Research is the Key to Effective BD

Five ways Market Research Data Save you Money.

One really nice thing about government buying is that it is publicly documented from start to finish. These are critical data that you must gather, analyze and use to drive your marketing planning and resource allocation.

Nearly all government purchases are recorded in databases that are made available to the public. Whether you are cheap - like me - and access these data through the freebies ( or or you pay a subscription to access the same data, packaged somewhat more conveniently, through the slicker databases like GovWin, Bloomberg or GovPurchase, you simply must get into these data. Why? Because your competitors are! If you are in the contracting business and you are not using these data to get in front of procurements, you are wasting precious marketing and BD dollars. 

Here are 5 ways that diligent market research saves you time, effort and money. 

1. Focus your efforts on the right agency. I recently conducted a market research report for a small company that has a robust commercial business in a niche financial service. They wanted to use the market research report to help them choose the right agency to target with their limited marketing dollars. I narrowed the field down to two groups:

Group A comprised 2 agencies representing 50% of the known market for their service. But those agencies purchased these services through only 6 contractors over the last 5 years.

Group B comprised 2 other agencies representing 30% of the market - but they purchased through 21 contractors.

Now I don't know whether you want to make a play to break into Group A’s little club with the big dollar contracts, or make your play in Group B’s more open field for smaller contracts. But isn’t having that data to inform your decision a lot better than guessing?

Oh – and then what if I let it drop that 4 of the 6 contractors in Group A were Native American-owned businesses? How might that affect your decision? 

2. Make sure you are on the right contract vehicle to qualify for the work when the RFP comes out. Recently, I was working with a medium sized public relations (PR) firm that had an excellent commercial business running, and wanted to enter the federal marketplace. We came up with a list of 4 agencies that they would like to target. They had been told that a GSA contract was required in order to sell their services to these agencies. I recommended that they dig into some data before making the investment. One of the most surprising findings of my report to them was that 3 of the 4 agencies bought less than 20% of their PR services through the GSA schedule. The 4th agency purchased about 90% of their PR work through GSA. In other words, the 4th, GSA-focused agency had at least one pretty sure thing going, that made them into a more direct target.

There are people out there that will tell you one of two things:

  • the GSA schedule is falling out of favor. You really don't need it to sell to the government.

  • the GSA schedule is absolutely necessary to be competitive in today's marketplace.

The truth is that both are correct or incorrect, depending on the agency and the product or service. The only way to know which one is true for YOU is to research your target agency's buying patterns. 

My colleague Jennifer Schaus likes to remind people that 60 percent of vendors holding GSA contracts have recognized Zero Revenue through them. Don't spend time and money getting on a mechanism that you don't need because your target agency doesn't use it!

3. Prepare for opportunities coming before the RFP drops. The feds buy stuff in predictable ways. If Agency X put out a 5-year contract for buying widgets 4 years ago and they still need widgets, you can predict that right now they are thinking about how they will re-compete that contract. And like the rest of us busy folk, they start planning the re-compete by looking at how they did it last time. And that’s your cue: Go to FedBizOpps and drag up the RFP from four years ago, and study how long it took to award and what kinds of hurdles the winner needed to clear. Since you are a leading widget expert, the winning vendor, or even the agency, might like to have a conversation about cutting edge widgetry so they can work that into the revised RFP.

Time is perhaps the most undervalued driver of your win percentage. If widgets are what you sell, now is the time that you should be working on getting more competitive for that procurement. Can you access the previous RFP? At the very least you can find out who holds the current contract and what is its total value? Then you can research the incumbent and figure out if you can do the same thing for less. The spoils go to the smart and the well-prepared. You may have a brilliant team and a knock-‘em-outta’-the-park solution to sell to the government, but the reality is -- so do a bunch of competitors. And they are preparing for this proposal before the starting gun. Don't fall behind by waiting for the new RFP to drop! Start studying the previous one(s).

4. Scope out the competition and find bidding partners. In previous posts, we have reviewed these databases – both free and paid - filled with all sorts of intelligence about government purchasing patterns. So with the right search terms, NAICS codes or PSC codes, you can get a good idea of who is playing in the market you want to enter. If you are trying to break in, this is your guidebook to the players that are already in your target agency.

Do you have something they need? Maybe you can partner. What are their strengths and weaknesses? Can you beat them on pricing or maybe technical superiority? Have they outgrown their small-ness in their NAICS code? Maybe they are looking for a small partner they can trust? If one company – or a large one - has held the contract for 26 years, how does the agency’s small-business advocate feel about that?

5. Get in on the Sources-Sought Notice and coax the procurement into your set-aside. Every agency in the government has negotiated small business set-asides with the Small Business Administration (SBA). Contracting officers are required to do market research to determine if small or disadvantaged business can perform the scope of a contract. According to the Rule of 2, they must encourage small business participation if they can find qualified and responsible smalls.

I was recently working with a professional services company that wanted to bid on a big contract that comes out every 10 years. It is the biggest contract in their field, and in the whole US Government. Even better, they are a small business and highly qualified for the work. BUT …

But they found out about this work from the FedBizOpps notice of the RFP opening. If they had done their research and known in advance about this critical contract re-compete, they could have responded to the sources-sought a year before the recompete, and perhaps even influenced how the RFP and SOW were conceived and developed. Maybe the agency would have required a small business plan, and this would have given them an opening to be part of a team. Or maybe if the government found enough smalls that were qualified and responsible, they would have put some or all of it out as SB set-aside. Instead, the company found itself on the outside, looking in. By the time they saw the opportunity, the RFP had been issued with little accommodation to give smalls any advantage. There are no guarantees in this racket, but that looked to me like a missed opportunity.

I hope I have convinced you how essential market research data is in running a successful federal contracting business. ZK Development Solutions offers a Market Snapshot to help small contractors scope out their addressable market and the buying patterns of their target agency so they can build up a pipeline of opportunities to track. Shoot us an email and we'll be happy to chat with you about our Market Snapshot and how it can help position you for more and larger wins.