Four Common Mistakes When Providing Business References

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This is a guest post by Debbie Ouellet of EchelonOne Consulting.

There will be many times in your business life when you’ll be asked by a prospective client to provide references. These can include when you’re responding to an RFP (request for proposal), pitching to a new client or in the final rounds of a vendor selection process.

The client’s ‘ask’ will almost always sound something like this: “Please provide us with references from similar clients for whom you’ve provided similar services.”

Here are four common mistakes business owners make when providing references:

Mistake #1: Just providing name and contact information.

When you only provide name, title, phone number and email address as your reference information, you’re leaving it up to your potential client to do all the work. They have no information about what services you provided to your reference and therefore nothing to base their questions on.

Instead, include a brief description of the project you implemented along with the contact information. That will help paint a picture of your experience and provide a guide map for your busy client to use to pose questions and prepare for his call to your reference.

Mistake #2: Focusing on what you did.

I’m amazed at the number of times that I see references where their description of their project reads like a menu of services from their website. There is a mountain of difference between the technical aspects of ‘what you did’ for your reference and ‘how you helped’ them.

Be sure to include a short description of the main problem that you solved for your reference. Sure, you can include some of the services that you provided in order to solve that problem. The key is to write this piece from your reference’s point of view. How did they benefit and what were the positive results?

Mistake #3: Not connecting the dots.

Your potential client is busy. They also don’t live in your head or have the skill sets that you bring to the table. Don’t assume that the connection between your reference’s project and the one you’re vying for that seems obvious to you is also obvious to your client. Or that they’ll take the time to think it through and figure it out.

Connect the dots for your client by explaining briefly how the reference’s project is similar to the one you’re proposing. Even projects that aren’t similar on the surface can be similar in other aspects. For example, perhaps the referenced project also had a tight timeline and budget and you provided innovative solutions to meet these tough demands.

Mistake #4: Not asking permission.

In today’s business world of privacy laws and restrictions, this last point should be obvious. You are not at liberty to share another person’s name and contact information without their permission to do so. And, it’s simply good manners to ask permission first.

Even if you’ve been given permission in the past to use reference information, it’s good practice to give your reference a heads-up that they may be contacted. That way they’re expecting the call or email and will make a point of responding.

Summing it up:

  1. Include a brief description of your project along with the reference contact information.
  2. Focus more on ‘how you helped’ than ‘what you did.’
  3. Connect the dots so that your client can visualize the similarities.
  4. Ask permission before you provide the reference information.

Having a great customer reference is always a leg-up whenever you’re pitching to a new client. By taking a little care in how you craft the reference information, you’ll increase its effectiveness.


Debbie Ouellet of EchelonOne Consulting is a Canadian RFP consultant and business writer. She helps business owners win new clients and grow their business by helping them to plan and write great RFP responses, business proposals, web content and marketing content. You can find out more about Debbie at www.echelonone.ca/.

This post originally appeared at https://www.echelonone.ca/four-common-mistakes-when-providing-business-references and was adapted and reprinted with permission.


Five Rules for Bidding on Contracts

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This is a guest post by Debbie Ouellet of EchelonOne Consulting.

Winning a new contract can have a huge impact on the financial health of your business. If you want to improve your chances of winning when responding to requests for proposals (RFPs), here are five rules to help you along.

  1. Stop. Think. Plan.

One of the biggest mistakes that I see when companies bid on contracts is that they start out something like this. The RFP document comes in and someone books a meeting of the people involved in the response. They carve out the questions to different people, assign one person to write the response and everyone goes off to do their part.

While that’s not bad as step two, too often the first most important step is missed. The first step should always be to ask yourself, “What’s it going to take to win this contract?” Start by understanding what your strategy to win is. How will you position your solution and your company in the response? When you do that first, it will impact how you answer questions, and how you present and price your solution. You’ll also come up with a stronger RFP response and increase your chances of winning.

  1. Lose your ego.

Your client doesn’t care about how big you are, how great your widget is, or how many awards you’ve won. What they really want to know is:

  • how you’re going to make their job easier
  • how you’ll help them solve that nagging problem
  • or carve away at costs so that they can meet their budget

Sure; you’ll get around to talking about yourself, but never lead with it. Make the focus of your proposal all about your client and how your solution is going to help them.

