The Request for Information (RFI) is on your desk waiting for a reply. You’re working up the energy to respond with all of the advantages your firm has to offer and why your approach is the best. Typical RFI responses are not bad so long as they really provide information the agency asked for. RFI’s can, though, be a great time to ask questions. The right question might turn a project that was a long-shot for your firm into something right in your wheel house. Questions can also get your customer thinking and make them grateful to you for bringing up time and money savers they didn’t think of. Here are five examples of questions every contractor should be prepared to ask to ensure a smooth federal IT acquisition, RFI response, or discussion with a potential customer…Remember the old adage: “Never assume.”
- Have you looked at other ways to meet this need? Does your customer want to fly from Washington, D.C., to New York? If you’re a bus company, that pretty much leaves you out of the running. There are plenty of ways to get from DC to the Big Apple, though. Asking your customer whether they’re open to cost/time trade-offs or alternate solutions could give you a chance to compete in a situation where you otherwise would have had to stand on the sidelines. Flights from DC to New York may only take 50 minutes (well, flight time anyway), but they can cost $400 or more. Your bus company can do the job in under four hours door-to-door for 75% less, which is something your customer should know.
- Did you know that changing the timing of your order could save you money and reduce lead times? Many market segments have busy times when discounts are necessary, but fulfillment times are longer. You can bet your customer agency does not know this. Letting them in on the secret that there are slow periods where companies can be competitive and offer better delivery times can make you look like a hero. Often, this means the agency only has to shift its acquisition plan by a few weeks. Savings realized without any impact on the mission.
- Have you looked at _____ as an acquisition tool? Think that “everyone” knows about NASA SEWP or GSA Alliant? Think again. It’s a big procurement world out there and your customer may only know the acquisition methods they, or their agency, has personally used. Large, experienced contractors suggest acquisition alternatives in RFIs or in pre-RFP discussions all of the time. There is no need for your customer to try to fit a square solution into a round acquisition method. Showing them a better fit can benefit industry and government.
- Do these rules really apply in this circumstance? While this question may seem challenging to a customer, it is nevertheless important for you to make sure that the right terms and conditions are being applied. Does your PO for a FAR Part 12 acquisition have FAR 15 clauses all over it? Asking your customer about these can save them a (likely successful) protest and you the burden of complying with irrelevant rules.
- Working as a sub-contractor? This question is vitally important to ask of your prime. Yes, primes are required to flow down certain contract clauses to subs, but that does not mean that the often-copied sheet of boilerplate clauses they sent to you is appropriate to your specific circumstance. Again, why sign up for more compliance than you have to?
These are just some examples of questions smart contractors should be asking customer agencies or prime partners. Being an active participant in your market can improve your odds of winning, make you look like a genius to your customer, and lower your overhead.