May 22, 2024

How To Use the Freedom of Information Act To Win More RFPs

To venture into the highly competitive world of government contracting, your business needs to use all of the tools at its disposal.

Responding to a request for proposals (RFP) can take several weeks and cost tens of thousands of dollars – especially when you go after larger contracts at the multimillion-dollar or billion-dollar level.

It’s critical to make every bid count.

If you’re a small or medium-sized business (SMB), the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) can give you the edge to compete with large companies for high value customers. You can gain valuable insights that will help you craft winning proposals and land more contracts.

In this article, we’ll show you how to leverage FOIA requests to understand your competition, see how you’ve scored in previous bids, discover areas where you can improve your bidding tactics, and win more RFPs.

Let’s get started.

What’s an FOIA Request?

An FOIA request is a formal written request for any government agency record. This is protected by the Freedom of Information Act, which took effect in 1967 with the intent of reaching a “workable balance between the right of the public to know” and the needs of the government.

The FOIA requires at least partial disclosure of government documents upon request. This includes documents at the federal, state, or other public levels.

You can use the FOIA to gain access to information on vendors that have landed similar contracts with your target government agency, as well as how agencies have scored your previous attempts at winning contracts.

Requests for scoring sheets, contracts, and competing proposals can be submitted electronically via email, web form, or fax. Your FOIA request will be answered in the order that it’s received, and the time it takes to receive your documents will depend on the backlog of requests the agency is working to answer.

For more information on how to submit an FOIA request, click here.

5 Steps - How To Use the Freedom of Information Act To Win More RFPs

State governments buy almost exclusively through RFPs. To win more bids you need to not only show the agencies that your company meets the requirements but also craft a proposal that gets the attention of the evaluators and makes your company stand out from the competition.

The first steps are to determine your target market and create a strategic plan. Ask yourself what differentiates your company from all the rest. What makes your customers want your services? Determine the qualities of your ideal project and the profit margin you need for your efforts to be worthwhile.

Whether you’re in technology, construction, manufacturing, or any other industry that provides products or services, leveraging the Freedom of Information Act is an essential part of your response management procedure.

While portions of the records you receive may be redacted, the public information available under the FOIA can provide insights that make the difference between winning and losing a bid.

Here’s how to use the Freedom of Information Act to get an edge in the procurement landscape and win more RFPs.

Step 1. Identify your competitors

If you don’t know who your competitors are, you can’t identify what makes you different from the other vendors bidding in your space.

Any bid you create for an RFP must highlight your strengths. Why should the agency give you the contract over the other agencies? What makes you a better option than the potentially dozens of other vendors who are also submitting proposals?

One of the best ways to identify your competitors is by simply calling the buyers and procurement officials at your target agency. However, building a relationship where you can ask questions like this takes time. Not every procurement office will hand over this information if you haven’t “warmed up” your lead.

However, by submitting an FOIA request, you can discover who has bid for similar contracts at the agency in the past and who the incumbent is. The incumbent is the contractor that was most recently providing the service – or is still providing that service at the time the RFP was posted.

You can use this information to create competitor profiles and help your RFP team craft confident, well-researched proposals that distinguish your company from the competition.

Step 2. See how the agency scored your last bid

Whether or not your past bids were successful, it’s important to know how you scored. This information is available through an FOIA request.

To get the scores you deserve, your proposals must be engaging and make you stand out from your competition. Evaluators will likely be bored from reading proposals all day, so to get their attention your proposal has to resonate. For clues on how to do this, you need to know what worked and didn’t work in the past.

Knowing how you scored on past bids will reveal strengths as well as shortcomings in either your bidding process or within your company. If your RFP team knows what the evaluators liked and didn’t like last time, they can increase their win percentages by recommending improvements to the company and better targeting future bids.

Step 3. Determine the ideal bidding range

Many companies lowball big clients in order to simply win the contract, but relationships with clients should be mutually beneficial. You need to earn enough money from these contracts for the cost and resource investment to be worth it.

Winning a contract should be exciting, and an opportunity for your team to grow and benefit in the long term.

Pricing your proposal correctly requires research. The FOIA can reveal how much the target agency paid for similar contracts in the past. This provides clues to their budget, so you don’t overbid or sell yourself short.