  1. Forget the fluff.

There is always the temptation, especially when the timing of an RFP (request for proposal) coincides with a busy time in your business, to copy and paste content from marketing material as part of your response.

You’ll tell yourself that it saves time. And somewhere amongst all that wonderful marketing lingo, it does answer the question posed in the RFP. Though it may save time for you, it adds time for the reader (i.e., the decision maker).

Let’s face it; that’s not the best way to make a good impression on the person who will be deciding whether you should be awarded the contract. Chances are that they may even miss the answer because it’s buried so deep within the marketing material.

  1. Never bad-mouth the competition.

It’s fine to make general statements about how your product out-performs its competitors. However, never bad-mouth your competition, especially by name. Besides being in poor taste, trashing the competition makes you sound desperate. It will also cause the reader to pause and question your business ethics.

  1. Don’t expect them to do the math.

If you’re presenting an idea that will save money, or involves a different approach to costing, spell it out in your response. Never expect the person reading the RFP proposal to do the math and figure it out. If you don’t do the math for them, one of three things will happen:

  1. They’ll be too busy and not bother. A competitor made it clear what was involved, so they’ll go with them.
  2. They’ll misunderstand and calculate incorrectly. You’ll either not win the bid because it came in too high (according to their calculations), or you’ll spend a lot of time back-tracking because they thought they were getting a better deal than you intended.
  3. They’ll do the math (grudgingly) and get it right. Chances are, however, that since you’ve made them do the work, that they’ll go deeper and perhaps start to nit-pick details and pricing when they wouldn’t have, had you simply provided them with the information upfront.

Debbie Ouellet of EchelonOne Consulting is a Canadian RFP consultant and business writer. She helps business owners win new clients and grow their business by helping them to plan and write great RFP responses, business proposals, web content and marketing content. You can find out more about Debbie at www.echelonone.ca.

This post originally appeared at https://www.echelonone.ca/5-rules-for-bidding-on-contracts and was adapted and reprinted with permission.


Bid Protests – Timeliness Tips

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This is a guest post by Jerry Miles of Deale Services, LLC.

Think twice before delaying a pre-award debriefing

A recent GAO case reiterates the idea that offerors must “diligently pursue” their protest options and be mindful of timeline issues that are raised when a pre-award debriefing is requested. See VMD Systems Integrators, Inc., B-412729, 2016 WL 1085374 (Comp. Gen. Mar. 14, 2016).

While offerors may request that a debriefing be delayed until after award, FAR 15.505(a)(2) specifically warns that delayed debriefings “could affect the timeliness of any protest filed subsequent to the debriefing.” The offeror in VMD should have heeded this warning.

In VMD, the protestor was eliminated from the competitive range but chose to delay a pre-award debriefing until after the award. In that debriefing it learned that it may have been treated unequally in its elimination from the competitive range. The offeror protested but the GAO declined the protest, holding that at the time it chose to delay the debriefing the protester could have learned of the alleged unequal treatment.

By choosing to receive a post-award, “it effectively chose not to protest its exclusion from the competitive range.” Because more than 10 days had passed since the time the protester elected to delay the debriefing, the GAO dismissed the protest.

From the timing perspective, protest grounds are viewed broadly

The GAO’s recent decision in REB ROWE Services, LLC; General Services Administration–Reconsideration, B-410001.6; B-410001.7 (Apr. 4, 2016), demonstrates this point with respect to timeliness rules in a supplemental protest.

In that case, REB ROWE Services, LLC, the awardee, and the General Services Administration asked the GAO to reconsider its decision in Alcazar Trades, Inc.; Sparkle Warner JV, LLC, B-410001.4; B-410001.5, April 1, 2015, 2015 CPD ¶ 123, in which the GAO sustained a protest by Alcazar Trades, Inc. (“ATI”), arguing that ATI’s price realism allegation was untimely raised.

