How contractors identify opportunities and market their products or services in the U.S. federal marketplace depends on what they sell. A commercial item producer, a military technology company, and a construction firm sell different products, but they all need to identify customers, and provide them with information, as well as to get information from them. Therefore, different contractors may have to place different emphasis on their marketing efforts such as site visits, trade shows or participating in professional associations dedicated to a specific market.
In addition to using FedBizOpps, agencies may also identify firms through the Central Contractor Registration (CCR) database (now located on the System for Award Management - SAM), or maintain lists of potential suppliers through mandatory market research for individual procurements. Identify such lists, and get instructions from the agency to have your firm added.
Well before a solicitation is issued however, you should speak to virtually any government official about planned procurements. Agency-based technical or contracting officers will likely be excellent sources of information. The U.S. government at FAR Subpart 15.2 encourages such communication, provided a contractor is not given an unfair competitive advantage.
You should identify potential users of your technology or service by sourcing information from agency contracting specialists, ombudspersons, small business advisors, and business associates. Market and sector trend reports may also prove useful, as well as attendance at trade shows, mailing of brochures, and personal visits can also be effective. Meeting potential users face-to-face helps build important connections and familiarity with your product or service. Try to establish a business relationship with contractors who already have indefinite delivery contracts or are on the GSA Schedules.
Some procurements are significant enough that the government asks for extensive technical, management and cost proposals. An example of this has been the recent emphasis on clean technology and the various system-wide cleantech procurements for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) of the U.S. Department of Energy.
There will often be articles in industry publications and there will be discussions at industry gatherings many months before the procurement process actually begins (and often before the money is appropriated by the U.S. Congress). Sometimes this information flow will include issuance of a "draft RFP" or Requests for Information (RFI) by the agency involved. The draft RFPs are likely to include proposed statements of work and proposed evaluation factors. To follow these, keep up to date with U.S. trade journals and business news.
Another characteristic of these types of procurements is that contractors begin preparing their proposals well in advance of the RFP's formal issuance. Usually a significant amount of money is being put at risk by beginning early, and if the U.S. government changes its requirement, the work that has been done may have to be altered significantly.
Long term intelligence efforts include tracking budget requests made to the U.S. Congress, attending long range planning briefings, being attentive and alert at industry conferences and business association meetings, and developing good periodic formal and informal communication relationships with your potential customers.
There is occasionally the opportunity for potential contractors to participate in the development of the RFP. In developing information and in participating with the agency in its planning processes, you may encounter agency officials who are sensitive to the potential for giving a single contractor advance information and may consider one-on-one meetings inappropriate, notwithstanding FAR encouragement. The key is to obtain as much information as possible while staying within the bounds of legality and propriety.
The U.S. government fiscal year begins 1 October and ends 30 September. Many of the funds appropriated by the U.S. Congress expire at the end of the fiscal year and agencies will lose monies. Consequently, there is often a rush to spend money during the waning days of the fiscal year. Contractors with ordering agreements and indefinite delivery contracts are in good position for quick obligation of funds. Also in good position are contractors who have informed government program offices of benefits of their products and how they can be procured expeditiously through simplified acquisition procedures or micro-purchases.