Trench Warfare in Federal Sales

People on the outside do not realize what goes on when contracts worth millions to billions of dollars are at stake. Sales efforts can be likened to trench warfare and the meek inherit very little. When a large federal contract is known to be in the pre-announcement phase, interested prime contractors send teams of people to the federal agency. Prime contractors will establish sales budgets ranging from $100,000 to several million dollars when large opportunities -- such as DOE research laboratory management projects or lucrative information technology service opportunities -- are announced.

The "capture planning teams" descend on the federal site and spend countless hours meeting with each other to form the optimum bidding team. Points of discussion include exclusivity, how team members will share the work, oversight and accountability issues, the dollars involved, and the guarantees (if any) associated with a vendor's share of the pot. Prime contractors and potential subcontractors are usually jockeying to get the best deal and may not be telling each other the full story.

Prime contractors may woo small businesses thought to be in favor with the agency putting out the bid. The teams also meet with the end users to gather intelligence on the problems, requirements, fears, likes, and dislikes and to sell themselves to the government decision makers. Remember, this is legal prior to formal announcement of the procurement.

Phone calls are made to anyone and everyone who might know about the project in an effort to discern the makeup of the evaluation committee, the favored parties, which players may be on what team and why. Companies search for any insight that might provide an edge. Great effort is put into recruiting the incumbent contractor's personnel since the government usually wants all or most of the key people to remain on the contract.

All of this work is focused on structuring a scheme to win the contract. This is not a game for the faint hearted or inexperienced company. Once the procurement is formally announced and the proposal is written, prayer, pacing, and worrying are the order of the day.

Sounds like white-collar warfare, doesn't it? This is where the competition actually takes place. To outsiders it may sound illegal or unethical but it isn't as long as all the game playing is done before the government issues the bid solicitation.

Who wins? Usually the incumbent contractor provided there is one. If the project is new, the winner is the vendor with the strongest relationship with the end users, or the one which has been the most aggressive, persuasive, creative, or a mixture of all of these factors. A vendor without a relationship can sneak in and build a winning proposal right under the nose of the lead contender by being aggressive and creative. However, to do so requires a formidable commitment of time, resources, and money (not to mention a healthy share of luck).

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