In denying the request, the GAO took a broad view of the initial protest grounds, holding that “whether ATI couched its challenges to the government estimate as an argument about price realism, or about adequate staffing, the essential elements in dispute were the same.”

Further, the GAO stated “[w]hile the agency and REB ROWE accurately charge that ATI applied the label of ‘price realism’ to its challenges only when it filed its comments on the agency report, we conclude that the protester had essentially raised, before it filed its comments, all of the elements that eventually led us to sustain the protest because the agency performed a flawed review of price realism.”

Remember the automatic stay

Most of us know that the automatic stay under the Competition in Contracting Act is a significant factor in choosing to protest at the GAO. While in order to be timely, a protester must file within 10 days of the contract award or 5 days of the required debriefing, it is important to remember that the stay is not triggered until the GAO provides notice to the agency.

In fact, the GAO has one business day in which to provide such notice. Thus, although a protest may be timely if filed within 10 days of the award or 5 days of the debriefing, the stay will not be awarded unless the protest is filed at least one day earlier than this filing deadline.

Jerry Miles of Deale Services, LLC (http://www.dealeservices.com) is a government contracts attorney and business consultant with experience working as corporate counsel for a Fortune 500 government contractor and as a private practitioner for over one hundred small, midsize and large businesses. In addition to being the owner of a law firm, Mr. Miles regularly advises clients on teaming agreements, joint ventures, subcontracting, government contract disputes, bid protests, international contracting matters and corporate compliance.

This post originally appeared at http://www.dealeservices.com/uncategorized/bid-protests-timeliness-tips/ and was adapted and reprinted with permission.


RFP Templates – By Saving Time, Can You Lose a Bid?

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This is a guest post by Debbie Ouellet of EchelonOne Consulting. Note from Bill: Here in the States, you might hear the term “boilerplate” instead of template.

I’m often asked by sales professionals if I can help them write powerful RFP (Request for Proposal) response templates that will help them win every upcoming bid. It’s true, responding to RFPs can be time-consuming and stressful. That’s especially true for many sales and operations professionals who work on RFP responses while still being expected to deliver in their full-time jobs. And, templates save time and ensure a standardized look and approach to a response.

A template response can help you save time, but lose the bid

Though going the template route sounds like a time saver, you’ll find that the end product won’t give you the kind of results you want.

You’ll end up with a lower win ratio and have to bid on even more contracts in order to meet your sales targets.

Don’t misunderstand – templates for standard questions often found in RFPs, like requests to show your quality assurance program or problem resolution process, are a good thing and should be used.

But the key pieces like your solution, executive summary and related experience need to be written specifically for the RFP and the project. Even resumes for key team members often need to be edited to highlight the experience that is relevant to the RFP requirements.

Here’s why: Most RFP decision makers see a lot of responses and can smell a template response a mile away. You stand a much greater chance of winning a contract when the decision makers feel that you really understand them and their needs. Your solution needs to address their problem, not the average customer’s problem. A template response won’t do that for you. That’s especially true when you’re asked to provide a technical solution to a complex problem.

Other ways to save time when responding to RFPs

If you want to save time in the RFP process, you may want to consider your “bid, no bid” process to make sure that the contracts you’re going after are a good fit to begin with. Only respond to bids where you have a good story to tell, can meet all mandatory requirements and the potential payout is worth the effort needed to respond. Then you can spend quality time creating great solutions and presenting them convincingly.

Debbie Ouellet of EchelonOne Consulting is a Canadian RFP consultant and business writer. She helps business owners win new clients and grow their business by helping them to plan and write great RFP responses, business proposals, web content and marketing content. You can find out more about Debbie at www.echelonone.ca/.

This article originally appeared at https://www.echelonone.ca/rfp-templates-by-saving-time-can-you-lose-a-bid and was reprinted with permission.


Recovering Your Bid Protest Costs

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This is a guest post by Jerry Miles of Deale Services LLC.

After all of your hard work winning a bid protest, a recent Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) opinion suggests that the work is not yet over. More than that, it suggests that you should have started your work early on in the bid protest process.

