In some cases, you can give yourself an advantage by bringing your own customer or prospective customer to the table and setting yourself up to win. But what if you didn’t bring the customer? Is it still worth trying? It depends.
When it comes to multiple-award IDIQ contracts, the more detailed the proposal evaluation criteria and proposal instructions, the better – but only when you’ve worked with the customer to correspond those details to your company’s specific past performance. Otherwise, you could be putting yourself in competition with someone who did. Here are two specific clues that that’s the case:
- Key resumes – the more key resumes that there are, and the more detailed the resume requirements, the faster you should run away. If they’re specifying 10 or more key people and they have extensive requirements for what those key people need to have, you’re never going to win. Even if you were to find matching people, they’re not THE people that the customer wants. They wrote the requirements that way because they want a specific set of people.
- Past performance – similarly, if the proposal criteria include a whole host of technical systems and functions that you’re supposed to have done, it means the customer already has somebody in mind who has all those requirements.
So if you’re deciding whether or not to bid on a proposal for a customer you didn’t bring to the table, measure carefully against these two factors before making your choice.
Something else you might want to avoid when you’re considering potential multiple-award IDIQ proposals are LPTA (“lowest-price technically acceptable”) jobs. Most people who are successful at bidding on LPTA jobs have very, very low indirect rates. It is highly unlikely that you’re going to beat them at their game and still manage to keep your good people and your reputation with those people; and run your business successfully the way you want to run it; with the culture that you want to foster in your business.
At TAPE, we rarely if ever bid on LPTA jobs. The expectation is that you’re going to deliver the same qualified staff at a dramatically lower rate and we just don’t think we can do it, nor do we want do. It’s not the kind of culture we want to run.
So unless you brought the customer to the table and you’re fairly sure you’re the only one who can win, be very careful before choosing to bid on a multiple-award IDIQ task order.
Even when you win a multiple-award IDIQ contract, there is no actual guaranteed work. You still need to find customers who will award the work to you.
There are two situations where it’s easier to make sure you’re the only one who can win. The first is if there is a customer you’ve previously worked with, and the second is if you’ve done all the upfront work with a new customer who is ready and wants to buy from you.
In either case, when you are bringing a customer to the table in a multiple-award IDIQ you want to make it easy for them to choose you over the other companies in the mix, by advising them as they create their proposal instructions and proposal evaluation criteria.
The more detailed their criteria – and that those details are based on your actual experience – the more likely you will be able to eliminate the companies who don’t have the same exact requirements you have specified.
Aim to have the customer include these details:
- The key people who will be involved in the work, along with their specific technical skills and the functions they perform
- A requirement that these key people are current employees of the company
- A performance work statement (PWS) and statement of work (SOW) that correspond closely to your company’s actual past performance
If you are successful in guiding the prospective customer to base their proposal evaluation criteria on these details, your own proposal will send a strong message that you are ready for this contract.
Will you have an unfair advantage? Certainly! The point is, if you’re going to try to make it so nobody else can win, you’d better be sure no one else can win. This is not about being fair; if you want to be fair, then you’re not going to do any of these things and you’re going to have more competition.
This is a guest post by Eileen Kent, The Federal Sales Sherpa.
1. Reach out to a Procurement Technical Assistance Center who can help your connection register with the federal government – it’s free, and SAM.gov is the site. If you want to learn more about it, listen to this episode of my blog talk radio show. It’s not rocket science – but it’s the first step a company needs to take first before approaching anyone in the federal government.
2. Find basic training if you’re dabbling in the market and doing it yourself. For a small investment (often under $100 and sometimes free), attend a few SBA-sponsored local events or PTAC-sponsored local events, or listen to some of my connections’ webcasts, podcasts, and webinars (including The Federal Sales Sherpa Show).
3. If you’re serious about this market, purchase one-on-one training from federal sales experts who have “been there/done that” – and can customize the material for your business and your services. This is only for those wanting to stand up a team member – or hit the ground running. It’s refreshing and time saving to hear a non-government sponsored training – because an expert giving you the training will tell you the realities of what it truly takes to win federal contracts.
My training is called, “The Federal Sales Game-How to Play to WIN!” but others have something similar. You and your team need to learn the difference between the goals of the contracting officer and your customer on the inside – the END USER – who will need what you sell. You need to find and capture their attention, imagination, pain, needs, and perceived solutions. You also need training on clearly understanding contracting vehicles. What is a GSA Schedule, IDIQ, BPA, GWAC? What are set asides, 8(a), SDVOSB, HUBZone, EDWOSBs? Know the difference and understand the power of having these contract “bridges” or partnering with someone who does.
