This is a guest post from Tonya Buckner of BucknerMT Management & Technology, Inc.
Every day we find ourselves in situations that require us to negotiate. Whether it is for business or personal reasons, it is critical to understand that there is more to negotiation than just simply winning. In preparation for negotiations with our clients, team members, partners, or even friends or acquaintances, the key criteria to determine is “How do we bring value together?” The mindset has to be on finding a way to innovate and create.
It is important to understand that when someone says “no” we don’t need to feel alarmed; it is just the beginning of the conversation. It is critical to remember that negotiation is problem-solving. The only way to solve problems is to have key information. The exchange of information allows us to get there together.
Further, it is vital to understand that value and quality don’t always align with cost. When we focus on the bottom-line and cost, we may lose quality. For example, many government contracts are based on “Lowest Price Technically Acceptable (LPTA).” This leaves little room for creativity or innovation. Contracting officers are governed by the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR), which in most cases focuses on lowest cost, but often the FAR fails to consider that it costs to add value.
We must dig deep, be honest with ourselves, and decide what we really want. Every situation requires its own strategy. It is imperative that we play to our strengths. The more passionate we are about our own goals but also the more clear we are about our limits, the more clarity and enthusiasm we will have to negotiate until the best possible agreement that can be reached, has been reached.
It is also important to understand what drives us and what got us to the table. While our goal or target should never change, the interest is never money for its own sake and the financial gain is just the path.
Ultimately, the conversation should be centered on adding value. We must see the bigger picture beyond the dollars and the technical baseline. Once we do that creatively, we can enter a world of much greater possibilities. There are many paths to success. By observing sober limits decided upon in advance, we can be clear enough to calmly walk away from a bad deal but also be open enough to negotiate good deals (even if they require more time and complexity).
Additionally, it is dangerous to get caught up in our own interest or our egos. This is the difference between a deal and no deal. There is the interest (our underlying motivation), and the position (the what, in this case financial gain). Negotiation is never about winning just for winning’s sake.
Lastly, the goal is to maintain a good relationship with your client. Creating a win/win situation for both parties results in a long-term relationship and the possibility of more contracts. So don’t lose sight, the end result should be value on both sides!
This post was originally published on the TAPE blog at http://tape-llc.com/2017/07/winning-fulfilling-interest/ and was reprinted with permission.
This is a guest post by Anuj Vohra and Alex Hastings of Covington & Burling LLP.
On January 5, 2017, as part of its “myth-busting” series, the Office of Federal Procurement Policy (“OFPP”) issued a memorandum encouraging federal agencies to improve their post-award debriefings to increase their “productive interactions with . . . industry partners.” Based on feedback from industry and federal agencies, the OFPP described the numerous benefits of effective debriefings, including affording unsuccessful offerors the opportunity to understand the weaknesses in their proposals and the areas for improvement in future competitions and offering agencies an opportunity to review and improve their evaluation processes. To encourage agencies to take such measures, OFPP recommended that agencies adopt a “debriefing guide” and to consider commonly-perceived myths regarding the debriefing process.
With respect to the debriefing guide, OFPP encouraged agencies to take measures to (1) allow agency personnel to provide an overall general ranking of the debriefed offerors, (2) prepare government personnel on topics that are appropriate (and not appropriate) for discussion during a debriefing, (3) offer template checklists and agendas for government personnel to use in preparing a debriefing, and (4) establish guidance for agency personnel to engage subject matter experts and general counsel in complex procurements.
With respect to the myths surrounding debriefings, the memorandum includes a list of common misconceptions and OFPP responses, such as:
- Myth: Debriefings result in a greater number of protests. OFPP explained that an effective debriefing that provides necessary information to disappointed offerors can “greatly reduce” the number of protests because protests are often driven by a desire to gather information about the agency’s evaluation process. In particular, agencies should offer “substantive insight into how the source selection officials assessed the proposal’s strengths and weaknesses.”
