Reviewing a RFP to determine if you are interested in bidding may be the first step in your government business development process, but a close second should be submitting clarifying questions. Here are seven questions you should ask on every RFP before you bid:
- Who is the incumbent? Often, government agencies are required to release an RFP when the contract is up for renewal even if they are completely satisfied with the incumbent contractor. Because of Federal Acquisition Rules, the government may be required to put the service up for bid, but they are not required to select a new contractor. If there is an incumbent who qualifies for renewal, you need to research the validity of this opportunity or determine if this is even an opportunity you want to pursue. By understanding who the incumbent is, you also are able to evaluate your strategic value added which they might not provide.
- Will they accept substitutions? If the RFP specifies a specific item number or specific service that you do not provide, they may accept substitutions. In one of the biggest government contracts I ever won, we provided a service that was superior to the service they stipulated in the RFP. By asking the question about substitution, we were able to differentiate our offering before we ever submitted our proposal. Conversely, if they will not accept substitutions and you don't offer the product or service they stipulate, this is not an opportunity to bid.
- Where can I find a copy of the winning proposal? If the contract is up for renewal or the renewal options have been exhausted, you can gain a wealth of information about important issues and hot buttons of the procurement officer or the agency releasing the RFP. You may also need to submit a FOIA request to secure a copy of that proposal, but what you will learn is worth the wait.
- Who will use the product or service? By understanding who is the end user will greatly assist with understanding hot buttons of the end user which will help you craft your narrative. I once determined that they only user of a service was the end line employee of the government agency, so we were able to tailor our narrative and win themes appropriately to win the contract worth about $180 Million.
While there are several other questions you will want to ask, I generally ask between 60 to as many as 140 qualifying questions on an RFP for Capture or Proposal efforts for my clients. If you have a question, ask. As the saying goes, the only bad question is the one we don't ask.