Brilliant Market Research for Free

The Deltek GovWin platform is an amazing tool. It aggregates a huge amount of data on government purchases, buyers and vendors into one place and offers a user-friendly interface to make it easy to plow through. But for many small and emerging businesses the price tag is daunting. The annual fee for the bare-bones version for the smallest of companies is $7 to $10K the last time I checked. Other vendors like GovPurchase offer a similar product at a smaller price but with fewer features.

This leads many startups to miss out on market intel for development decisions. But you know what?

You don’t have to pay that big subscription tab…

….to get the government sales data you need. All of it is pulled Federal Procurement Data System (FPDS Next Generation) and it is free. While there is a learning curve for FPDS (like there is for GovWin) for some data dives it is easier and more flexible. In this blog post I am going to show you 3 easy ways and one less easy way to have fun in FPDS and find some cool info to help you figure out where your next government contract is coming from.

Ready…Set….GO!

1.     Find out your competitor's book of business.

Start off on FPDS.gov and in the search window type in the name of a competitor-partner that you want to know more about. We will look at a prominent PR firm in the government space, Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide.

Type in the legal name of the vendor…

Type in the legal name of the vendor…

Depending on how common the company name is in the database, you might get a clean search result this way. (To get the most from this post, click thru the hyperlinks to see the FPDS screens I’m referring to.) If the company name is not unique, or if you want to make sure that you have all their contract awards included even for the different versions of their company name, look up their DUNS number on SAM.gov (for Ogilvy PR it is 116191875) and get a much sharper data pull. Look at the left navigation bar and there you will see that this company is a champ in the National Institutes of Health with 380 actions as of this writing. You can go over to the right navigation bar and click on one of the links there to sort by Date Signed to put the newer awards at the top, Action Obligation to put the larger awards at the top. This database contains ALL contract actions for awards over $3,000 across the government with very few exceptions (think national security). If you are interested in cooperative agreements and grant awards, you’ll have to head over to USASpending.gov. But for contracts, FPDS is the primary source from which everyone else pulls their data.

2.     Find out when that competitor’s contract expires.

Keeping with Ogilvy for now, let’s say you have heard that they have a juicy contract in NIH that is expiring in FY 2020. How can you find it? Go back to the search by their DUNS number and click on National Institutes of Health on the left nav bar. Click on that button at the top of the screen that says advanced search and then ADD in the little Advanced Search box that appears under it.

The Advanced Search option

The Advanced Search option

The window that appears underneath is a drop-down menu of dozens of attributes of the contract actions that you can do further search on. The cool slicing and dicing you can do with these attributes is just too much to get into in a single blog post. For now, select Estimated Completion Date and then enter today’s date and 09/30/2020 and Presto! you have 9 contract actions for Ogilvy in NIH that are set to expire before the end of FY 20.  

 [FYI, FPDS is updated with new contract actions every day. By the time you click the link the number of actions may have changed.]

 3.     Find out what agencies buy your product or service offering.

Pretty much everyone is aware of the NAICS codes for their offering, but did you know that the Product Service Code (PSC) is often a better search criterion for finding relevant contracts? Whichever way you choose to search, you can usually just drop the PSC or NAICS code in the EZ-Search window for a rough cut. Let’s say you sell Medical Billing services and you want to see what part of the government buys this. The corresponding NAICS code is 524291 -- CLAIMS ADJUSTING but a more specific option is PSC Code Q601-- MEDICAL CODING AND AUDITING. Have a look at the left navigation bar to see the different agencies that buy under this PSC code and the top vendors. This ranking is by the number of contract actions, and many times a contract action is administrative meaning it has no dollars associated with it. If you want to know how has the most dollars awarded, you will need to export this data pull into a CSV file and start breaking it down which bring me to my last tip….

4.  Deep Market Analysis  

Here is where things get real fun for me (and a little geek-y too). You can create powerful reports to drive marketing decisions. If you really want to dig deep into your EZ-Search results, you can punch that little CSV button near the top right of your screen to download all the data in the current search into a comma separated values file that can be converted into a Microsoft Excel file for further analysis using Pivot Tables. (with certain limits set by FPDS. I think the max # of records you can download is 30,000)

The magic Download CSV Button

The magic Download CSV Button

Go to the file that FPDS put on your computer (usually named SearchResults.csv sometimes with a number after) and open it with MS Excel. The first thing to do is to save it as a Excel Workbook because Pivot Tables will not work in the CSV format. Now click on the Insert tab then in the far left edge of the ribbon you will see “Insert Pivot Table.” If you are new to pivot tables, please don’t be afraid, they are not as complicated as you might think. All they do is to create tables from a large data set so you can see patterns in the data.

Click on Insert/Pivot Tables on the ribbon and Excel will automatically select the whole data set and create a new tab in your Excel workbook to create the pivot table.

Finding the Pivot Table Button on the Insert Ribbon in MS Excel

Finding the Pivot Table Button on the Insert Ribbon in MS Excel

Up will pop a new worksheet (tab) with a blank Pivot Table. See the list of fields on the right side of your screen near the top? These are all the columns in the dataset you just downloaded. You can select an attribute from the data set for the rows and columns of the tables to create tables showing you the top vendors for this PSC Code, the award volume by Set-Aside, Award Type (Definitive Contract, Delivery Order, Purchase Order) or geography. In this example below, I chose Global Vendor Name for the rows and asked it to sum up the values for the Action Obligations at the end of each row.

A pivot table showing the awarded dollars to vendors for PSC Code Q601

A pivot table showing the awarded dollars to vendors for PSC Code Q601

Here are the top vendors selling medical billing services (more than $200 million under this PSC alone—who knew!) to the federal government. There are some great online videos that will teach you how to use Pivot Tables (it is not crazy hard to learn) and you can really start digging into the FREE DATA on FPDS.

Reality Check Time

It’s no secret that FPDS is the wellspring for public information about government contractors and their contracts. And FPDS is the source of the basic data offered by all the paid services.

However, the real value-added of the paid services is RAPID ACCESS TO MARKETING INTEL that you won’t find on the FPDS. Things like predecessor RFPs and contracts, advance notice of Industry Days, links to procurement-specific news, one-click real-time availability of RFP amendments, agency contact information, and so on.

FPDS is fine if you’re tracking one, two, maybe three opportunities. FPDS’ data download and refinement tools are terrific. FedBizOpps is a good supplement from which you can get good - if not exactly timely or deep-dive - marketing intel. And it is a poor capture manager who doesn’t utilize both of these free services on a daily basis. Specifically, FPDS’ data downloads to Excel are invaluable to pricing analysts.

But if you’re a substantial company tracking 8-10 opportunities at a time, month after month, the time you save and the ready availability of intel you get with a paid service can very well outweigh your costs with just a win or two. Plus, remember that discounts are the name of the game with the paid services; don’t think you have to pay the list price.

Don’t Cut Out your Brain to Save your Budget

The bottom line is that is you aren’t leveraging these market data in some way (thru a paid service or FPDS/FBO) then you are not using your proposal and BD budgets wisely. You can’t make smart business decisions if you do not leverage the data that are out there for all to access. We get more into the importance of market data in this blog post. ZKDS also can create a comprehensive market research report for your offering area.

Want to talk more about your company’s market research needs? Just hit this online form to request a free consultation!