The government RFP process is notoriously complex for responders. So, we searched for an expert in the space who could demonstrate the best strategy for success.
Recently we chatted with Kevin Switaj, BZ Opportunity Management’s President and CEO. In this podcast interview, Kevin delivers actionable protips and insights to help anyone responding to government RFPs. Take note, and get ready to win!
Improve your government RFP process with actionable insights
Best practices that make RFP government bids easier
Kevin, the RFPIO team knows you well from events like APMP, conversations on social media, and we’ve had you on our blog as a thought leader before. Earlier this year you started your own company, BZ Opportunity Management. Can you tell us a bit about your new venture?
BZ Opportunity Management is a small consulting firm that provides bid management, process optimization, and training services—primarily to small and midsize government contractors. We focus on exceeding our client’s expectations with each interaction by delivering highly personalized and targeted support.
You’ve worked with both government contractors and proposal management professionals across a range of industries. How is responding to government RFPs different from other RFPs?
When you’re working in the federal RFP government space, the main thing to keep in mind is the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR). The FAR governs and regulates everything we do.
It focuses on how government evaluators and procurement folks can communicate with the industry, both before and after a solicitation comes out. The FAR also talks about how the government evaluates proposals and how they must provide certain types of information after they make a decision.
When you’re responding to government RFPs, here are a few important things to be aware of:
- Prepare to work within the highly constrained structure of the FAR.
- Make sure your proposal fully meets FAR requirements.
- Engage and communicate with the government in the right way.
Recently we’ve seen a proliferation of what are called multi-work contracts, or IDIQ (Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity) contracts. These contracts preselect a number of bidders to go after certain task orders coming out under that vehicle. The government has been using these multi-work contracts to promote competition and to decrease turnaround time.
What are the top three challenges a government RFP responder faces? And, how can they overcome those challenges?
Compliance – Any time you’re responding to a government RFP, you must be compliant with the requirements provided in the initial solicitation. Give all the information they’re asking for—in the format they’re asking for. Not doing so is the easiest way to get thrown out of the competition.
Engagement – Have clear win themes, solutions, and strategies that show why you are the right company to do this work for the government. Coming up with a compelling government RFP response relies both on having great information about the client and having people who can write that information in a way that resonates with your evaluators.
Resources – Contributors and proposal management leadership must be able to put together high-quality RFP responses. Have well-trained resources in-house, and outsource as needed to reliable organizations. Your proposal management team should be familiar with how to put together compliant proposals and be engaged in APMP and other industry organizations.
“Winning RFP government bids comes down to having the right team. You need strong, engaged leadership who believe that proposals are critical to the organization’s success.”
As a whole, the proposal management industry has evolved over the past few years, and technology has played an important role in that evolution. How is technology improving the process for those responding to government RFPs?
At the recent APMP Bid and Proposal Con, there were a number of panels about virtual teams and proposals. The proliferation of proposal management tools are making it easier for everybody, especially government contractors responding to government RFPs with geographically dispersed teams.
You need strong collaboration tools that help you put together a really good government RFP response. Technology like RFP software allows government contractors to pull from a wider pool of resources. It allows for cost savings, because you don’t have to bring everyone into your corporate office.
1. Write RFP responses that show you know the client.
Submit a proposal that solves the evaluator’s problems and headaches. They don’t want to just hear about what you can do as a contractor. They want to make sure that what you offer relates to what they need.
2. Have a standardized and flexible process.
Government solicitations can vary dramatically from two or three-day task order turns to 120-day full RFPs with five volumes and lots of production requirements. You need a standard process that guides your folks from solicitation to submission, but it needs to be flexible to account for the requirements.
3. Make government RFPs a focus at your organization.
Too often we see everyone step back when an RFP comes in, leaving whoever is standing there to work on the responses alone. Nowadays, there are so many government contractors competing for work. In a tightening market, it’s really important to get the best of the best engaged and involved in your government RFPs to ensure success.
Generally, resources for RFP responders can be difficult to find. What are some useful resources you’ve come across that are specific to government RFP responders?
With the government space, you often have documentation and reporting out there about agency, and even sub-agency needs. Government CIOs speak to Congress, but they also speak to various industry publications. Most agencies release their strategic plans as well. So, there’s a lot you can get by keeping up with the news and industry sites.
It’s extremely helpful to stay connected with industry specific resources, like NCMA and APMP. Both of these resources will help you understand best practices to improve your government RFP responses and processes.
Lastly, if you only had a few minutes in the same room with a government RFP responder, what is the most valuable piece of advice you would offer?
The key thing is communication.
In the past couple of years, we’ve seen some positive moves with open communication requirements in the Defense Authorization Acts. There have also been several memoranda from the government side about being more willing to meet with and engage with the industry.
But, there hasn’t been a large amount of bridge-building across that chasm. It really should be a partnership between the contractors who are looking to provide the best proposals—and the best services possible—and their clients. Unfortunately a lot of times in the acquisition process, we don’t have that openness. And we really need to be able to build those bridges.
When a government contractor loses a bid, the debrief is very generic and vanilla. The contractor doesn’t understand why they lost. Then they don’t want to work with that agency or bid on work with that agency again. The government worries if they give too much information away, there’s going to be a protest. So, they pull back even more.
We’ve seen this vicious cycle over the last several years, and hopefully both sides are starting to move to a better understanding. Communicating between the industry and the government is critical for both sides to get what they need and want out of the engagement.
Learn about government RFPs on the go…
President and CEO at BZ Opportunity Management
Kevin Switaj, PhD CF APMP is president and CEO of BZ Opportunity Management, a consulting firm providing high-quality bid management, process optimization, and training support. He is an experienced bid manager who provides full life cycle opportunity management. He has successfully developed and implemented processes for numerous companies. A multiple-award winning writer, he serves on the APMP National Capital Area Board of Directors and is a regular presenter at both regional and international bid and proposal management conferences. A proposal professional for a decade, he has degrees from Rutgers University, Villanova University, and Indiana University.