- Myth: The presence of an offeror’s attorney at a debriefing signals a protest is imminent. OFPP explained that a disappointed offeror’s decision to bring an attorney to a debriefing does not indicate that a protest is imminent and should not prompt the agency to limit the information that is shared. OFPP noted that offerors may have internal policies that require the presence of an attorney, and that an attorney’s presence should not otherwise prevent the agency from providing “an informative and well planned debriefing.”
- Myth: All debriefings should be conducted in writing. OFPP explained that “[i]n-person debriefings allow for an open, flexible space where the government and offeror are able to communicate in a productive manner.” Such an effective debriefing also allows for the contracting officials to have the opportunity to secure feedback regarding the solicitation and source selection process.
- Myth: Companies do not use the information provided in debriefings. OFPP explained that industry “stressed the value” of the information they can derive from a debriefing in improving their future proposals. OFPP explained that understanding the government’s perceived strengths and weaknesses in past proposals helps industry make business decisions and submit more competitive proposals.
It remains to be seen whether agencies will heed OFPP’s urging to improve the quality of debriefings. But the guidance appears to be a positive development for government contractors, as improved debriefings have the potential to increase the effective use of contractor resources.
For instance, receiving more information about an agency’s source selection decision may allow a contractor to conclude an agency’s award decision was fair and consistent with the terms of the solicitation, alleviating the need for a protest. Additionally, an informative debriefing could allow contractors to better understand the needs of their government customers, allowing them to make business decisions that respond to their customers’ needs and develop more effective future proposals. Of course, these outcomes would also have a positive impact for agencies, resulting in fewer resources being devoted to responding to protests and receiving more competitive proposals.
This article was originally published on the Inside Government Contracts blog at https://www.insidegovernmentcontracts.com/2017/01/the-more-you-know-agencies-advised-to-increase-use-of-post-award-debriefings/ and was reprinted with permission.
In our continued look at the most common myths about government-vendor communication, here is a reprint of Federal News Radio’s coverage of the OFPP’s second Mythbusters Memo. It was released in May 2012 and is just as relevant today.
This is a guest post by Jason Miller of Federal News Radio.
The solution to many of the problems with federal procurement comes down to communication between industry and government. So it’s to that end the Office of Federal Procurement Policy is taking a second turn at dispelling some of the most commonly held myths.
As Federal News Radio first reported, OFPP issued its Mythbusters 2 memo today detailing eight more fictional reasons why agencies and contractors can’t talk, and the real truths about why they can communicate freely. The administration issued the first Mythbusters memo in February 2011 with the goal of breaking down barriers in how contracting officers and program managers talk to vendors.
Mythbusters 2 continues that conversation, the difference is, these are misconceptions from industry’s perspective,” said Lesley Field, acting OFPP administrator, in an exclusive interview with Federal News Radio. “We are hoping to help industry use the time with government to be productive and engage in good conversations. We have a few myths and misconceptions with facts that follow up on good and productive ways to engage with government.”
Field said OFPP developed these second round of myths from a series of meetings with industry, members of the Frontline Forum, senior procurement executives and others.
Vendors do have influence over market research
Misconception #1 – “The best way to present my company’s capabilities is by marketing directly to Contracting Officers and/or signing them up for my mailing list.”
Fact: Contracting officers and program managers are often inundated with general marketing material that doesn’t reach the right people at the right time. As an alternative, vendors can take advantage of the various outreach sessions that agencies hold for the purpose of connecting contracting officers and program managers with companies whose skills are needed.
Misconception #2 – “It is a good idea to bring only business development and marketing people to meetings with the agency’s technical staff.”
Fact: In meetings with government technical personnel, it’s far more valuable for you to bring subject matter experts to the meeting rather than focusing on the sales pitch.*
Joanie Newhart, OFPP’s associate administrator for acquisition workforce programs, said in the interview one of the most commonly held misconceptions is vendors have little influence over potential solicitations in the pre-request for proposal or market research phases.
