You’ve Won! But, So Did Everyone Else Standing Out in the Crowd on Your New IDIQ
It’s an exciting day in your office, you’ve received an award notice! Pop the champagne, kids our hard work payed off and now we have…well, now we have a chance to bid for some real money. Just as the news settles in, you take to LinkedIn and you find that you are one of more than 100 awardees on this new vehicle (cough, ITES-3S, cough). That’s a lot of awardees, and while yes, technically, the field of competition is smaller, the ceiling on the contract didn’t grow – oh my.
This is a pivotal moment, a diamond on the workflow of your company’s growth, a decision point. Are you going to continue business as usual and hope to win on your new vehicle? Or, will you put concentrated effort into setting yourself up to differentiate from the crowd, and let’s not lie to ourselves, friends, 100 contractors is a crowd.
Let’s talk about what it takes to stand out.
Balancing Quality with Responsiveness
Big new contract vehicles come with one thing for certain these days – a backlog. Slow procurements and protests can delay the award of these vehicles for months, if not years, and that causes a backlog of programs to be competed. Hopefully, you are ready. Well…here’s the thing, and I really hate to be the one to break this to you but, hope is not a strategy. I am going to say that again for the people in the back (I’m even going to change fonts to make sure everyone catches this):
Hope. Is. Not. A. Strategy.
Small contractors can get lost in the crowd on an IDIQ for a lot of reasons, but the one we see the most is not balancing quality with responsiveness. What we mean by this is simple: Are you sacrificing quality to throw spaghetti at walls? Or Are you sacrificing low-hanging fruit because your processes can’t keep up with the pace of your customer? Let’s explore.
Throwing Spaghetti at the Wall
We’ve all heard the expression, some of us have even tested it (or daresay taught our kids to test it) “Throw spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks”. There are Task Order shops all over the beltway that use this tried and true method as their strategy to maximize their ROI in their contract vehicles, no doubt I can think of one or two business owners who have outgrown their size standard doing just that. But, at what cost?
Companies that take this approach also take on risk, which isn’t always a bad thing, but should always be calculated, tracked, and mitigated. They seem to bid everything and bid it low buying up work, performing ok(ish), and subcontracting out huge parts of their work. These companies don’t have a great retention rate and they don’t have a reputation for delivering high quality work. Known for exactly what they do – throwing spaghetti at walls. Win rates are low, but they bid enough to keep revenue where they need it. The reputational risk here is significant, you may win but you will be hard-pressed to be considered anything more than the dreaded “beltway bandit” consistently winning the race to the bottom, significantly struggling on real best value trade-offs and constantly turning over your staff. Bidding like this is exhausting, to the contractor, it’s team-mates, and the government.
Process Standing in the Way of Productivity
It’s highly likely that we have all been here right? Waiting for the bid decision to open the flood gates for a bid, knowing that we can’t send out teaming agreements, start charging B&P, activate the phone tree, and a myriad of other start up activities on that perfect bluebird because we have to wait for the formal approval – and our process takes time, so much time.
This is the heart song of frustrated capture and proposal managers around the industry, who can’t get the traction they need early because the process is standing in their way. Look, I LOVE a solid strategic bid, love it love it love it. But, the adrenaline rush of reading that perfectly placed bluebird, the one that came out of the sky and landed on my shoulder, the one I KNOW I can win, there is nothing as sweet as that. There is also nothing that kills moral faster then crushing those bluebirds under the heel of burdensome process.
Bluebirds are not spaghetti bids, bluebirds fit our capabilities, our strategies, and our pricing schemas.
They come from vehicles we have pre-vetted as an organization to include work and customers that we can deliver and serve without increasing our risk. These bids are pleasant surprises, sweet takeaways, and revenue drivers. We have all read response requirements and thought “That’s too much in too little time” only to pass and see that our nemesis picked up the work. Why? Not necessarily because they are better at it, but because they were willing and ready.
How do I Get Ready?
This is both simple and complex at the same time. It’s amazingly difficult to balance quality with responsiveness in a rapid response environment, I will not lie to you about that. To succeed the way most want to, you must start to view Rapid Response opportunities as inherently different from, yet intrinsically similar to, Full and Open opportunities.
Here are some key success factors, that in all my travels, I have seen work over and over again.
Know Your Customer
No, really. I know it’s a trope and I can hear you rolling your eyes. Roll them all you want, but you would be amazed at the basic things that bidders don’t understand about their customers. What are the budgetary drivers? The real ones, like from the actual budget – not from your buddy who “thinks” this is important. Are there legislative or policy drivers? Is this someone’s pet project? Has progress been made on this issue to date? Answers to these questions make proposals credible and technical and management approaches low risk. On a single agency IDIQ, you have an opportunity to build this knowledge ahead of time – if you don’t do it, someone else will.
Know Your Capabilities (and Your Team’s Capabilities)
Seriously, you would not believe the number of BD managers and capture managers who have told me that they “have to get back to me” or that they “aren’t sure” about whether they have the past performance or even just the capability to perform work. It never fails to amaze me that it can be your primary job to position your company for growth, yet you don’t have a firm grasp on what you do. Fix that, immediately, if not sooner. Take advantage of the relatively limited scope of your contract vehicle and learn about everywhere you do this type of work, and everyone who does it. Make friends with your Program and Project Managers. Know what they do, update it often. Do the same with your teammates. Don’t settle for a clueless or brand-new BD’er being your only point of contact. Get in there and learn. Know your go-to’s, keep a list, keep it current. Rely on the data, not the drama to make key bid and teaming decisions quickly. There is no excuse for this kind of ignorance, and if someone in your organization doesn’t understand what you do and what you’ve done and is unwilling to learn; they have no place in your organization. Period. End of story. You will never change my mind on this.
Build a Process for Rapid Response
I do believe in process (I feel like every time I say this out loud a quality manager gets their wings). But, the key to process is that it enables business, not the other way around – never the other way around. With that said, you wouldn’t use the instructions on a box of hot pockets to make a four-course meal. So, why would you use a full (96-step!) business development lifecycle driven process for a rapid response effort? Look, it kills moral, it makes the bluebirds more trouble then they are worth, and it damages your ability to be responsive to your customer. Build yourself a rapid response process, treat Rapid Response opportunities as what they are: Different from full and open.
Use Your Infrastructure as a Differentiator
Yep, you heard me. Build out your rapid response capability. The underlying processes, the enabling technologies, and the right people. Then let them all work together to differentiate you from the crowd. Because if you do that right – they will.
How do I Win More?
Winning on your vehicle is a highly complex formula with a lot of variables. But, figuring out those variable and factors; then building you what you need to succeed is exactly what I do here at TWRG. Want to chat about it? Click here and set up a free Rapid Response Readiness Consultation to talk about strategies to revolutionize your contract vehicle and win more to maximize your ROI. Not ready to talk? Be sure to subscribe so you never miss an installment of the Rapid Response Rabbit.
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