(originally published 2/25/2009)
A lot of friends, with one eye on more US Government spending in one bill than most of WW2, are asking me about Government proposals.
My first, best piece of advice - read the RFP, and respond with exactly and only what the agency wants.
I wrote & bought off RFPs for 10 years, then spent 5 selling to them. The biggest RFPs we ever lost were ones where we bid, "to take the customer in a new direction." The worst criticism we ever got was from a customer of 15 years after we moved to a 'one-size-fits-all-because-we-don't-have-the-headcount-to-do-a-good job" business model.
Increasingly, online purchasing systems are removing any capability to get creative with the RFP process. You buy the way Ariba (or SAP) tell you to buy. I think buyers miss a big opportunity by letting the machine do the work, but that's the way it is.
In this environment, sellers are well-served by a master agreement in place with the agency. Then, you can bid easily, even electronically, knowing that a consistent set of terms apply to all transactions.
Finding RFPs is another story, but once you've found them, here are a few key steps:
- Read the RFP
- Summarize the technical requirements for your engineers (delivery guys, etc) and give them as much time to figure out how to meet them as possible
- Start workign with suppliers and partners for special pricing, also early - the more time you give them to get approvals, the better
- Talk with Sales, while Government folks respect the quiet period of the RFP timeline (unlike their commercial counterparts), you can learn a lot of environmental (mission, pressures, changes at the top) that you need for the response
- Outline exactly what the response document must contain to be considered acceptable by the buyer
- Fight against putting anything more into the response, if you must, mark it as "Additional Information" and put it at the back - that flags a buyer not to review the marketing material
- Watch out for changes, amendments & extensions, different buyers announce them different ways
- If you will need an extension, ask for one EARLY
- Keep in touch with the technical team as they develop the solution - DO NOT wait until the last minute and yell, slow & steady engagement keeps it on their radar and gets the deadline met
- Learn the technology for how to submit the bid - most systems come with a thick manual, so be prepared to spend time learning how to use it
I will add some more as I think of them. A final note - the temptation is to put Public bids on a clerical person, because they contain a large amount of clerical effort. The problem is that purchasing is done differently by every one of the 20 or so big Federal bureaucracies, 50 states + DC, 100-odd cities, 120-odd school districts and 3200 counties... Getting on top of that, and keeping up as they evolve, goes way beyond bid clerking.