4. Build a strong capabilities statement, with provable, quantifiable best values. Follow this document up with several past performance/case studies ready to present in a capabilities briefing, stand-up field meeting, or webinar.
5. Perform a competitive analysis of the data, which is available at your fingertips WITHOUT BUYING A SUBSCRIPTION. Know how to use all the tools available to you that can uncover which agency buys what you sell, from whom and with what contract vehicle, so you know who to approach, what to say and how to differentiate yourself from their current provider.
Only buy a subscription when you understand the data you’re looking at and you plan to DO something with the intel uncovered. One client of mine just got a renewal for a subscription which is $20k a year now for them. Stop the madness! Wrap your head around the intel and stop living in it. It’s time to take that intel and DO something with it, such as make decisions about which contract vehicles (like GSA, Seaport-e, GWACS and such) to keep and which to drop.
6. Build a federal sales action plan focused around the 3-5 agencies who buy what you sell. Stop stumbling around the public bid sites and randomly bidding on contracts you think are “perfect for us.” Start developing relationships and finding the end users and program managers making decisions about purchasing like-products/services as yours and execute that plan.
What do I mean by execute? Simple. Call. Email. Ask for directions. Call again. Email. Email. Call. Email. Visit. Present. Follow up. Call again. Check in. Follow through. Ask for referrals. Email., Call. Share an article or a whitepaper. Call again, and again, and again. Develop comfortable relationships with federal clients who start to share with you what’s really happening, and whether or not they need you now or later. If they don’t need you now, who would they call on if they were you? This is a long-term process of relationship building and you can’t hire a 100% commission sales person or a consultant to do it for you. This needs to be someone who is involved with your company – invested. You need the A-Team out front. Customers don’t want to talk to someone who represents you – they want to talk to YOU.
7. Train your team on proposal writing and have a standby proposal consultant ready to help if you have a sudden need to respond to an RFP/RFQ. But understand the process so you don’t waste a dime on misunderstandings between you and your proposal team. You need to have a strong bid/no bid process so you don’t waste a minute on a loser. You need to understand win themes, evaluation criteria, the past performance you need to submit which fits the opportunity perfectly, the technical, and more. If you don’t, get training and find a strong proposal team. Put this statement on your wall: We Only Write Winning Proposals.
About the author: Eileen Kent is The Federal Sales Sherpa and helps companies one-on-one with training on the federal sales game, a deep dive competitive analysis on who buys what you sell from whom and with what contract vehicles and then she builds you a custom federal sales action. If you’re serious about this marketplace and ready to hit the ground running, contact Kent at 312-636-5381.
We Need to Blur the Line Between Education and Training: Former TRADOC Commanding General David G. PerkinsPosted: March 28, 2018
We’ve been highlighting ideas from the keynote speech of retired Four-Star General David G. Perkins, former Commanding General of the U. S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) at the Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference in Orlando, Florida in November 2017.
In Parts 1 and 2, we recounted General Perkins’ three aspects of training that require innovation from industry. In this third and final post, we will present his ideas about the differences (and similarities) between education and training.
General Perkins stated that we have to redefine the idea of “education versus training.” He went on to describe that during a recent combined arms field training exercise, an Army major approached him with the question, “Are you educating us or training us?” In other words, the major understood education as learning concepts at a high level of thinking, while he understood training as learning potential courses of action to apply to real life. General Perkins indicated that as a commander, his greatest need was to strive to blur the line between education and training. He wants to see the two concepts combined into one practice.
General Perkins discovered that soldiers want to be trained, which in their understanding, often means they WANT to be told what to do and how to do it. He believes that trainees often do not believe that they need critical thinking (thought of as part of education) because they mistakenly feel that this will not prepare them for the “real world,” where they face the unknown. In actuality, General Perkins thinks education, and the critical thinking that comes from it, better prepares us for the unknown. He suggests incorporating critical thinking, decision making, and leadership into training events, even virtual and constructive ones.
General Perkins believes the Army must adapt future Programs of Instruction to a changing world. His question is, “How do we bring that changing perspective into the educational domain?” He added that the military cannot tie itself to only one domain; training must incorporate all the domains: land, air, sea, space and cyber.
General Perkins explained, “A lot of times as I was growing up in the Army, we would have a training strategy with various gates and sometimes some of our simulations and training aids and devices weren’t all that great. But it would be put in the strategy like, ‘You have to do this first, then you have to do this, and you have to do this.’ And it may not have actually been a particularly useful tool for getting at what you want to get at, but it was a requirement. You can’t do this until you get to this, and so it was a little bit of a check the block.”