In Cascadian American Enterprises—Costs, B-412208.6, July 5, 2016, the GAO addressed this issue head on, to disastrous effect on the contractor. CAE was a small business which won a protest against the Army Corps of Engineers in a small business set-aside procurement.

To support its request to the GAO to recommend the amount it should be reimbursed by the agency, CAE attached a one-page invoice, with three line items, in the amount of $53,160. This included “234 hours for ‘Protest Sept. 30, 2015-Feb. 5, 2016,’ at a rate of $150 per hour for a total of $35,100, and 120 hours for ‘Response to Agency Report,’ at a rate of $150 per hour for a total of $18,000. Id. The third line item was for “Miscellaneous material costs [for $60].”

Several times, the agency responded that the request for reimbursement was not adequately documented to allow the agency to determine its reasonableness and made request for more information and an explanation of the hours expended on the protest. CAE responded to each request with slightly more detail.

The GAO reiterated previous rulings that “a protester seeking to recover its protest costs must submit evidence sufficient to support its claim that those costs were incurred and are properly attributable to filing and pursuing the protest.”

Noting that the burden of proof is on the protester, the GAO states that “[at] a minimum, claims for reimbursement must identify and support the amounts claimed for each individual expense (including cost data to support the calculation of claimed hourly rates), the purpose for which that expense was incurred, and how the expense relates to the protest before our Office.”

In denying the claim for reimbursement, the GAO noted that, even though CAE was a sole proprietorship, “CAE has nonetheless failed to provide any documentation or detail sufficient to support the claimed 321 hours spent on the protest.” GAO further noted that “CAE’s owner asserts that he ‘did not take any notes about the time spent on which day doing what’ and therefore provides mostly generalized statements.” In addition, the GAO stated that the claim failed to provide cost data to “establish that the claimed hourly rates reflect actual rates of compensation.”

Takeaways from this decision

Beginning with the moment you start to consider protesting a procurement, take contemporaneous notes regarding all protest-related tasks you perform so that you can provide substantiation of the hours you claim to have worked on the protest. This should not only be done by you and, of course, by your attorneys, but also all others working on the matter.

Include specific cost data in your claim. That is, include support for the cost of each expense and demonstrate support for your hourly rates expended on the protest. Notate how each expense relates to the claim for reimbursement.

This post originally appeared on the Deale blog at http://www.dealeservices.com/uncategorized/bid-protest-recovering-protest-costs/ and was reprinted with permission.


SBA Proposed Rule Will Allow Size Standard Appeals

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This is a guest post by Candace Shields of SmallGovCon.

The SBA’s Office of Hearings and Appeals will have authority to hear petitions for reconsideration of SBA size standards under a proposed rule recently issued by the SBA.

Once the proposal becomes a final rule, anyone “adversely affected” by a new, revised or modified size standard would have 30 days to ask OHA to review the SBA’s size standard determination.

By way of background, when a federal agency issues a solicitation, it ordinarily is required to designate one–and only one–NAICS code based on the primary purpose of the contract. Each NAICS code carries a corresponding size standard, which is the upper perimeter a business must fall below to be considered as small under any solicitation designated with that NAICS code.

The size standard is measure by either average annual receipts or number of employees, and varies by industry. So, for example, under current law, NAICS code 236220 (Commercial and Institutional Building Construction) carries a $36.5 million receipts-based size standard. The SBA’s size standards are codified in 13 C.F.R. 121.201 and published in an easier-to-read format in the SBA’s Size Standards Table.

Importantly, size standards are not static. The SBA regularly reviews and adjusts size standards based on the “economic characteristics of the industry,” as well as “the impact of inflation on monetary-based size standards.” In 2014, for example, the SBA upwardly adjusted many receipts-based size standards based on inflation.

The size standards selected by the SBA can have major competitive repercussions. If the SBA chooses a lower size standard for a particular industry, many businesses won’t qualify as “small.” If the SBA selects a higher size standard, some smaller businesses will have trouble effectively competing with larger (but still “small”) competitors.

