GSA Schedule Program – The Buyer’s Perspective; Thinking Like GSA Contracting Specialists

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Success of a company on the market is a sum of multiple factors. One of the most important factors among them is how well you know and understand your customers. This is equally true for the federal market. Knowing how federal buyers think can decently help you greatly with getting GSA Schedules awards, negotiating better prices, and overall simplifying your responsibilities as a government contractor.

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Why understanding contracting officers is important

If you think about the government as a complex machine relentlessly doing what has to be done, you are close to the truth. However, if you believe the GSA Schedule program works the same way, you are wrong. Just because the government publishes its RFQs, RFPs and other bidding opportunities does not mean you can just hop onto this train without understanding your clients – federal agencies, and their representatives – GSA contracting officers.

Establishing good personal relationships with your procurement officer is beneficial for your business in many ways:

You can prevent mistakes many contractors often make

The contracting officer is here to help you, but at the end of the day, it is his or her job to make sure all the rules and regulations are met. And there are a whole lot of them! A GSA officer is the one who can warn you beforehand about possible mistakes forcing him or her to reject your submission. Or he can just accept your submission as is, and then formally decline it, without giving you a chance to fix what is wrong.

You can raise chances your bid will be approved

In the procurement process, contracting officers must follow a number of FAR regulations when reviewing bids. However, at the same time they have some freedom in determining which bid to choose, and how to conduct the purchase for their respective agency. While there are dozens of objective factors to consider, there are many subjective factors within the procurement equation, such as: the overall dollar amount of purchase, qualification of contractors, type of work to be done, the buying agency etc. The officer can solely decide which ones of these subjective factors to take into account.

You can save time and money

The GSA officer is a real man, of flesh and blood. He or she has its difficulties, problems, concerns. Understanding this enables you to adopt methods of communication and submission with such complexities in mind, thereby making the officer’s work a bit easier. Which in turn leads to better and clearer communication, and hence saves you time and money.

Here is an example. Take a look at this checklist. This is what a contracting officer must go through for every GSA Schedule order. Notice that almost every point refers to some FAR clause. So your efforts to prepare the documents on the checklist in such a way as to reduce the officer’s review time, would certainly prompt a degree of gratitude by the officer. And this would in turn save your time and money.

How to understand federal buyer’s perspective

Understanding the buyer’s perspective is two-fold. There is the government buyer – a federal agency, a municipal organization, or a state administration etc. The end user. And then there is the GSA contracting specialist whose goal is to make sure all the rules are followed during the procurement process. As a contractor, you should understand both sides.

Federal agencies and the contracting officer often conflict

Your actual client is a federal agency. It is the agency who decides they need some product or service based on past experience, consultations with experts, meetings with corporate sales people, market analysis, and dozens of other factors. On the other hand, the contracting officer is in charge of adherence to rules and regulations. He is the one you communicate with. He is the one who decides whether you will be awarded or not.

Assessment of all factors by the officer may slow down the entire procurement process, while the government typically wants everything now or better yet – yesterday. This is a conflict. The government has specific requirements for contractor’s performance and qualifications, but the officer cannot realistically estimate them. That too is a conflict.

But the correct and the most efficient way for you to think about this is… partnership. The federal end user and the procurement officer are two partners. You are the third partner. All three of you work in cooperation to deliver the best possible solutions to problems. Think about GSA Schedule program this way, and you will immediately realize the importance of understanding the buyer’s perspective.

What exactly you should consider

As we said above there are many specifics in the procurement process, from all three sides (you, the PCO, and the federal buyer). For instance:

  • Ordering process. If you understand how contracting officers prepare and submit orders to acquisition platforms, and how they review bids, enables you to place bids more efficiently.
  • Payment types. There are multiple ways for the federal agency to pay for a contract. They can use credit cards to pay for orders below $3000. Then, there is a simplified acquisition procedure for contracts below $100,000. There are purchase orders and task orders.
  • Agency specifics. Each federal agency has its own requirements, standards, wants and needs. For example, being “green” becomes utterly important if you want to sell to Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Competition. Just placing your bid is not enough, as all other contractors will do that too. Analyzing competitors and making your offer look more attractive to the federal buyers is the way to win more bids.
  • FAR clauses. Sometimes the contracting officer simply cannot accept your otherwise great offer because it conflicts with some FAR regulations. Surely, slicing and dicing the entire FAR is not necessary, but understanding the basics of it can really help you out.

So, if you are serious about GSA contracting, you should start thinking from the point of view of a federal buyer, or hire someone who already does.

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  • Hi! I read your blog from time to time. My business seems to meet the requirements you already described in your earlier articles. But can I get an answer without consulting – should I get involved now when the world economy is so unstable because of the pandemic?

  • We are all equal before the law, so both the civil servant and I as a businessman are just doing our jobs. It’s nothing personal. Establishing a personal relationship with a police officer doesn’t necessarily mean he’s protecting me on the streets, and I’m paying taxes to get him paid. So I think it doesn’t make any difference whether I know a GSA officer personally or not – if my business doesn’t meet the conditions, it won’t be accepted anyway, and if it is accepted, it doesn’t matter if I know who will do it.

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