“That is not so. We are finding agencies are engaging because industry has the critical knowledge that could help shape the acquisition strategy and outcome,” Newhart said. “So we are trying to bust that myth.”
OFPP wrote in the memo that vendors can provide comments or suggestions during the formal requirements development phase without trigging organization conflict of interest as long as the vendor is not hired to develop the requirements.
Misconception #3 – “Attending industry days and outreach events is not valuable because the agency doesn’t provide new information.”
Fact: Industry days and outreach events can be a valuable source of information for potential vendors and are increasingly being used to leverage scarce staff resources.
Misconception #4 – “Agencies generally have already determined their requirements and acquisition approach so our impact during the pre-RFP phase is limited.”
Fact: Early and specific industry input is valuable. Agencies generally spend a great deal of effort collecting and analyzing information about capabilities within the marketplace. The more specific you can be about what works, what doesn’t and how it can be improved, the better.*
“Suggesting detailed solutions to your concerns is even more valuable,” the memo states. “Additionally, FAR 15.201 encourages exchanges with all interested parties, beginning at the earliest identification of a requirement through receipt of proposals.”
In the memo, OFPP also says another myth is that industry days and pre-solicitation conference aren’t valuable, but that is not true as these widely attended meetings are good ways to understand what the agency’s goals are.
“Many times, agencies hold sessions designed to help new vendors do business with them,” the memo states. “In these sessions, agency personnel are on hand to answer any questions about how to do business with the agency. Gaining a better understanding of an agency will help you more effectively target your outreach, thereby saving valuable resources, and helping you respond to solicitations more effectively.”
Newhart said another common one is that vendors don’t need to tailor each proposal to the specific procurement and can just change a few words for similar solicitations. She said that’s absolutely not the case, and vendors should write the proposal so it meets the evaluation criteria laid out in the RFP.
Agencies can share pricing data
Field said another common myth is around the sharing of pricing information between agencies around similar buys.
Misconception #5 –“If I meet one-on-one with agency personnel, they may share my proprietary data with my competition.”
Fact: Agency personnel have a responsibility to protect proprietary information from disclosure outside the government and will not share it with other companies.
Misconception #6 –“Agencies have an obligation not to share information about their contracts, such as prices, with other agencies, similar to the obligation they have not to disclose proprietary information to the public.
Fact: There are no general limitations on the disclosure of information regarding existing contracts between agencies within the government. In fact, agencies are encouraged to share pricing information to ensure that we are getting the best value for our taxpayers.*
“We think the price visibility part of it, and I know there are lots of transactions every year, but making sure when a particular agency is buying something that another just purchased, we want to make sure contracting officers are sharing that information,” she said.
Field said OFPP is looking at a number of options and possibilities to help get better price visibility, but they don’t have a specific plan yet.
The memo states sharing of information between federal agencies is allowed and it’s not a disclosure of proprietary information.
“Therefore, while there might be occasional circumstances where an agency could benefit from signing an NDA that would restrict its sharing of information with another agency, agencies should generally avoid NDAs that prohibit sharing of information — particularly pricing information — within the government,” the memo states. “Price visibility is critical to ensuring that the government gets the best prices and that agencies are not paying more for the same products or services being bought under the same circumstances.”
Misconception #7 –“To develop my new proposal, I don’t really need to tailor my solution to the specific solicitation since the government won’t read my proposal that closely anyway.”
Fact: Offerors should tailor each proposal to the evaluation criteria, proposal instructions and specific requirements of the solicitation to which they are responding. Contracting officers and evaluation team members read proposals closely for compliance with the proposal instructions and must evaluate them against the evaluation factors and the statement of work in the solicitation.
Misconception #8 –“If I lose the competition, I shouldn’t bother to ask for a debriefing. The contracting officer won’t share any helpful information with me.