Once you determine an appropriate bidding range, set your price at a level that shows you’re confident in your product or service and your team’s ability to deliver. It pays to aim high.

Step 4. Qualify leads

Just as you would in any sales process, when bidding for RFPs it’s important to qualify your leads. Before you invest time and resources into creating a proposal, determine if the agency is likely to convert and if they would be a high value customer.

Winning high value bids that turn into profitable, long-term client relationships requires putting the right amount of effort into your prep work. This means conducting extensive market research and investing in relationships to “warm up” leads before you submit your proposals.

Going in cold will hurt your chances, and you’ll lose revenue you could have gained by pursuing leads that are a better fit for your organization.

To effectively qualify leads, use FOIA requests to identify agencies that fit into the strategic plan you’ve tailored to your target market. Look for agencies that gave you good scores for previous bids, have hired vendors that are similar to you, or have demonstrated that they have the budget to make your efforts worthwhile. This allows you to focus on acquiring high value clients.

If your company scored low in a particular qualification on a previous bid, you can estimate how many evaluation points you’re likely to lose this time. Any points you lose on a bid due to unmet qualifications, one of your competitors will probably gain. If it’s strategically viable, you can recruit a subcontractor or partner with another company to fulfill any missing requirements and improve your chances of winning the RFP.

However, some RFPs intentionally contain highly exclusive requirements, which brings us to step number five.

Step 5. Identify ‘wired’ RFPs

While you can improve your chances of winning RFPs by increasing your market intelligence, positioning your company as the best vendor for the contract, and addressing areas that need improvement, some RFPs will result in a dead end no matter what you do.

This is because the government agency has already chosen a vendor, likely an incumbent they’ve already been working with, and they’ve created an RFP only to satisfy transparency or legal requirements.

To show that they’re spending tax dollars responsibly, state government agencies must call for bids before they make any purchase – even if they already intend to do business with a particular vendor.

You can identify these “wired” RFPs if you know what to look for.

If the RFP has extremely narrow or abnormal requirements, that’s your first big clue. These may include an oddly specific minimum number of years in business, a requirement that the vendor provide onsite staff, or that the vendor has highly exclusive references.

You can use the FOIA to identify past vendors and see if any of these match suspiciously narrow guidelines.

Likewise, if an agency doesn’t offer a bidders conference or provide a forum for Q&A’s, those are also clues that an RFP is wired. After all, if an agency already knows whose bid they’re going to accept, it’s a waste of everyone’s time to provide those things.

An abnormally tight turnaround time is another clue. A typical RFP may allow up to six weeks for responses, but if the response window is shorter than two weeks, that’s a good indication that the agency already has a vendor waiting in the wings.

SMBs vs the Big Players

For SMBs, competing with large companies for bids is an uphill battle. An established corporation with near limitless money and resources can be an attractive option for buyers and procurement officials.

However, SMBs have advantages. They often have lower turnover, and their inherent agility can allow faster adaptation to the specified requirements as well as the unspoken needs of the agency posting the RFP.

Creating a simple, well-researched proposal that speaks to these needs and confidently shows what you can offer through case studies and testimonials inspires trust. Knowing how to use the Freedom of Information Act to win more RFPs helps level the playing field with your bigger competitors and puts high value customers within reach.

However, even with the perfect strategy, winning RFPs comes down to a numbers game. It will always be a challenge for smaller companies to respond to RFPs with the speed and volume needed to keep up with competitors with larger budgets.

How Breeze Docs Can Help

The faster you can process RFPs, the more proposals you can submit and the less money each one will cost you. For SMBs,  Breeze is an easy, low-cost solution that will help you cut the processing time for RFPs and improve your competitive edge.

This cloud-based RFP tool is an enterprise-level platform also designed for processing requests for information (RFIs), security questionnaires, and other important documents.

Among other proven technologies, memoQ RFP uses language memories and file filters to help your company maximize resources and speed up turnaround in document processing. Our patent-pending generative AI can help reduce completion time by up to 90%.

Contact us to speak to a Breeze Docs expert to see how Breeze can help your organization optimize your RFP response process. Click here to sign up or request a demo.

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