How To Win A Government Contract: 101 - The Basics

Winning a government contract is not an exact science. There is no formula that will guarantee success.

However, there are some steps you need to take to give yourself a better chance.

Make Sure You Know The Government's Requirements

When you review any contract opportunity, your success or failure could be determined based on whether or not you fully read the government's requirements.

Government buyers at all levels - federal, state, and local - will carefully outline everything they believe is important including the specific problem they want to solve, the past experience they are looking for, mandatory meetings potential vendors need to attend, capabilities / capacity, pricing, delivery, and much more.

In the case of a local county government contract on janitorial services for a community athletic facility, the procurement specialists noted that attendance at a contract meeting was mandatory, and that failure to attend would disqualify a bid or proposal.

With federal government contracts, you may find requirements on how many pages the proposal needs to be, and other formatting measures. While not potentially disqualifying in itself, failure to follow basic instructions when responding to a RFP or contract opportunity can draw the ire of a contract officer who may start to wonder if your company will fail to pay attention to other key details.

Determine If Your Company Qualifies For A Special Status

The federal government and prime contractors are always looking for reliable small business partners. Do you qualify? Are you a woman-owned small business? Veteran? Alaskan or Native American? There are many categories for businesses. In an effort to increase opportunities for traditionally disenfranchised groups, the federal government has set aside percentages of its opportunities for companies that meet the criteria.

Look at how the Small Business Administration (SBA) defines a small business, and what categories or classifications for business the government uses. You may find that your business meets one or several different standards, which increases your appeal to procurement procurement, contract officers, and prime contractors.

Sell What You Know. Do Not Try To Be Something You Are Not.

Here are a couple of examples that we have come across over the years.

A small, 5-person IT services firm wants to get into government contracting, because they have convinced themselves that they can solve enterprise cloud solutions for the U.S. Post Office or some large federal agency. They believe this even though they lack the personnel size for such an undertaking, or the technical expertise or past experience to do it.

Another government contractor went week to week changing its capability offerings. One week they would focus on foreign languages or translation services, and then the next week, operation of an airport parking garage. At the start of week three, they were onto another service.

The point of these two examples should be obvious: Always sell what you know - and focus on what you do best, and have experience delivering. The more you are confused about what you can deliver, the less likely you will secure government contracts. Government procurement professionals want expertise, and want to minimize risk. By focusing on what you can deliver, you will enhance your chances for winning a government contract.

Identify Your Audience. Know Your Government Customer.

Just like in business, understanding your audience and your potential customer's needs are essential to success.

In government contracting, you have to determine who is buying what you have to sell. If you are not finding buyers with current opportunities, you need to identify audiences that are experiencing problems that your business can solve.

Prepare To Invest Time and Money To Build A GovCon Division

A key steps to winning a government contract is the investment you make to build a team of govcon professionals, and financial cost of making a competitive bid for a government contract.

Becoming a successful government contractor takes more than just finding opportunities and submitting proposals. Relationships need to be built. You need different marketing and sales messaging, because the government customer is different. And the proposal and contract process needs to be managed by people with skill and experience. These are just some of the new expenses and activities you will need to plan for if you want to become a government contractor.

Modify Your Offerings For Government Customers

As mentioned above, reading, understanding, and meeting a government buyer's requirements is very important. In order to do this, you may have to adapt / modify what your product and service offerings are to meet government specifications.

This could mean adapting a part or product you manufacture to meet a different government standard, or applying a new testing regime to your product to prove it meets the government's needs. Or it could mean you need to change aspects of how you deliver a service or the total scope of that service may change in some ways. Whatever the changes, you need to recognize that a government customer knows what it wants. And if you want to win a contract, you need to meet its needs.

Make Sure Your Business Is Registered and In Good Standing (Licenses and Financials)

Though it may seem obvious, a sure-fire way to NOT win a contract is to have your business license expire, to be in financial difficulty (or delinquent on your taxes), or to not be registered with the appropriate government systems for contracting.

Government buyers are intensely focused on making sure they reduce or nearly eliminate any risk to taxpayers. In order to do that, your business will be vetted to make sure you are in good standing. Have you filed the necessary returns, or corporate documents? Did you take time to register with a federal [System for Award Management (SAM)], state, or local procurement registry or system? In some cases, a state or local government will not do business with you unless you are registered in their systems. Do you have a DUNS number? Etc.

Make sure you do a total review of all all your licenses, taxes, and government registrations / accounts before you submit your proposal. It takes time (in some cases, several weeks) for government agencies or departments to update information they receive. The last thing you want as you are trying to build a relationship is to have a buyer see that you are not current.

Do Not Put All Your Eggs In One Basket

Over the years, we have seen companies that focus their sales activities on a one or two potential opportunities. We also have seen businesses become heavily dependent on one customer for a large percentage of their revenue. While we recognize that it takes time and resources to cultivate relationships, win a business opportunity, and then manage that relationship, it is very risky to be so dependent. Hence, do not put all your eggs into one basket.

When it comes to winning a government contract, successful companies diversify the kinds of opportunities they pursue. Diversification can be between federal agencies, but it also can mean pursuing a balanced percentage of federal, and state and local opportunities. You also may consider bidding on contracts where you would be the only winner, as well as contracts where you would be a subcontractor or part of a team of businesses operating under a larger prime contractor.

Review Your Process and Keep Bidding

There is the famous saying, "You never make the shots you don't take." Well, you will never win a government contract if you stop bidding on opportunities.

The key step to keep in mind is to review your process after a failed contract bid. You may need to bring in outside help to give you some unbiased insight into how you can perform better. There will be times when you just got beat, and you need to shake it off and try again. But most of the time, there will be lessons you and your team can learn. There almost always are ways to improve you government contracting process.

Get Help

There are many ways you can get help in your effort to win a government contract. Obviously, you are seeking out some information on the Government website. There also are tons of books, other websites, courses, events, mentors, and consultants - all of which either cover the total landscape of government contracting, or an aspect of it that you can zero-in on. It is important in government contracting to always be open to asking for help and outside expertise.



Do You Have A GovCon Question?

Have a question about the GovCon industry? Send us your question, and we will circulate it to our panel of experts. We will post an answer to your question in our weekly GovCon Q&A Roundup, as well as send you a direct response. All submissions will be kept confidential. No names or email addresses will be shared publicly. No response should be considered legal advice.

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