Fact: Unsuccessful offerors should ask for a debriefing to understand the award decision and to improve future proposals.*
* Source: “Myth-Busting 2”: Addressing Misconceptions and Further Improving Communication During the Acquisition Process
Another common myth, OFPP says, is vendors should bring business development staff to meet with agency technical staff.
Newhart said during her career as a contracting officer all of these myths came up at one time or another and continue today.
“The memo is targeted more for the vendors who are newer in working with the government,” she said. “This is to help them sort through the maze of working with us.”
Outreach and updates to communication plans
Newhart said OFPP is planning a lot of outreach to dispel the myths. She said agencies will update their Vendor Communications Plans, required in Mythbusters 1, to reflect these false ideas.
“It’s really a communication piece for government folks within the agencies to know how they should be incorporating this new vendor communication into their procurement and also for vendors so they know how agencies plan on handling this,” she said. “It also holds an agency official accountable for this.”
Field said there is new functionality on FedBizOpps.gov for small businesses and for vendor communication and collaborationthat will help dispel these myths. The vendor communication plans are posted on the portal.
Field said Mythbusters 1 helped open the door for contracting officers to talk with contractors more easily and comfortably and vice versa.
“I think pulling together the information and the opportunities and having agencies drill down into their communications plans and then posting them actually required agencies to reduce barriers to entry,” Field said. “The process itself, especially at the agency level, questioning what they could do better, what they differently and having someone assigned to it to have accountability so it’s an ongoing effort. We’ve heard from agencies they are feeling more comfortable having webinars or conference calls in the pre-RFP space. It has taken some time, but it seems to be a little bit of a catalyst to have better communication and ultimately better value.”
This article originally appeared on the Federal News Radio blog at https://federalnewsradio.com/federal-drive/2012/05/ofpp-dispels-8-more-agency-vendor-communications-myths/ and was reprinted with permission.
We’ve been digging up some myths and facts about government-industry communications during the acquisition process. This document from the OFPP has been around for several years, and so have these myths.
The first myth-busting memo from 2011 (there have been two more since then) identified the 10 most common misconceptions shared in a series of meetings with various stakeholders in the acquisitions process. I covered the first five in a previous post, and now here are the rest.
Misconception 6: When the government awards a task or delivery order using the Federal Supply Schedules, debriefing the offerors isn’t required so it shouldn’t be done.
Fact: Providing feedback is important, both for offerors and the government, so agencies should generally provide feedback whenever possible.
Note from Bill: Yes, yes, yes! Feedback is amazingly necessary to learn the next steps for small businesses. What did we do wrong, and what can we do better? Help us succeed the next time; that’s not going to create protests.
Misconception 7: Industry days and similar events attended by multiple vendors are of low value to industry and the government because industry won’t provide useful information in front of competitors, and the government doesn’t release new information.
Fact: Well-organized industry days, as well as pre-solicitation and pre-proposal conferences, are valuable opportunities for the government and for potential vendors – both prime contractors and subcontractors, many of whom are small businesses.
Note from Bill: Industry days rock! More communication, in a controlled environment, that’s always the ticket.
Misconception 8: The program manager already talked to industry to develop the technical requirements, so the contracting officer doesn’t need to do anything else before issuing the RFP.
Fact: The technical requirements are only part of the acquisition; getting feedback on terms and conditions, pricing structure, performance metrics, evaluation criteria, and contract administration matters will improve the award and implementation process.
Note from Bill: Draft RFPs also rock – just because you’ve written many of these before doesn’t mean industry won’t find the logistical problems and special needs for this procurement. Publish a draft and encourage feedback, please!
Misconception 9: Giving industry only a few days to respond to an RFP is OK since the government has been talking to industry about this procurement for over a year.
Fact: Providing only short response times may result in the government receiving fewer proposals and the ones received may not be as well-developed – which can lead to a flawed contract. This approach signals that the government isn’t really interested in competition.
