For small to medium-sized businesses that are pursuing government contracts in information technology, it can be tough to know how to craft a winning proposal. Even if you already provide IT products and services in the private sector, bidding on public sector opportunities can be an entirely new experience. In this article we will provide five tips on how winning bids are created, and identify the elements of a public sector proposal that make it more likely to be a winner.
Tip#1: Research Your Competitors
Competition among businesses for information technology contracts with government agencies is robust. Like most other sectors of government purchasing, buying agencies are looking for qualified and experienced vendors who can deliver on the technical specifications of a job, while also managing costs to deliver the greatest value for the contract price. IT and related subsectors – including telecom, network services, hardware and software, infrastructure, and many others – are highly specialized fields of knowledge. IT products and services providers can use their knowledge of the industry to evaluate their competitors, find out more about the services they offer, and identify their strengths and weaknesses as a business.
Tip #2: Examine the Details of Closed Contracts
On BidNet.com, users can browse through thousands of closed IT bids to discover valuable details about specific government contracts and the winning proposals that vendors submitted on them. Spending time learning about these closed bids not only provides the reader with insights to directly inform their own bid proposals, but it also allows vendors to learn more about their competitors in any state or subsector of IT contracting.
Examining closed IT contracts on BidNet can provide a wealth of useful information for vendors, including details about the inner workings of soliciting agencies, individual contact information and insights into the bidding process. For example, one closed IT contract listing on BidNet shows that in July of 2015, the city of Brookhaven, Georgia issued an RFQ for a vendor to deliver and install redundant data circuits at Brookhaven’s City Hall and local police and court facilities. The specifications of the contract are provided in detail, including technical requirements for the equipment sought. The RFQ notes that interested vendors must have a minimum of three years relevant experience and provide five unique references with contact information for each. The Request for Quote then goes on to list details about the data circuits that will have to be reinforced and added to; the related bid documents can even be downloaded directly from the listing page.
IT vendors who are currently pursuing contracts with public agencies can use closed bid information like this to craft their proposals in a way that precisely meets the requirements and expectations of purchasing managers.
Examples of Invitation to Bid, Bid Tabulation and Bid Awards
In February 2016, the Alabama county of Montgomery issued an Invitation to Bid on a computer hardware maintenance contract. The maintenance that the winning vendor would have to provide included the following specifics:
- Maintenance must include firmware, drivers, and any basic operating software for the equipment, and any fiber or copper cables internal to the cabinet or array for internal connections.
- The Principal Period of Maintenance will be normal business hours, 8 to 5, with response with four hours. Equipment should be repaired or replaced, whichever is more efficient. On-site maintenance is required.
- The principal equipment maintainers must be employees of the maintenance vendor and not a subcontractor…
Here, we can see just a few of the important contract terms that are meant to ensure maintenance response times, quality of service, and responsibility on the part of the winning vendor. The Invitation to Bid goes on to detail the equipment that the vendor will be expected to care for, including:
- Brocade DS-5100B Switch: 40-Ports w/40 Active
- EMC CX-480 with FLARE OS and Unisphere
- 40U Common Rack – 4 PDP
- CLRN 40UC Anti-Move Kit, and many other types of equipment.
After reviewing all of the contract requirements, interested vendors submitted their respective bids on this contract, and the buying agency created a Bid Tabulation with information about the top three bids and bidders. In the Bid Tabulation below, we can see that the bidders were KCI, Inc. of Mohawk, NJ; Alternative Maintenance Solutions of Peachtree City, GA; and Coast-to-Coast Computer Products of Simi Valley, CA.
After reviewing the submitted bid amounts, we see that KCI, Inc. submitted the lowest bid, indicating that they will win the contract.
By having access to detailed bid information like this, BidNet members are able to craft bid proposals that are informed by past awards in the IT industry, taking into account all of the factors that agencies are looking for when choosing a vendor.
Tip #3: Specify Your IT Subsector
An important part of crafting a winning bid is to make sure that you bid on contracts specific to your subsector of expertise. For example, if your business specializes in network infrastructure, pursue bids of that nature and avoid going after opportunities that include a broader mandate, like sourcing hardware or providing IT support services. Steering clear of broad-scope contracts can help reduce the number of vendors you have to compete against and improve your chances of winning.
Tip #4: Build Your Network of Agency Contacts
Making a simple phone call or sending an introductory email to the purchasing department of a government agency in your municipality, county or state is a good way to start building awareness about your business. Many public agencies are required to follow local-sourcing regulations when purchasing goods and services, and your business can benefit from this preferential treatment. Register as a vendor with your state business administration or equivalent, since this is usually a prerequisite to doing business with the government, and make sure that you have the necessary certifications to take on public contracts. Just completing these simple procedures can open up a world of opportunities.
Tip #5: Be Vigilant About Adhering To Contract Requirements
When working in the private sector, agreements and contracts can be a little more off-the-cuff. Small changes and updates are regularly done on the fly, often agreed to verbally, or sealed with a handshake or quick phone call. When working with the government, this is not the case. Vendors must follow the letter of the law and complete the contract requirements exactly as they are specified in the written agreement. If the delivery date for a product or service is 12pm on January 1, the vendor needs to provide it by 11:59:59 am on January 1 or they will technically be in breach of the contract. There can be serious penalties for even small breaches, so don’t take the risk: make sure that you meet every applicable responsibility in a contract, no matter how small.
This rule also applies to the process of submitting your proposal. For example, in a Request for Bid published by the City of Los Angeles, the form to follow for submitting a proposal is extremely precise. It requires that bidders:
- Write their bid either with a word processor, or in ink, with no erasures permitted. Any mistakes in the bid must be crossed out, with the associated correction typed or written in ink next to the error, then dated and initialed by the vendor.
- Each item in a bid must be priced separately and measured in the units specified by the contract.
- Each bid must be received in a separate, sealed envelope, with the bid number and closing date listed clearly on each packet.
- The brand name or make of each bid item must be listed, and in some cases must include the manufacturer’s name, product description and model number.
These are just a few of the requirements that must be met when submitting a proposal, and they all must be satisfied for an agency to even accept your bid.
By following the above tips, you can increase your chances of winning IT contracts with local, state and federal agencies. Remember to do your research, follow the requirements of the bidding process to the letter, and take the time to choose opportunities that perfectly match with your service offer.
Nathan Munn | BidNet.com