Despite the importance of size standards in the competitive landscape, there is not an SBA administrative mechanism for a business to challenge or appeal a size standard selected by the SBA (although judicial review is possible). Now, that is about to change. In the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress vested OHA with jurisdiction to hear petitions challenging the SBA’s size standard selection.

In response to the authority vested in OHA by the 2016 NDAA, the SBA’s proposed rule that sets out the procedural rules for OHA’s reconsideration of size standards petitions. While adhering closely to the procedural rules for SBA size challenges, the new rules for petitions for reconsideration of size standards lay out specific procedural regulations for filing a petition of reconsideration of size standards. The proposed rule addresses the issues of standing, public notification, intervention, filing documentation, finality, and effect on solicitations. The proposed rule also includes size standard petitions as part of SBA’s process for establishing size standards.

Here are some key proposed provisions worth noting:

  • Proposed Section 134.902(a) grants standing to any person “adversely affected” by a new, revised, or modified size standard. That section would also provide that the adversely affected person would have 30 calendar days from the date of the SBA’s final rule to file its petition with OHA. This section of the rule confirms that OHA’s review will be limited to cases in which the SBA actually adopts or modifies a size standard; petitioners will not have authority to challenge preexisting size standards.
  • Proposed Section 134.902(b) would provide that a business entity is not “adversely affected” unless it conducts business in the industry associated with the size standard being challenged and either qualified as a small business concern before the size standard was revised or modified or would be qualified as a small business concern under the size standard as revised or modified.
  • Proposed Section 134.904(a) outlines the technical requirements of filing a Petition. This includes things like including a copy of the final rule and a narrative about why SBA’s size standard is alleged to be arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with applicable law.
  • Proposed Section 134.906 would permit interested persons with a direct stake in the outcome of the case to intervene and obtain a copy of the Petition.
  • Proposed Section 134.909 sets forth the standard of review as “whether the process employed by SBA to arrive at the size standard ‘was arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with the law.” As if that language wasn’t enough, the section clarifies that the petitioner bears the burden of proof.
  • Proposed Section 134.914 would require OHA to issue a decision within 45 days “as practicable.”
  • Proposed Section 134.917 would require SBA to rescind the challenged size standard if OHA grants a Petition. The size standard in effect prior to the final rule would be restored until a new final rule is issued.
  • Proposed Section 134.917 would state that “because Size Standard Petition proceedings are not required to be conducted by an Administrative Law Judge, attorneys’ fees are not available under the Equal Access to Justice Act.
  • Proposed Section 134.918 clarifies that filing a petition with OHA is optional; an adversely affected party may, if it prefers, go directly to federal court.

Given the importance of size standards in government contracting–and given the resources it often takes to pursue legal action in federal court–an internal SBA administrative process for hearing size standard challenges will be an important benefit for contractors. It is important to note that SBA’s proposed rule is merely proposed; OHA won’t hear size standard challenges until a final rule is in place.

Public comments on the rule are due December 6, 2016. To comment, follow the instructions on the first page of the proposed rule.

This post originally appeared at http://smallgovcon.com/statutes-and-regulations/sba-proposed-rule-will-allow-sba-oha-size-standard-appeals/ – sthash.MmEI71yW.dpuf and was reprinted with permission.


Supporting Women Veterans

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This is a guest post by Octavia D. Harris of the Advisory Committee on Women Veterans.

Navy Veteran inspired by visit to San Diego VA sites

It was an absolute honor and pleasure to attend the recent Advisory Committee on Women Veterans site visit to San Diego, California.  As a newly established San Antonio, Texas resident, it was also a great homecoming.  In 2012, after 30 years of Naval Service my last duty station was in San Diego, and that is also where I transitioned from the DoD to the VA healthcare system.  There are many new programs that weren’t in place when I enrolled; particularly in support of women Veterans.

My transition experience was fine, but this site visit gave me an inside view into how far VA has come in its women Veteran programs and advances including gynecological services, primary and specialty care, therapies and protocols for military sexual trauma, homelessness, vocational rehabilitation, claims processing, and recreational therapy.  Additionally, visiting Rosecrans and Miramar National Cemeteries demonstrated there is immense effort and care to ensure the utmost respect and dignity is given to those who served and their loved ones. VA, along with private organizations, works together diligently to ensure beautification throughout the grounds.  Both cemeteries were maintained well beyond my expectation.

