What is a solicitation?

Chris WiedemannWhat is a prime and a sub?By Chris Wiedemann, consultant

In our last “What is…?” post, we covered one of the basics of federal contracting: the concept of a prime contractor and subcontractors, or “primes” and “subs.” However, we left a key question unanswered – how does the government actually decide which company to award prime contracts to?

As you might expect, there are a lot of moving parts involved in the awarding of government contracts, whether you’re talking about relatively simple product buys or complex, multi-layered systems development and integration work. No matter the scope, though, the competition process usually begins in one place – the solicitation.

At a high level, solicitations are exactly what they sound like – the process by which the government solicits bids on a contract or even just information from industry on what capabilities exist that can help them meet their needs. That market research solicitation is often referred to as a Request for Information (RFI).

On the other hand, if the customer is looking to contract out a service or buy a product, they would release a Request for Proposal (RFP) or Request for Quote (RFQ).

Solicitations come in many shapes and sizes, and both the where and the how of each solicitation released by the government depends on several factors, like which agency wants to do the buying and which contracting method they want to use. For example, most of the major contracting vehicles that we see products bought against (think GSA Schedules, NASA SEWP, CIO-CS, or a DOD-specific contract like NETCENTS) will have their own “bid boards,” or websites that agencies will use to release their solicitations to industry.

On the other hand, if an agency wants to do an “open market” solicitation (one in which they release the solicitation to the whole world rather than limiting possible competition to companies that hold a specific contract), it would go onto Federal Business Opportunities (FBO).

When looking for solicitations to respond to, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach – you want to have knowledge of your customers and their preferred routes to market, as well as a robust channel that exposes you to as many contracts and avenues for solicitation as possible.

Solicitations matter to us in industry because, if you want to work with the government, responding to them is the best (and often only!) way to get your foot in the door. Any federal sales team worth its salt is going to have a well-defined solicitation response process in place, whether it be internal or through a partnership with resellers or distribution.

Read the entire “What is…?” series here.

Want to learn more about the how the government buys goods and services? Sign up for my class on Fundamentals of Selling IT to the Federal Government on Oct. 27, 2017, at our headquarters in McLean, Va.

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