Finding Information on Future Procurements
In “Finding Official Buyers,” we talked about finding formal bid opportunity announcements, more popularly referred to as “bids.” That’s a fairly basic subject, one that is rather easy to discuss. Most of us understand bids because they’re unequivocal sales opportunities where an agency is announcing to the world its readiness to purchase.
Now we’re going to talk about information that is a bit subtler — requiring a bit more digging, if you will — but no less important: future procurements.
Savvy contractors understand that information on future procurements is invaluable. Why? Because knowing about future procurements is the key to getting to the prospective customer before competitors do.
When the formal bid comes out, everyone knows about it. When the opportunity is only in the planning stage, however, you may be the first to know about it. That’s a great position to be in: you’ll have the edge in understanding agency objectives and in preparing your proposal or otherwise explaining your company’s products and services. This is particularly important for technical services and complex products where the end-user often makes the purchasing decision.
But what do you look for? There are five important areas of information: procurement forecasts, sources sought/requests for information, contract awards, buyer and end-user purchasing histories and budgets.
Government agencies routinely publish forecasts of upcoming procurements. They do this to give contractors a “heads up” on future business opportunities by providing information on what the agencies are planning to buy and, in many cases, how much money they plan to spend.
While forecasts are for informational purposes and do not represent specific contractual obligations, they can be wonderful gold nuggets on where business will likely be down the road.
Where do you find them? Some government agencies publish procurement forecasts on the Internet. In fact, most federal agencies publish forecasts in various degrees of detail. An example is the Department of Justice forecast page at http://www.usdoj.gov/jmd/osdbu/forecast_2002.htm. Fedmarket.com publishes a list of federal procurement forecasts in their Jumpstation, http://www.fedmarket.com/sales_resources/jumpstation/forecasts/federal.html.
State and local agencies are less likely to publish procurement forecasts on the Internet. Fedmarket.com also publishes a rather small list of state and local forecasts in their Jumpstation, http://www.fedmarket.com/sales_resources/jumpstation/forecasts/state_local.html.
Bidengine.com, http://www.bidengine.com, provides a more convenient way to find procurement forecasts on the Internet. Bidengine searches by keyword about 478 Web pages (416 federal and 62 state and local) containing procurement forecast data. If you sold janitorial services, for example, Bidengine would tell you which agencies are planning to buy your services just by searching using the keyword JANITORIAL.
Sources Sought and Requests for Information
Sources sought and requests for information also can alert you to future procurements. Notices of this type — which are more detailed than forecasts — are generally published among an agency’s bid opportunities. At the federal level, both of these types of notices are published at the FedBizOpps site, http://www.fedbizopps.gov.
Reading contract award information can also alert you to future procurements. Why? For one basic reason: contracts tend to “repeat” themselves.
Most service contracts repeat themselves in a very predictable fashion. An agency won’t, for example, decide to stop cleaning a building or maintaining a facility. Contracts for these types of services must be re-procured with a start date IMMEDIATELY following the expiration date of the current contract.
Most product procurements repeat themselves too, although not necessarily concurrently. An agency buying office supplies will buy them again and again simply because it has to in order to operate. A state highway agency that bought trucks will buy new ones when the old ones wear out.
The key is to zero in on the end dates of existing contracts that match up with your capabilities. Three months to a year from the end date of a current contract, for example, is probably about right for a wide variety of opportunities. That range gives you time to convince agency program managers that your company will be the ideal one to replace the incumbent contractor. But the ideal lead-time does vary. For large federal contracts, for example, companies often begin the sales process several years in advance of the end date of the existing contract.
General strategy once you have contract information: Ask the buyer who the end-users are for the current contracts. Then get to the end-user with your sales pitch. Ask him how he likes the incumbent service contractor or how he likes the particular product. Research service or product pricing and quality. Focus on how your company can do the job better when the contract comes up for a “re-bid.”
Buyer and End-User Purchasing History
Knowing what individual buyers have bought and when they bought it can provide great insight in predicting future procurements. This kind of data is only readily available at the federal level. Our online service FedBiz Intelligence (FBI)) is one source that summarizes federal buying history. FBI tells you, by product/service category, the dates and dollar amounts of purchases made by individual federal buyers. For more information on FBI go to http://fbi.bidengine.com/.
When you’ve located a federal buyer who has bought the sort of stuff you sell, call him or her up and ask who the end-user is and when the next purchase is planned. This level of questioning would best be done with a personal visit, as opposed to a telephone call or a formal Freedom of Information request. Requests for public data can be time-consuming for a buyer, and it doesn’t do much good to obtain a lot of information and find yourself dealing with an angry buyer. A personal data collection visit would cut down on the impact on the buyer and allow you to begin to establish a personal relationship.
The value of budget information in predicting procurement activity is proportional to the detail provided in the published budget.
Basically, what you’re looking for are trends in spending with regard to your individual product or service category. If you own, say, an accounting firm in Portland, Oregon and you find that the city has doubled its accounting services budget for fiscal year 2002, that’s critical information if you want to do business with the city. There will likely be some procurement announcements coming in the near future, and you will be more prepared to respond effectively when they’re published.
Locating and analyzing budget information can be hard work. Like we often suggest, start with the government Web site to lead you to contact information or even (if you’re very lucky) the budget itself. In most cases, after you’ve done the site review, you’ll need to grab the phone and start dialing.
There are consulting firms that can do this work for you if you’re willing to pay top dollar. The more well known ones (FedSources and Input, for example) focus almost exclusively on the information technology sector.
© Copyright 2002, Wood River Technologies, Inc.