It was evident there is “top down” engagement in supporting over 500,000 Veterans in the (southern) Pacific catchment area, specifically the 48,500 Women Veterans across four large counties.

Touring rehabilitated facilities and hearing from the various program managers and VA leaders was informative and impressive, but the highlight for me was the National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic. Various public and private organizations collaborated with the San Diego VA’s Recreational Therapy Program to bring together 130 Veterans who participated in various team building and sporting events, including surfing, kayaking, bicycling, paddle boarding, and my personal favorite, rock climbing.  I even had the opportunity to experience what the other Veterans did by taking a ride on one of the adaptive bicycles and even participated in the thrill-seeking rock climb – it was fantastic!

This level of hands-on support and recreational training led to an enormous demonstration of increased self-esteem in the Veterans and gave them a renewed sense of “normalcy” as many were adapting to uses of special kayaks and surfboards, bicycles, wheelchairs, and even being around others if they were previously crippled by the invisible wounds of post-traumatic stress disorder, severe anxiety, or depression.  I’d never seen so many happy faces than I witnessed that day, not only from the Veterans participating but also the volunteers, which included many active duty men and women who saw first-hand what they can expect once they too become Veterans in the VA Healthcare system.

The biggest takeaway from this impressive week was the concerted effort and dedication from VA leadership, staff, and the public/private collaborations, which I believe embodies the Secretary McDonald’s vision, goals, and mission for all VA Healthcare systems.


Octavia D. Harris is a retired U.S. Navy command master chief and a member of the VA Advisory Committee on Women Veterans.  She currently resides in San Antonio, Texas, and serves on the local Community Advisory Board for Veterans.


This post originally appeared on the VAntage Point blog of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs at http://www.blogs.va.gov/VAntage/31595/site-visit-provides-insight-inspiration-retired-u-s-navy-command-master-chief/, and was reprinted with permission.

Note from Bill: TAPE President and CEO Louisa Long Jaffe is a proud member of the Advisory Committee on Women Veterans. We were inspired by this story and thought you would be, too.


Bid Protests: How to Take Advantage of a Debriefing

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This is a guest post by Jerry Miles of Deale Services, LLC.

Debriefings can be a valuable tool, whether you are the awardee or the disappointed offeror. Think of it as a time to gather information that will assist you in drafting future proposals, understanding the agency “thought process,” and determining whether grounds exist for protesting the decision. When doing so, there are a few things to keep in mind:

Know what information you are entitled to receive

The agency is not required to provide as much information in a pre-award protest as in a post award protest. In a pre-award situation, the agency must provide:

(1) an evaluation of significant elements in the offeror’s proposal;
(2) a summary of the rationale for eliminating the offeror from the competition; and
(3) reasonable responses to relevant questions about whether source selection procedures contained in the solicitation, applicable regulations, and other applicable authorities were followed in the process of eliminating the offeror from the competition. FAR 15.505.

Post-award, FAR 15.506 requires the agency to provide:

(1) an evaluation of the significant weaknesses or deficiencies in the offeror’s proposal, if applicable;
(2) the overall evaluated cost or price (including unit prices) and technical rating, if applicable, of the successful offeror and the debriefed offeror, and past performance information on the debriefed offeror;
(3) the overall ranking of all offerors, when any ranking was developed by the agency during the source selection;
(4) a summary of the rationale for award;
(5) for acquisitions of commercial items, the make and model of the item to be delivered by the successful offeror; and
(6) reasonable responses to relevant questions about whether source selection procedures contained in the solicitation, applicable regulations, and other applicable authorities were followed.

Always request a debriefing and do so immediately

It is always in a contractor’s best interest to request a debriefing. The request need not be formal – a simple email will do. The reasons include those stated above but even the awardee should consider such a request. The awardee can use the debriefing as a chance to identify issues that might be protested by disappointed offerors or as a means to support the agency should a protest be filed.

