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February 7, 2022

How to respond to RFPs and build business in the public sector

As the post-pandemic economy revs its engines, you may be looking for new and innovative ways to expand your business. For B2B companies, one option involves B2G, or government sales. Many government clients hold large accounts that offer significant potential for revenue generation.

However, the bar to government awards can seem prohibitively high, or tinged with negative sentiments about intensive competition and an unfamiliar sales process. For many, the formal Request for Proposals (RFPs) process, the gateway to government business, may be difficult to understand.

RFPs can be challenging to locate, and when you do find them, they can seem bureaucratic and burdensome. Add the fact that government contracts often require prior government experience, and you won’t be alone in thinking that gaining entry into the government market is something of a mysterious process.

Tom Lovering
Courtesy / GovWebworks
Tom Lovering

Having successfully served government clients for nearly two decades, we’re here to suggest that this seemingly complicated process can be demystified. Most vendors will find that government procurements are, in fact, a highly organized mode of bidding.

Seven tips to get you started

Define target states, departments and agencies. Figure out what you want to sell and who buys it, then find where they post their RFPs with some quick web searching, or a call to the pertinent procurement office. For example, if I search “sell office furniture to Maine government” I’m directed to this page that lists all of their bidding opportunities.

Register in the procurement system. Many states and municipalities use procurement systems that allow you to specify product and service codes, so you can be automatically notified of relevant opportunities.

Consider registering for an RFP service. There are quite a few paid options out there if you want to sell nationally and don’t want to register on each individual procurement system. One of the market leaders is GovWin, owned and operated by Deltek, and it does an exceptional job of comprehensively aggregating RFPs from local, state, and federal governments.

Get acquainted with the public RFP structure. It looks complicated, but it isn’t. They all tend to follow a standard format. In the typical RFP, you will find transmittal information (important dates, why it is being released), a Statement of Work or product description (what is being procured), general procurement terms and conditions or bid rules, bidding instructions (how to respond), information about the bid evaluation method (how you’ll be scored), and contract terms and conditions.

Ask questions. Almost every RFP includes an opportunity to submit questions in writing before you respond (usually by a set date). If you’re not sure about details of the project, or have questions about how to prepare your response, the agency is required to answer all questions, and they will usually share everything asked by other bidders too.

Follow the instructions in the RFP to the letter. Because government reviewers are often dealing with many bids, they are all too happy to disqualify an offer when it seems too hard to find the information they want. (Look for page count requirements!) You want to make the evaluation process as easy as possible by organizing your information exactly as instructed in the RFP. If a list of response items are provided, then make sure your submission precisely replicates the factor and subfactor headings, exactly as the government client has presented them. Clearly address pertinent points from the evaluation criteria, as well; evaluation criteria are more often than not distinct from bidder response instructions.  

Win or lose, always request a debrief. This is an opportunity to receive feedback on your offer, and it is also a very good opportunity to continue building and strengthening your client relationship. If you tell the customer that you will not protest the award, they sometimes provide a more comprehensive and transparent level of information.

One of the nicest things about government RFPs is that they represent business opportunities that are open to everyone. As long as you know where to look, you are usually welcome to participate. This can be quite different from private sector procurement, where you might never even be made aware of an RFP if you don’t have the right relationships in place.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that the 2022-23 government marketplace looks incredibly promising at this point, according to this article in GovTech, among others. Spending is currently projected at, or above, pre-pandemic levels. This means that there could be loads of opportunities awaiting you, paving the way to new and meaningful growth.

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