Note from Bill: Procurements with only a few days notice usually means someone lost track of the time, or that they were completely and irrevocably wired for a specific vendor.
Misconception 10: Getting broad participation by many different vendors is too difficult; we’re better off dealing with the established companies we know.
Fact: The government loses when we limit ourselves to the companies we already work with. Instead, we need to look for opportunities to increase competition and ensure that all vendors, including small businesses, get fair consideration.
Note from Bill: Absolutely – new blood is often good. Of course TAPE just won a job for the 3rd consecutive time, but we’re doing a good job as seen in our CPARs and customer comments. Get fair competition and everyone will benefit.
The OFPP released two other sets of myths and facts, and we’ll be delving into those in future blog posts. Stay tuned!
In February 2011, the Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) released a memo called “Myth-Busting: Addressing Misconceptions to Improve Communication with Industry During the Acquisition Process.”
They recognized that agencies were hesitating to meet with vendors out of fear of protests or because they just didn’t have effective strategies to manage these communications. Vendors, on the other hand, had fears of their own, such as inadvertently creating a conflict of interest that would keep them from competing on future requirements.
They held a series of sessions with representatives from all aspects of the acquisition process to get a better sense of everything that was getting in the way of clear communication between the federal agencies and their prospective vendors. Out of those talks, they pulled together the 10 misconceptions they heard most frequently, and gathered them in this myth-busting memo, along with the corresponding fact and a detailed explanation for each point.
You can read the full report in the White House Archives, but here is a summary of the 10 myths and facts, along with my comments. This document may be a few years old, but the myths are still around!
Misconception 1: We can’t meet on-on-one with a potential vendor.
Fact: Government officials can generally meet one-on-one with potential offerors as long as no vendor receives preferential treatment.
Note from Bill: Just be aware that anything government officials say to you, they might be obligated to publish.
Misconception 2: Since communication with contractors is like communication with registered lobbyists, and since contact with lobbyists must be disclosed, additional communication with contractors will involve a substantial additional disclosure burden, so we should avoid these meetings.
Fact: Disclosure is required only in certain circumstances, such as for meetings with registered lobbyists. Most contractors do not fall into this category, and even when disclosure is required, it is normally a minimal burden that should not prevent a useful meeting from taking place.
Note from Bill: Go ahead and meet. Don’t accept this excuse; push back and tell them you’re not a registered lobbyist, and that shouldn’t be a barrier.
Misconception 3: A protest is something to be avoided at all costs – even if it means the government limits conversations with industry.
Fact: Restricting communication won’t prevent a protest, and limiting communication might actually increase the chance of a protest – in addition to depriving the government of potentially useful information.
Note from Bill: This canard is very common, that they are afraid of Misconception #1 causing a protest from whomever they don’t meet with. Not true, as long as they discuss the same things with everyone.
Misconception 4: Conducting discussions/negotiations after receipt of proposals will add too much time to the schedule.
Fact: Whether discussions should be conducted is a key decision for contracting officers to make. Avoiding discussions solely because of schedule concerns may be counter-productive, and may cause delays and other problems during contract performance.
Note from Bill: Well, it will add time, but it also improves the result and lowers the cost. It’s too bad more contracting officers don’t do this, because the result would be much better for the customer.
Misconception 5: If the government meets with vendors, that may cause them to submit an unsolicited proposal and that will delay the procurement process.
Fact: Submission of an unsolicited proposal should not affect the schedule. Generally, the unsolicited proposal process is separate from the process for a known agency requirement that can be acquired using competitive methods.
Note from Bill: Unsolicited proposals are very welcome and they often lead to contracts! Chase down that revenue – create a truly formatted correct unsolicited proposal, and submit away.
Let’s stop there for now, and we’ll cover the last five sets of myths and facts in another post.
In a webinar called “Wired! How can I do that?” Judy Bradt of Summit Insight painted a picture I’m sure many of you would find familiar. You saw something on www.fbo.gov that looked like the perfect opportunity – work you could do, that matched your experience, yet somebody else won the job.