Ultimately, General Perkins advocated for “command, training, and student (training, education and the art of command)” to come together so that training is an integral part of command and not something different or extra. He wants to see not just industry change their technology ideas, but for the Army culture to change regard training as integral with command and operations. His challenge to industry is to help the Army make this happen.
In a series of three posts, we’re highlighting remarks from retired Army Four-Star General David G. Perkins, former Commanding General of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command from his keynote address at the Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference in Orlando, Florida in November 2017.
This is a guest post by TAPE President and CEO Louisa Jaffe.
In Part 1 of the blog series, we discussed three innovative aspects of training that a commander needs from industry as identified by General Perkins. In this post, we delve deeper into the third aspect – that we must see training “as a tool, not a task.”
General Perkins stated, “What we need to do is make sure that when we take a look at our training capabilities and training aids, devices, simulators, and simulations (TADSS) that commanders will say, ‘This actually solves one of my training problems.’ It’s not a tasking to do it. It’s a tool that I can use to get better.”
He exclaimed that he does not need “a tool that is just a tool to train, for training’s sake.” General Perkins specified that he needs industry to innovate a tool “that I can use to train for specific missions – mission rehearsal exercises.” He sees a future where a commander, when given a mission to conduct an attack, will also, “look immediately at what training capability [is needed] to get ready for that mission.”
General Perkins called upon the Army to completely integrate training in a mission from its inception. Moreover, he challenged industry to develop the type of training tools that the Army could use across the enterprise from education to training to mission rehearsals. He does not want any more “one trick ponies.” Using General Perkins’ framework, soldiers would waste less time learning multiple training tools and the training data inherent in the tools would benefit commanders across multiple domains.
General Perkins provided key insight into industry’s difficult task of innovating for military training. In Part 1 of this series, we detailed that he not only wants to see the emotional and practical experience of a large-scale live exercise, but one that is put into live, virtual, and constructive (LVC) environments to scale a combined arms training experience.
General Perkins further wants to see all possible domains – land, sea, air, space, and cyber – be interactive in LVC environments. To buttress his goal to integrate training into mission-accomplishment strategy, General Perkins wants to see TADSS become integrated tools for operations instead of separated tasks.
General Perkins envisions innovative training that becomes an extension of the service member at the same time it becomes an innovative extension of leadership itself up to the highest levels. He affirms that the Army is open and receptive to innovations “that connect useful powerful tools with mission strategy.”
The third and final post in this series will explore General Perkins’s innovative views about the concepts of education versus training.
Do you have innovative training ideas to offer the U.S. Army? Well, TAPE President and CEO Louisa Jaffe was fortunate enough to hear now-retired Four-Star General David G. Perkins, former Commanding General of the Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), speak from experience about what a military leader at his level (and all levels) is seeking in today’s Army.
General Perkins delivered the keynote address at the Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference (I/ITSEC) in Orlando, Florida in November 2017. The event occurred a few months before his recent retirement on March 2. In a series of three articles, we will present Louisa’s key takeaways from General Perkins’ I/ITSEC speech.
General Perkins started his speech by explaining that TRADOC serves as the proponent FOR and deliverer of doctrine, training, simulations, and education TO the entire Army. He spoke of the long-term requirements of TRADOC’s mission and articulated his vision of industry support from an unusual perspective – not speaking in terms of technical Army requirements or existing contracts coming up for recompete.
He said, “I’d like to talk to you from the point of view of a commander, not as the commander of TRADOC, but as ‘a commander.’ And so, what does a commander expect from his ‘training enterprise’? What does the commander expect from his ‘simulations enterprise’? What does the commander expect from his ‘education enterprise’?” General Perkins spoke in real and genuine terms about what any military leader needs from industry with respect to innovation in training.
He emphasized three main aspects of training that innovators need to consider:
1. Training serves as a “forcing function” to introduce new intellectual ideas. General Perkins explained that one of the impediments to that effective function is overcoming the “tyranny of training.” He defines this phrase as the enormous costs, logistics, labor hours, planning time, and execution of a practical combined arms training exercise – a simulation event that can only train a fraction of those who need it.
Because of high overhead, the exercise cannot really provide the needed repetition for trainees. Innovation from industry must provide not only the “forcing function” of training, but also all the benefits of a large, practical exercise at a fraction of the overhead costs, and perform it locally at the trainees’ home station. General Perkins stated, “I see that as sort of the next training revolution coming into the Army and probably the Joint Forces. We need to change how we view what is done day-in and-day-out as we prepare for the large collective training events – getting rid of this sort of ‘tyranny of training’ and high overhead.”
