(2) Know your customer through customer environment research.
Planning matters in Government contract pursuits – opportunities must be identified early in order to gain an understanding of the customer, their requirements, and the competitive environment BEFORE THE PROPOSAL IS EVER WRITTEN!
Knowledge of the customer environment is the #1 key to winning a Federal Government contract. Why? This critical knowledge:
- Enables smart bid strategy decision-making based on potential barriers to market entry and/or the competitive environment
- Ensures your proposed solution aligns with customer requirements
- Demonstrates genuine understanding of the entire scope of work, providing higher confidence in your ability to meet requirements
To truly know the customer environment, ask yourself these questions:
1. Who is the customer?
Make sure to identify and recognize the different customer stakeholder organizations, including the Requiring Activity and the Contracting Activity. The Requiring Activity is the funding agency, and includes the program management function and end user community. Keep in mind the end user community could involve multiple end user sites (or places of performance), numerous Government agency partners, and various other contractors. The Contracting Activity is the awarding agency that performs contract administration. Representatives from each of these customer stakeholder organizations may comprise the Source Selection Board (SSB), who will be evaluating your proposal and selecting contract awardee(s).
2. What is the customer’s mission?
What is the customer’s essential role? Why do they exist? What must they accomplish to be successful?
3. What is the customer’s vision?
Where have they been and where do they want to go? The customer’s vision is usually reflected in their current Strategic Plan (a MUST read for understanding the customer environment).
4. What are the customer’s requirements (stated and unstated)?
What problem is the customer trying to solve through the procurement? Beyond the stated requirements in the Statement of Work (SOW) or Performance Work Statement (PWS), what are the unstated requirements?
To try to learn more about the Government’s requirements, you can research similar contracts to identify previously funded requirements. Also check to see if the agency has open BAA or SBIR vehicles with topics that align with your proposed solution. Finally, check to see if the agency has any OTAs or consortiums in place that you can join to submit a project proposal or white paper or participate in an event.
5. What are the customer’s pain points?
What hurts? What doesn’t work? What keeps the customer awake at night? What is the main problem that is trying to be solved with this procurement?
6. What are the customer’s hot buttons to avoid?
These are the issues or topics that are to be avoided. They are highly charged emotionally or politically, and while they need to be understood as having an impact on the customer environment, it’s best to sidestep these issues rather than remind the customer they exist.
7. What are the customer’s typical practices in acquisition strategy and source selection?
Do they typically utilize their own contracts or do they leverage Government-Wide Acquisition Contracts (GWACs) such as GSA Schedules? What are they agency’s current small business goals and what is their performance against those goals? Can the opportunity be shaped to improve your Pwin as a set-aside for which you are qualified to compete (e.g., WOSB set-aside, HUBZone set-aside, etc. or NAICS Code with a small business size standard that your company meets to compete in a small business set-aside)? What evaluation criteria do they typically use to rate proposals (factors such as Management, Technical, Past Performance, Cost/Price) and what is the typical order of importance of these factors? What is their typical basis for award (e.g., Best Value or its extreme LPTA, Lowest Price Technically Acceptable)?
8. What contractors are currently providing products / services to this customer?
Current contractors who have a presence in the targeted customer environment are either future potential teaming partners or future competition.
Accurate and insightful knowledge of the where the customer has been and where they want to go, their needs, and current challenges is not something readily available from on-line (secondary market) research. Sometimes the best way to obtain this knowledge is through direct engagement with the customer (primary market research), and that’s the purpose of a call plan.