How? They got the opportunity wired for them.
It was such a great topic I asked her to tell us more.
I’ve heard you say that proposals require “perfection on every page” – why?
Contracting officers can only consider offers that are full responsive. That means not only answering every question, but providing the correct information in the format and order required, to exactly the right person, by the right time, to the right place. Any ONE failure can disqualify your entire effort – often, an investment of THOUSANDS of dollars and weeks of time. That’s right: the contracting officer won’t even be able to look at it, no matter how great your price, and how perfect your experience.
Why is it important for a contractor to have a bid/no bid checklist in place?
It comes down to win rate. In a perfect world, you’d win every time. If you can’t win every time, you want to win as often as possible. Your company’s bid/no-bid checklist sums up the signs that you have a high probability of winning. An opportunity with all the winning signs is your top priority to bid. The income you get from the winning bid also has to cover the cost of all the losing bids. The fewer losers you write, the more money you get to keep!
What are three things our competitors are doing to win?
- They’re building relationships with all the decision makers inside the account.
- They’re only bidding projects where they have past performance that strongly resembles the kind of work the buyer needs done.
- They’ve been in there talking to the buying team a long time before the requirement hits the street, shaping the buyer’s idea of them as a low-risk supplier.
You have a 10-step scorecard to identify what a team needs to win more federal business. Can my readers get a copy?
The scorecard is part of the Government Contracts Made Easier: The Strategy Workbook. This is a 64-page fillable PDF that you can use and update again and again, and share within your company. The list price is $69.95, but if you contact me, I’ll send it to you with my compliments.
Thanks, Judy! To hear more of Judy’s excellent tips and strategies, join her for a complimentary webinar, Top Tactics to Meet Federal Buyers. It’s coming up soon on April 18th, so be sure to register now.
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.
Any company that is just trying to stay in business and “keep on, keeping on,” will not be profitable in the long run. When you really think about it, you know contracts will end and you will have to move on – what is your plan to replace those contracts?
The process for this is to have a pipeline of potential income. Think of your pipeline like a funnel. At the outer edge up at the top it’s very wide, because at first glance there are always many possibilities. That’s why the first and most important step is qualification, that is to ask:
- Does this customer have money?
- Does this customer have a problem that we can solve?
- Does the customer know that our company can solve their problem?
If you can answer those questions with yes, then you try and capture the work, which is to say shape it so that you are more qualified than other potential competitors (your OSDBU office may be able to help). Thereby (through this capture) you learn the things you need to do to bid successfully.
You always want your pipeline to be full at every level, so there is a mix of some opportunities you’re qualifying, some stuff you’re capturing, and some proposals you’ve already written and sent, that may or may not come to pass in various time frames. Flexibility is essential, as new things come along that may bump aside a well-qualified, or even well-captured opportunity.
So your pipeline will be filled not with oil or gas, but with a continuum of opportunities. Some might not become proposals for a year or even more from now, some things you might start writing in the next three or six months, some things you’re writing now, and then things you’re waiting for awards on.
The most important question is how to fill the top of the funnel. Of course we’ve talked many times about how relationships with the people you already know are the heart of your capture process. Even if a customer doesn’t have more work, they have friends in other agencies and contacts in other places they work for.
But your own contacts can only get you so far; sometimes you also need outside help. Along with proposal consultants, you can also hire people just to do the research and uncover new potential customers for you. There are always opportunities that you’re not going to hear about that these people will uncover.
Now if you’re only pursuing opportunities from these data sources, you’re probably not mining your own customers enough. You really need to determine if such a service would be worthwhile for you to have, and if the benefits outweigh the costs.
Having a full pipeline means when one contract ends, you don’t have to worry where the next job is coming from. The capture process for that one, and many others, is well under way.