Be sure to accept the first day offered by the agency for a debriefing because this is the day that begins the running of the clock – protest must be filed within 10 days of award or five days of the first date offered for the debriefing, whichever is later in order to obtain a stay of award or performance.

Be prepared

Debriefings can be written, oral, or in any other method acceptable to the contracting officer. Particularly in the context of an oral debriefing, preparation is key to getting the most from a debriefing.

First, know your proposal and the source selection material. Second, consider researching the awardee. Third, be ready to ask questions about RFP source selection procedures and other applicable authorities and evaluation factors to elicit more information about the agency’s decision. Fourth, have more than one person available to take notes. Everyone hears things differently. You want to record all of the reasons for the agency’s decision, especially the most challenging ones.

Be polite; do not state counter-arguments. Your main objective is to listen and record what the stated rationale is. It is not time to make your argument or try to change agency’s mind. The time for that is when you file your protest.


Jerry Miles of Deale Services, LLC (http://www.dealeservices.com) is a government contracts attorney and business consultant with experience working as corporate counsel for a Fortune 500 government contractor and as a private practitioner for over one hundred small, midsize and large businesses. In addition to being the owner of a law firm, Mr. Miles regularly advises clients on teaming agreements, joint ventures, subcontracting, government contract disputes, bid protests, international contracting matters and corporate compliance.

This post was originally published at http://www.dealeservices.com/uncategorized/bid-protests-how-to-take-advantage-of-a-debriefing/ and was adapted and reprinted with permission.


Important Amendments to Department of Defense (“DOD”) Mentor-Protégé Program

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This is a reprint from the PilieroMazza Weekly Report newsletter (click here to subscribe).

DOD has issued a proposed rule which will amend the DFARS to implement Section 861 of the NDAA 2016, which provides amendments to the DOD Mentor-Protégé Program. The proposed amendments will require contractors who participate in the program as mentors to report all technical or management assistance provided; any new awards of subcontracts to the protégé firm, including the value of such subcontracts; any extensions, increases in the scope of work, or additional, unreported payments to the protégé firm; the amount of any progress payments or advance payments made to the protégé firm for performance under any subcontract made under the program; any loans made to the protégé firm; all federal contracts awarded to the mentor and protégé firms as a joint venture; any assistance the mentor firm obtained for the protégé firm from small business development centers established under 15 U.S.C. § 648, entities providing procurement technical assistance under 10 U.S.C. ch. 142, or Historically Black Colleges or Universities or Minority Institutions of Higher Education; whether the terms of the mentor-protégé agreement have changed; and a narrative describing the success assistance provided under the program has had in addressing the protégé firm’s developmental needs, the impact on DOD contracts, and addressing any problems encountered. These reporting requirements apply retroactively to mentor-protégé agreements in effect on November 25, 2015, the date of enactment of the NDAA 2016.

In addition, Section 861: (1) adds new eligibility criteria; (2) limits the number of mentor-protégé agreements to which a protégé firm may be a party; (3) limits the period of time during which a protégé firm may participate in mentor-protégé agreements under the program; (4) adds new elements to mentor-protégé agreements addressing the benefits of the agreement to DOD and goals for additional awards for which the protégé firm can compete outside the program; (5) removes business development assistance using mentor firm personnel and cash in exchange for an ownership interest in the protégé firm from the types of assistance that a mentor firm may provide to a protégé firm; (6) prohibits reimbursement of any fee assessed by the mentor firm for certain services provided to the protégé firm while participating in a joint venture with the protégé firm; (7) revises the definitions of the terms “small business concern” and “disadvantaged small business concern;” (8) adds definitions for “severely disabled individual” and “affiliated;” and (9) extends the Program for three years, 81 Fed. Reg. 65610. Comments on this proposed rule are due by November 22, 2016.


How to Lose a Contract in 3 Easy Steps

© WavebreakmediaMicro - Fotolia.com

© WavebreakmediaMicro – Fotolia.com

This is a guest post by Debbie Ouellet of EchelonOne Consulting. Debbie gets it exactly right. Pay attention, folks!

