Do you know the critical questions to ask when you have an 'identified' opportunity?

Identifying contract opportunities years ahead of time is just the start. Do you know the right questions to ask to get the most value out of that opportunity?

The one thing you can’t do during this time is sit still.

One of the questions many government contractors ask themselves before deciding whether or not to pursue an opportunity is this: “How early in the procurement cycle was this opportunity identified?”

This probably sounds simpler than it is. 

For a start, what does “identified” mean? For example, if your business developer is talking to a government program manager and hears something like, “You know, someplace down the road, we might be moving to more cloud computing,” is that an opportunity that has been identified?

Most business developers would probably put that under the heading of “interesting” and file it away.  Few would turn a comment like that into an entry in the corporate identified opportunities data base.

Two years later when that same business developer hears the same official say, “In six months we’ll be issuing a solicitation for a $10 million cloud computing initiative,” it’s a different story. But if the business developer kept track of that interesting tidbit since the earlier comment, it’s been at a lot of different stages in between.

At some point before this formal announcement, if the business developer has been keeping up on his “interesting” list, there was an “identified” point. How do you track it?

Another nuance is “funded.” Some business developers don’t consider an opportunity identified until it’s funded. This presents an interesting chicken and egg question: A government program manager can’t get funding until he has a pretty clear idea of what he wants to do with that funding. If he has to struggle to document what he wants to buy before he can get funding, at what point could it be identified?

And if you wait until he has developed his requirement to the point where he can actually get funding, there is a good chance that it’s past the point where the contractor can significantly impact and shape the procurement.

Another interesting aspect of this issue is, what’s better? If it’s a $100 million opportunity and it can be identified two years in advance, that’s probably better from the perspective of getting it to an actual solicitation and win. On the other hand, if it’s a $1 million opportunity and it can be identified two years in advance, there must be something wrong with the requirement.

The concept may have technical or political opponents in the proponent’s office and there’s a good chance that it will never get to the solicitation stage.

The cost of winning is a factor, too. If it’s a $100 million opportunity and it can be identified far enough in advance that a company can spend $1 million chasing it, it’s probably a pretty good return on investment. If it’s a $10 million opportunity and it can be identified far enough in advance that a company can spend$1 million chasing it, the profit is probably already spent before the contract is signed.

So, there’s not a one-size-fits-all answer to the question: How early in the procurement cycle was this opportunity identified?

  • The standard for “identified” needs to be flexible. There may even be legitimate situations where an opportunity makes the list as identified, and then the business developer circles back and says, “No, really, I ‘identified’ this one a year ago.”
  • “Funded” is a distractor if it gets in the way of opportunity identification. There is a risk of losing the win out of the starting gate if a company waits until it can confirm funding until it starts the pursuit.
  • Return on investment needs to be considered. If the bidder actually does something about the identified opportunity during the period between when it is identified and when the solicitation is released, there’s a chance that the chase will cost more than it’s worth.

Which raises an important side issue: what do you do during this chase period? If all you do is update the data base once a month before the opportunity review meeting by looking it up in some federal government business intelligence data base like GovWin, the fact that it’s been identified may not mean very much. It may mean that you know as much as the least of your competitors who subscribe to the same data base.

So, what can you do to suck value out of early identification of an opportunity?

  • You can try to talk to as many of the key players in the customer organization as possible. These may include the contracting officer, the contracting specialist, the program manager, the small business advocate, the end users, and not least, the incumbent.
  • You can ask the same questions over and over again.  Is it a real opportunity?  When is it coming out?  How will it be set aside?  What will the proposal require?  Are there any companies that you should be talking to about teaming?  How well is the incumbent doing the job currently?  What do they like about the incumbent and what do they not like about him?
  • If you have the capability, you can provide technical content that will help shape the solicitation. You may want to try to get calendar time to do a technical presentation.  Or, you may want to develop a white paper that you can circulate that offers industry best thinking about the technical area.  If your white paper legitimately shades its content in your favor, so much the better, but if it’s blatantly a piece of marketing collateral, don’t call it a white paper.
  • If you can identify the non-governmental professional organizations that the customer values, you can become involved in them, either in a technical way, or through exhibiting at industry events.
  • If key personnel resumes will be an important part of the solicitation, you can begin to identify the individuals that you will populate yours with.
  • If you’re not the perfect fit for the requirement, all by yourself, you can start building the team that you will bid with, so that every functional area is covered by the test of the best.
  • If you’re not intimately familiar with the customer, you can start building the team that you will bid with by adding customer knowledge to your team.