is a specialized field because of the need to write technical and cost/price proposals in response to a request for proposal (RFP). (Occasionally large service IFBs require technical proposals to establish responsiveness, but this is the exception rather than the rule.)

Making the bid/no bid decision is the single most important step in the process. Each bid will require a lengthy technical proposal that is both costly in dollars and in technical person hours. Accordingly, bid wisely and selectively. A no bid decision can save a lot of money.

Indicators for a yes bid decision are:

  • You know the procurement history and have information on your chances of success.
  • Your capabilities are a perfect or near perfect match with the requirements. Remember that missing capabilities can be filled by a subcontractor. Bid consortiums and complex subcontracting are becoming increasingly common in large, technically complex federal bids.
  • You know that you can bid a competitive price.
  • Indications of a no bid decision are:
  • You are bidding blindly on a public procurement and all the information you have is in the RFP.
  • You are attempting to stretch your qualifications and capabilities to meet the requirements.
  • There is an incumbent contractor. Most incumbents re-win their contracts. You probably shouldn't bid unless you know the customer is unhappy or you have special knowledge of the procurement.

Spend time and money in gathering information for the bid/no bid decision. It will be far less costly to spend the time and money up front than spending it on costly, losing technical proposals.

If you decide to bid, your next step will be to prepare a technical proposal. Thousands of articles and many books have been written on writing effective proposals.

You will be required to prepare a project task and expense plan as part of your technical proposal. Knowing exactly who will do what under the proposed contract, and what material and related resources will be required, will become the basis for your cost/price proposal. Costing and pricing bids will be discussed in the next installment.

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