From time to time I’m approached by a business owner who has just been blind-sided. They’ve been a long-term service provider for a customer and just learned that they no longer have the contract.

And they don’t know why.

Most often this has happened when the contract went back out for bid, usually through the RFP (Request for Proposal) process, and the service provider prepared their own response. I’m called in to perform a postmortem and provide feedback with the goal of preventing a recurrence with other contracts.

Many business owners might assume that they were simply underbid (i.e.: another vendor low-balled their price to win the contract). The truth is; that’s rarely the reason.

What are 3 of the main reasons that long term vendors lose contracts in the bid process?

They got complacent.

Any procurement manager will tell you… complacency in a vendor is a contract killer. The vendor works hard in the first year or so of the contract to bring innovation, quality initiatives and cost control strategies into play. And then they ride the wave for the remainder of the term.

It’s not that they’re lazy or even bad vendors. They just get comfortable that all is well within their contract and relationship and that everyone is happy with the status quo.

When you read their RFP response and distill it down to the main messages, it says, “We’re great, you know we’re great and we’re going to keep doing what we’ve been doing…because hey, it’s working.” Unfortunately, their competitors have done their homework and suggested new approaches and offered added value in their responses making the incumbent’s proposal look pretty darn blah.

Another tactic that drives customers crazy is when long-term vendors save all of their ideas and innovations to submit with the rebid process. Instead, a better approach is to show steady improvement over the entire term of the contract. Your customer then sees you as consistently bringing value to the table. Then when it comes time for the contract to go out to bid again, you can cite the great initiatives you’ve implemented and offer a few more that you’d like them to consider moving forward.

The best piece of advice I can give a vendor who already has a contract is this: At least once each year, sit down and take stock of what you’ve done for your client lately. Where did you bring value, suggest cost control or improve quality? If you haven’t, find ways to do it now before the contract goes out to rebid.

They assumed that they knew it all.

At times, being the incumbent has its drawbacks. They’ve been immersed in their customer’s business so much so that they lose perspective and believe that they already know everything there is to know about them.

Because the vendor thinks they already know, they don’t read the RFP documents carefully. They make assumptions and miss key elements for the response.

No matter how good your relationship is with your customer, you should always approach an RFP as though it’s anybody’s game. Read it carefully, ask questions and follow the instructions to the tee.

They assumed that the client knew it all.

At times, an incumbent won’t explain responses fully in an RFP because they assume that the client already knows about their business, what they do and how they do it.

There are three reasons why this is a bad approach:

  1. The people reading your response may not know you. The truth is, your main contact; the one who loves you; may not be the decision maker in the bid process. Changeover in decision makers is also commonplace in today’s business world.
  2. Most RFPs go through a scoring process. Each set of answers to questions is scored against a pre-defined process to come up to an overall score. It’s a process that was designed to ensure objectivity in the review process. The bids with the highest scores make it to the finalists list. If you don’t provide full answers to questions, how can you be scored properly?
  3. Incomplete answers look sloppy and lazy. You don’t want your customer to think that you couldn’t be bothered to take the time to answer their questions properly.

Use incumbency to your benefit

Being the incumbent in the RFP process can be a huge advantage as long as you understand that winning and keeping a contract starts long before it goes out to bid.

  • Consistently show value (and make sure that your customer knows about it) while you have the contract. Document it so that you’ve got the information readily available at bid time.
  • Always approach an RFP as though it’s anybody’s game.
  • Don’t assume that you know everything. Read the RFP document carefully and follow the instructions closely.

Don’t assume that the people reading your response know all about you just because you’re their current vendor. Answer questions fully as if they didn’t know you.

I’d much rather help a client win back a contract through the RFP process than explain to them postmortem why they didn’t.

This article originally appeared at http://www.echelonone.ca/apps/blog/show/44087958-how-to-lose-a-contract-in-3-easy-steps and was reprinted with permission.

Debbie Ouellet of EchelonOne Consulting is a Canadian RFP consultant and business writer. She helps business owners win new clients and grow their business by helping them to plan and write great RFP responses, business proposals, web content and marketing content. You can find out more about Debbie at www.echelonone.ca.


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