2. Innovation must bring together all the domains for training. We have to redefine the training requirement from the very beginning as a converged requirement with all of the domains: land, air, sea, space, and cyber. Commanders need training to give participants the experience of “inter” and “intra” domain communications and leaders/commanders the practical experience of commanding within and embracing all these domains. He stated emphatically, “This is an innovation that commanders need from industry.”
3. Commanders (and therefore industry innovators) need to see training “as a tool, not a task.”
Our next blog post will discuss this third aspect of innovation in training. The third and final blog post will explore General Perkins’ innovative views about the concepts of education versus training.
In previous posts we talked a little about first what is a multiple-award IDIQ, then about what happens after you’ve won one. Today we’re talking about choosing target customers and bringing them to this contracting vehicle.
This really goes back to our discussions of knowing your customer base instead of chasing the wrong customers. So if you’ve already been making contacts in the government contracting community, and you know that there’s a target customer that you’d like to work with, a multiple-award IDIQ is particularly valuable because it gives you an opportunity to connect.
Now you can approach the customer to talk not just about their business, but about the opportunity they may have to use this particular vehicle and why that would be valuable to them.
You need to prepare for that conversation in two ways: you must be able to clearly state what your value is and what the vehicle value is to your government customer. This value may be the ease of contracting and, though this may be counterintuitive, the breadth of potential contract bids.
Why do you want to play up the fact that there will be multiple bids besides yours? Because even though you want to minimize competition and be the one to win, your customer wants to ensure that they’ve checked the boxes that there are enough contractors bidding on the job.
Otherwise, they’ll have to write up sole source justifications and all those kinds of things. They don’t mind evaluating proposals, but they don’t want this extra work, and this vehicle being an already-awarded contract helps them avoid that.
So your job here is to prepare your customer to see the benefits of this multiple-award vehicle, and to be clear that you are offering them exactly what they need. And in our next discussion, we’ll talk about how to make sure that you’re the only one who can win.
This is a follow up post from one of TAPE’s “capture managers,” a member of our business development team.
It’s important to understand that there are different intelligence zones involved in capture management – customer, competitive intelligence, program, staffing, and pricing. Being able to define it in those chunks helps us understand the kind of solution that we need to write towards in our proposal. Each of those zones have some basic questions and KPIs (key performance indicators).
We looked at client relationships and competitive intelligence in Part 1. Today we’ll look at staffing, and how the TAPE team works together and decides what to bid on.
Staffing is one of the most important aspects of capture to get right because clients don’t buy products or companies; they buy people. Having the right people on your team is critical for success, but who are the right people?
It’s important to distinguish between the key personnel and the rest of the team. Your key personnel are usually the people who lead the program, and their resumes are usually required to be submitted with the proposal. If they’re not already on your payroll, letters of commitment are often required.
The right key personnel will have all the required certifications, training, and years of experience, are known to the customer and have a good reputation, and can help you write the proposal.
For non-key personnel (other team members), it is important to identify as many qualified candidates as possible before submitting a proposal. Staffing matrices are typically required, listing all of the positions and hours assigned to the project.
If the only names in the staffing matrix are those for the key personnel, the program looks unstaffed and therefore more risky to evaluators. That’s why it is important to identify as many qualified candidates as possible (those with all the required certifications, training, and years of experience) before submission.
TAPE’s capture team
Because TAPE is a small business, we often have to wear a lot of different hats. There is always a locus of intelligence in one area, for example our senior vice president, administration and our chief financial officer will certainly help with pricing, but so will others who can bring the customer intimacy and program knowledge – perhaps someone who’s been in government and knows the program or its people. That person may be on staff at TAPE, or we’ll hire subject matter experts who can provide us that information.
It’s a shared responsibility amongst the team to go out and find this information, and my role to coordinate all these efforts and all of these people. What’s most important is having a team you trust, because you can’t do everything. Trust is the biggest component – trust, good working relationships, and good communication.
Also important are positivity, a can-do attitude, and being able to see things from multiple perspectives to gather what’s really important and what can wait, as well as graciousness and thankfulness for everyone’s efforts. At TAPE we always put a high value on our working relationships and communication – things are just so much easier when everyone’s on the same page.
Some days there is bound to be confusion. Giving everyone the benefit of the doubt can be difficult but at the end of the day it keeps us communicating and honest with each other.
Successful relationships require trust and credibility. So often we deal with teammates who are not a part of TAPE. When we’re not teaming, we’re competitors – it’s a friendly competition, but building and maintaining trust in those relationships is vital.
Yes or no?
