Thinking Like GSA Contracting Specialists
GSA Schedule program – the buyer’s perspective
The 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 getting GSA Schedules awards, negotiating better prices, and overall simplify your life as a government contractor.
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 think 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 – the 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 his or her job is to make sure all the rules and regulations are met. And there are a whole lot of them! The 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, the contracting officer must follow a number of FAR regulations when reviewing bids. However, at the same time it has some freedom in determining which bid to choose and how the buy for the federal agency has to be made. While there are dozens of objective factors to consider, there are many subjective factors the procurement equation also includes: the overall amount of purchase in dollars, qualification of contractors, type of work to be done, the buying agency etc. And 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. If you understand this, you can adapt your communication and submission with such complexities in mind, therefore 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 if you’ll take some effort to prepare your documents so that going through that checklist would take less time for the officer, he or she would be certainly grateful for that. And that in turn saves time and money for you.
How to understand federal buyer’s perspective
Understanding the buyer’s perspective is two-fold. There is the government buyer – a federal agency, or a municipal organization, or a state administration etc. The end user. And then there is a 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 for observation of 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 – yesterday). This is a conflict. The government has specific requirements to contractor’s performance and qualifications, but the officer cannot realistically estimate them. That’s a conflict too.
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 solution for a problem. 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 specific 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, you can place your 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 for 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.