You are a government contractor (or an aspiring government contractor). You have done your research and you know the government agencies you want to target. Now the BIG question is: Should you sign-up for a Bid/Request-for-Proposal (RFP) system?
If you are unaware, a "Bid/RFP system" is a technology solution that aggregates information pertaining to the pending bids and RFPs released by government agencies. As with most technologies, there are numerous solution-providers that offer systems with a wide-range of features and functionalities. The differing solutions are sold to government contractors of all types and sizes—large contractors and small contractors, ones that sell nationally, ones that sell in just one region or state, ones that offer numerous products/services, and ones that offer just one item.
So does your company need a Bid/RFP system? The following is a general overview of these systems and some of the variables to consider when evaluating if your company should purchase one.
- Web-Crawler. The core component of almost every Bid/RFP system is an automated "web-crawler" technology that scans the websites of municipality governments on a daily basis to capture new bids or RFPs the municipality has released. In today's technologically advanced world, most municipalities post the purchases they are considering on their website. The companies that offer Bid/RFP systems utilize a variety of (web-crawler) technologies to monitor as many government websites as possible to accumulate the largest number of pending bids/RFPs. Typically, the more bids/RFPs in a company's system, the higher price they can charge for their solution.
- Add-On Services. In addition to the core bid/RFP data (obtained from a "web-crawler"), some companies also offer a variety of services designed to help contractors be more successful with the overall bid/RFP process. These add-on services can include: contract management, identification of channel partners and/or subcontractors, industry reports, historical analysis, government consulting services, etc. Again, not all of the solution providers offer these additional services. Some of the companies just offer the pending bid/RFP data; you could have a hard-time reaching an actual "live person" at some of the companies.
- Bid Processing. In an effort to differentiate themselves, some of the bid/RFP solution-providers have expanded their technology to include a module that allows government agencies to post their bids/RFPs directly through the solution-provider's system, and also allows government contractors to electronically submit their bid/proposal through the bid/RFP system. This feature typically helps make the overall bid/RFP process more efficient, but requires cooperation from the bid/RFP solution-provider, the government agency, and the potential contractors.
Agency & Geographic Coverage
Two of the most significant variables in evaluating Bid/RFP systems is determining how many agencies each system gathers data from and what geographic area (national, state, or local) the solution covers. Each of the bid/RFP solution-providers should be able to quickly provide the number of agencies they are gathering data from—and the current count of total pending bids/RFPs in their system. In addition, they will be able to tell you if they are focused on gathering data from agencies across the country, in just a particular region, or a singular state.
Obviously, as you evaluate various Bid/RFP systems, you need to ensure the solution covers the agencies and geographic area that your company is targeting.
The old adage: "You get what you pay for" is definitely true for Bid/RFP systems. As mentioned previously, there are a large number of solutions available to government contractors, with prices that range from Free, to $20/month, to $15,000+ per year. The wide range in system costs reflects the wide range of contractors that do business with the government. A small landscaping company seeking to expand its business to several local agencies requires a Bid/RFP system that is significantly different from one for a large federal defense contractor attempting to win international defense contracts. You need to find the system that is right for your business.
The following are some of the currently available the Bid/RFP systems (Note: I'm not recommending or endorsing any of these companies. I am merely providing some options to start your analysis of the various systems):
You Make the Call
So does your company need to utilize a Bid/RFP system? The answer is: It depends. It depends on how many products/services your company offers and how those items are typically purchased by the government. It also depends on the size of your company and volume of business you expect to do with the government.
As mentioned, today, almost all agencies post their pending purchases on their agency's website. If you are targeting just a few agencies, you may be able to monitor all of the bids/RFPs on your own. However, if you are offering a commodity product to wide range of agencies across a large geographic region, you probably need a bid/RFP system to ensure you don't miss a strategic opportunity.
The most valuable advice I can provide is to ask the government purchasing representatives at the top agencies you are targeting. They will advise you regarding the systems they are aware of, and if they utilize any specific systems for their bid/RFP processing efforts. Follow their guidance. Don't "fight the system," and don't be "too cheap" to invest in the "proper" system for your company.