A big part of capture is about continually vetting and re-vetting opportunities to understand exactly what it is you’re investing in. So often there’s a huge disconnect or built-in conflict between the business development and capture proposal sides of the house. Business development wants to say yes to everything and capture proposal wants to say no to everything. It’s essential to build a bridge between the two because proposals often get seen as Dr. No and business development seen as snake oil salesmen.
When you do decide to qualify a bid and devote capture resources to it, you’re making an investment – though not all investments are equal. Sometimes you invest in a contract that will lose money so you can establish a relationship with a customer; other times you make a smaller investment by teaming with someone. But in all cases these are investments in time and resources, and you must understand exactly how that investment impacts your bottom line.
Thinking back to Lohfeld’s wise words that the best informed win, we can look to the data for this purpose. When discriminating what will remain in the pipeline and what we’ll invest more into, we need to know how much a proposal will cost. Do we have the necessary internal resources, or will we have to hire out? What will that cost?
Capture management means having a systematic way of reviewing an opportunity to determine your probability of win, and how that equates to what you’ll see in revenue and return on investment. Measuring those things and collecting that data in order to make an informed decision is an important component of what we do in capture.
Winning a multiple-award IDIQ contract does not give you any new work; in fact it causes work, because you’re going to have to go figure out who can use this contract from amongst your customers, and help show them why moving things over to this contract you’ve won is the right step for them (because it’s also the way for you to get more work!).
Look at it this way: If we have a contract with a customer, and that contract is going to be eligible for renewal, would we rather have it competed in its current open scenario, let’s say through FedBizOpps, or would we prefer it to be a more limited competition under one of these multiple award IDIQ vehicles?
Assuming for the moment that we think it’s to our advantage as a small business, we now need to convince the government program office and contracting office that this new vehicle is easier to use and meets their needs better.
In the case of the GSA vehicles, GSA also wants to help you do that. This is not specifically about any particular piece of business, but that the more you actually bring over business or bring over an old customer doing a new function to this new vehicle where they can get to you, the more likely you are to win that work.
You’re trying to convince your existing customer that some piece of work should be put on this vehicle because you can respond to it as a prime. It doesn’t mean you’re going to win over your competitors within the contract, but it does mean that you’re at least going to be in the game as long as you have the capacity to respond.
Multiple-award IDIQs are a tempting source of revenue for small business federal contractors, particularly because the numbers are usually very big. Our VETS 2 contract, for example, has a ceiling of $2 billion! But only if you’re prepared, first to be able to write the proposals, and second to bring in the work where you have the knowledge, background or information. Otherwise it’s going to be like shooting in the dark.
Stay tuned for a later post when we’ll talk about how to pick and choose targets that you didn’t bring to the table.
Many federal contracts are issued as IDIQ – indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity. What an IDIQ means is that although the government may award you a contract with a ceiling value of let’s say $25 million, nothing is guaranteed. It’s all issued in the form of task orders.
That’s what makes this an indefinite quantity, because although there’s a ceiling, there is no actual guaranteed contract. In contrast, you may have an annual contract for $25 million, but it’s what’s called a level-of-effort (LOE) contract. Every year for five years you get an option or agreement for $5 million, one-fifth of your 25 million. That is a definite quantity.
The indefinite delivery refers to the fact that the task orders can be for differing durations – you could get a task order for one month, six months, or longer. They’re not for a specified time frame. Your LOE contract, on the other hand, has a set delivery schedule of one year, repeated four times.
The next distinction we have to make is between single award and multiple award. Obviously if you win a single-award contract you’re the only awardee. Everything that’s done under that contract is done by you. You may have sub-contractors, but in essence you’re the prime; all the revenue comes through you.
In a multiple-award, not only are the projects issued as task orders, but you have competitors who may also be able to bid on and win those items. For example, with the GSA’s IT Schedule 70, you don’t have to compete to get your contract, but every task order is competed. So you don’t actually get any work or any revenue unless you win a task order under the contract.
While a lot of this is changing (we won’t go into that here) the reality is that almost every agency uses some form of multiple-award IDIQ to focus portions of their effort. It may be something central to their mission, or it may be a service that contributes to the mission, like information technology or something of that nature.
There are several GSA multiple-award IDIQs in the information technology and engineering areas, such as Alliant, the Veterans Technology Services 2 (VETS 2) program, which is limited to service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses), STARS, which is limited to companies designated 8(a) or small disadvantaged businesses, and OASIS, that’s limited to engineering and related companies in various size standards.
Most of thee contracts will have a small business set-aside component, as well as an unrestricted or large business component. Think a multiple-award IDIQ is for you? Stay tuned for the next post, where we’ll discuss what to do once you’ve actually won one.