This posting will provide strategic guidance on SAM Contract Opportunities and factors for using it in small business marketing to government agencies and prime contractors.
A PUBLIC DOMAIN ACQUISITIONS BULLETIN BOARD
Established as the public announcement vehicle for federal procurement, SAM Contract Opportunities is a web-based, "Public Announcement Bulletin Board" to satisfy fairness in government contracting laws mandated by US law. It is a terrific market research tool and an absolute necessity once a solicitation has gone formal to stay abreast of modifications, changes in proposal due dates, questions and answers and other necessary information that contracting officers are required to make public.
WHAT ANNOUNCEMENTS MEAN
SAM Contract Opportunities is the mandated posting point for contracting officers in all federal agencies. It is also the required notification point for GSA schedule solicitations, contract award announcements of all types and other information that is required by law for communication to the public in a fair and open manner regarding federal government procurement of supplies and services. The site contains "Sources Sought" and bidders conference notices, government requests for industry comment on draft RFP's and formally published solicitations with proposal due dates.
A solicitation posted at SAM Contract Opportunities generally means that a procurement has received funding and the contracting officer has been authorized to start the source selection process.
Often misunderstood, is that much has occurred in the way of marketing activities by companies in advance of notices formally published by the government on SAM Contract Opportunities. By the time the formal, solicitation is published it is too late to market for setting a procurement aside for a small business designation if it has not already been established as such. In addition, formal solicitation publication closes the window on self-marketing by HUB Zone and 8(a) firms for set asides to them individually without competition. In short, businesses have been marketing for the requirement long before it became formally announced at SAM Contract Opportunities.
Finding a solicitation that is ideal for your company for the first time on SAM Contract Opportunities is excellent market research insight into what the agency publishing the requirement is buying. However, a careful bid/no bid analysis should be conducted as to whether it is prudent to go through the expense of a proposal if the opportunity has not been a new business target for your firm earlier in the game. Please see the following article on completing a bid/no bid analysis:
Small Business Federal Government Contracting Proposal Preparation
NAVIGATING THE SITE
Start by registering at SAM. Many of the features available to users are not accessible without a registration. Begin some careful searches by key words into agency solicitations that could use your products and services.
The data base is huge and it is best to move from specific key word selections to the more general with experience to avoid being inundated with meaningless solicitations. Some companies establish a separate email address for the SAM Contract Opportunities mailings to keep the results out of the mainstream of other business. The mailings are totally automated so there are no marketing factors to consider in setting up such an arrangement.
As you examine the solicitations, see who has indicated an interest in bidding them among your competitors and the primes you are pursuing and then target such projects for participation by your firm either as a prime yourself or as a subcontractor. Pay particular attention to "Sources Sought", Draft RFP "Request for Industry Comments" and similar announcements that indicate an early requirement taking shape.
For active solicitations that you wish to monitor, check receive updates and announcements by email. Once the solicitation reaches the formal RFP stage and a due data for a proposal has been established, if you have decided to bid the job the "Follow" feature is especially critical.
If there is a bidders conference and you intend to bid the job, make plans to attend. When questions are solicited you may ask them but remember that your question and its associated answer will be published by the government so be careful not to educate your competition to your win strategy in the process.
You do not have to indicate you are interested in bidding the job by registering as an "Interested Vendor" in order to bid a solicitation. Some companies prefer not to advertise their bid intentions, seeking to avoid competitors modeling their firm.
A MARKET RESEARCH SOURCE
If you are new to federal government contracting and wish to determine the best market for your supplies and services, observing what a given agency is buying on SAM Contract Opportunities is a key factor.
Keep in mind that the decision makers in government contracting are the technical managers and process people behind the scenes in an organization (either government agency or large company). They have the budget authority, program responsibility and accountability. These people pass their decisions on to buyers and contracting officers via signed requisitions. Buyers and contracting officers are really no more than gate keeping staff members, knowledgeable in legalities, terms and conditions and who sign on behalf of the agency or company AFTER an internal review by the executives who have technical and management responsibility.
Thus your real marketing targets are behind the gatekeepers and little is achieved by marketing to a contracting officer or buyer. This rule of thumb applies with prime contractor contracting specialists and administrators as well as government personnel. For further details on the roles of these personnel please see the following link:
Federal Government Contracting Customer Relations
Once again, bidding an active solicitation after it has hit SAM Contract Opportunities may be too late. The idea is to use them for market research so you can target similar projects earlier in the process. Research the technologies and services in which your targeted agencies and primes are involved through trade magazines, Internet articles, web sites, employment hiring fairs and industry conferences.
Focus your marketing campaign on finding evolving projects you can use as vehicles to approach teaming partners and agencies directly with a marketing campaign geared to your capability statement. Develop a solution to the specific needs of the project and present it to gain their attention.
Your principal challenge as a small product and services provider is finding evolving programs and projects into which your capabilities fit. Once you have found such targets it is then a matter of marketing brusquely to get into the game with eye catching solutions and capabilities.
When a procurement becomes public on SAM Contract Opportunities it stays public, but many invisible strings behind the scenes are likely already attached to it by aggressive and talented companies who may have sculpted the requirement with the agency, assisted in writing the statement of work or influenced the structure of the specifications to favor their products and services. All this is good, competitive marketing practice in the government contracting venue, just as it is in the commercial marketplace.
Use SAM Contract Opportunities as discussed here in consonance with the following teaming and marketing articles:
Small Business Teaming In Government Contracting
Multiple Front Marketing In Government Contracting
Marketing A Small Business In The Federal Government Contracting Environment
SAM Contract Opportunities is an absolute necessity once you make a bid decision. It is an extensive resource prior to such decisions and if utilized prudently it can enhance your small business government contract marketing plan dramatically.