“…solicitations don’t just magically become set-asides, bundled, or generally categorized by happenstance; the decision framework begins being constructed at the time that Market Research is being conducted and Sources are being sought.” – Valerie Coleman, SBA Procurement Center Representative
I know we are all busy.
In the current economic environment, we are so busy trying to maintain margin that anything else seems a waste of time. If the only business you go after is that which comes from the private sector, stop reading now and get back to hunting for meat.
However, if you by chance also hunt on the plains of the federal government, read on. I know that there is a diligent few business owners to whom the following does not apply; but they are more the exception than the rule.
What we are going to discuss here is why it’s so important to respond to “Sources Sought Notices” (SSN) as part of your general marketing strategy. This is an activity that can pay huge dividends for your firm as the procurement process moves forward on any given solicitation.
The SSN is a synopsis posted by a government agency that states they are seeking possible sources for a project. It is not a solicitation for work, nor is it a request for proposal (Ref: the FAR, Subpart 7.3 and OMB Circular A-76).
If you do any reconnaissance as part of your “hunting strategy” seeking federal opportunities you probably have seen or responded to an SSN in the FedBizOpps website, or maybe you have received the random email request. In any form, an SSN is a way for federal agencies to survey the marketplace for companies or solutions that can meet their requirements or validate their proposed approach to a solution.
Furthermore, this activity is performed as a courtesy and as a way to promote the small businesses; but more importantly, it provides your company with opportunities to participate in federal procurements that you might not otherwise have known about.
Specifically, what an SSN actually seeks from your firm is:
- @ Evidence of relevant experience and expertise;
- @ Your capacity to provide necessary resources;
- @ Succinct demonstration of your understanding of synopsized requirement;
- @ Evidence of prior adaptability, e.g., teaming, staffing scalability, obtaining expertise; and
- @ Your ability to meet the SPECIFIC need synopsized.
IMPORTANT: An SSN primarily seeks a response that addresses the SPECIFIC points in the synopsis!
What an SSN IS NOT seeking is:
- @ A proposal
- @ A generic response
- @ A capability statement
Too often companies send in a generic response that does not address the synopsized project. Tailor your firms’ response specifically to the sources sought and provide supporting evidence. Directly address personnel qualifications, facilities, and other areas pertinent to your firms’ ability to perform the work. Finally, document that you are a small business, 8(a) business, Small Disadvantaged business, Woman owned, Veteran owned, etc. within the NAICS code size standard listed for the proposed acquisition.
What are the possible outcomes you ask?
- Two or more small businesses, or sub-groups, are found to have the capability to do the work; the solicitation is set aside for small businesses or a sub-group. The decision will usually rest with the Contracting Officer and where they are in meeting their agencies goals – that part is out of your hands. Remember, you simply want to put a horse in the race.
- Only one small business, or sub-groups, (or none) is found to have the capability to do the work; the solicitation is not set aside for small businesses of any genre. On occasion, this is the result because no small business, or sub group, responds.
- This step in the market research provides information that causes the Government to reconsider its requirement; the requirement is modified. There may or may not be further market research. There may or may not be a set aside. This is the equivalent to voting in any election; if you don’t vote, you can’t complain about the eventual results!
- You gain experience in responding to sources sought synopses and begin the process of developing a relationship with the office having the requirement. More importantly, you show the Procurement Center Representative (PCR) that firms in your sub-group have interest and want to be accounted for.
- Finally, you have a higher probability of being looked at for teaming and/or sub-contracting opportunities. Word gets around, fast!
In Summary, here are some tips to keep in mind when responding to Sources Sought notices:
- Read the notice carefully.
- Be sure to clarify any items or language that is unclear prior to preparing your response.
- Ask the requesting Contracting Officer and Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU) for information regarding the acquisition strategy. Many organizations post their small business office or representative’s e-mail address on their website so that this information is publicly available to you.
- Know the customer and context of the potential acquisition. Let it inform your response.
- Offer evidence of your company’s technical approach when proposing the organization pursue a particular technical solution or direction.
- Proofread, Proofread, And Proofread! your response for technical clarity, spelling and organization.
- Inform them that you are a Small Business, 8(a) business, Small Disadvantaged business, Woman owned, Veteran owned, etc.
- Offer to meet with them to follow up.
- If responding via e-mail (I recommend this mode of response), include the organization’s small business specialist or office as a ‘cc’ addressee so that THEY are aware of the SSN and of your company’s response.
- Make sure your response is timely (don’t wait until the last minute!).
- Be persuasive and persistent, but don’t spam the designated point(s) of contact.
- Inform the requesting Contracting Officer and Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU) of questions, issues or concerns pertaining to contract language or policy.
Remember, solicitations don’t just magically become set-asides, bundled, or generally categorized by happenstance; the decision framework begins being constructed at the time that Market Research is being conducted and Sources are being sought. Make sure you are doing everything you can to get the solicitation set-aside to your sub-group. With this strategy, you will increase the number of opportunities in your sales pipeline and expand your brand footprint to boot!
– Rudy Sutherland, 8-PAC Editor
8(a) Serial Entrepreneur & Small Business Evangelist