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:
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
This is a guest post by Judy Bradt of Summit Insight. Judy and I recently partnered up for the webinar, Insights from the Mid-Tier: More Federal Q4 Tactics. If you missed Part One, here are Judy’s first three federal sales tactics for Q4.
Webinars, podcasts and videos
YouTube is the world’s second-largest search engine. Do your competitors have a YouTube channel? You could be the first in your niche to have one!
After websites, federal buyers consider webinars to be a leading, trusted, source of information from vendors. In fact, federal buyers are far more interested in webinars than suppliers realize.
The webinars don’t even have to be an hour; try a half-hour. Thirty-minute podcasts are particularly popular, because that’s often someone’s drive time (okay, in the DC area, someone might listen to three of them in a single trip, but you get the idea).
Pick topics for your webinars and videos that center based on their biggest concerns. Did you know…? Simplify complex concepts. Share actionable ideas. Vary the format: Invite guests, include an active Q&A, chat with a moderator or industry expert, share your screen.
Close with a call to action. What would you like your listener to do? Visit your website? Sign up for your e-news? Invite a deeper relationship: what’s the next natural step? You’ll want to have a solid, permission-based promotion platform and make sure you’re capturing at least name, email address and phone number when people register. If your content is good enough, people are willing to share information like job title and name of organization, too.
Stand out tactics:
- Be energetic, focused, and authentic. Have some fun!
- Go shorter rather than longer. Did you know that the vast majority of YouTube how-to videos are just two minutes long? What could you teach someone in two minutes?
- Focus on content that emphasizes your best values: things that are quantifiable, and objectively proven.
- Be sure to include a healthy Q&A period. Invite some of your best contacts or even current clients to ask the first few questions.
- Get to know how the features of your broadcast platform work. Experiment ahead of time, learn how to get good lighting and audio quality. There are often many options, and that can be another reason to invite a partner or moderator to share the broadcast with you.
- Take advantage of the post-webinar survey features to get feedback.
- Use the chat windows as well as the ability to selectively unmute people in order to let everyone hear diverse voices. Then it gets fun! Ask people where they’re calling from and what they do before you get to their question, and remember to thank them afterward. If your platform lets you include a webcam stream, don’t be shy.
- Record your webinar! Once you have the recording, you can share it with those who participated. You can also share the link afterwards to those who missed your event, post it on your website and social media, and have the content transcribed into later blog posts or articles, just for starters.
- Finally, be generous as well as confident! Share handouts or links to follow-up tools like short checklists or more in-depth insights from you, your co-presenters, and others.
Key: these online educational channels offer a no-risk way to get to know you and connect.
Speak up about innovation! Thought leaders get invited more. Share your expertise and insight. Keep the focus narrow. Inspire conversations! Share highlights of case studies – including but not limited to those involving your own clients. Not all gigs will be paid, but some will be; expect a mix of free and paid speaking opportunities.
Great speakers make complex things simple. You might not ever give a TED Talk, but you can draw on these masterful tips offered by Chris Anderson, the head of TED.
Stand out tactics:
- Memorable speakers come early and stay late.
- Share fresh, meaty data, but don’t fill slides with busy graphs and tons of tiny-font text. Let images be the backdrop for your story.
- Involve your audience, with quick polls, questions, and even the chance to talk with each other.
- Talk about their problems and leave them with hope and ideas for solutions. Offer actionable next steps – besides suggesting they hire you! Let that come naturally, when they understand they could do it themselves, but they’d love to have you do it for or with them.
- Own the room: treat the occasion as if you were the host, and each attendee were your cherished guest.
Key: Be the friendly expert: generous, personable, accessible.
About the author: Judy Bradt, CEO of Summit Insight, gives federal contractors the focus, skills and tools you need to transform your federal business and achieve the sales and partnerships you’ve always wanted. It’s easier than you ever imagined. Call her at 703-627-1074 or visit http://www.summitinsight.com and find out more.