Most firms understand that Competitive Intelligence (CI) is a necessity in the federal space. Many, however, believe that it is some mysterious, complex process, à la baking a fancy, multi-layered wedding cake.
The reality is that while the best intelligence may be done by experts who can read in between the lines, ANY firm can conduct basic CI if they have the right goals and ask the right questions (of the right sources).
What do we gain from knowing our competitors?
- Knowing what contracts your competitor has will allow you to wage a take-away battle – If they can provide a product or service, then why can’t you?
- Understanding where your competitor works today gives you a better grasp of their relationships – Do you really know who their customers are? You might know some of them, but via CI, you can see the full range of those relationships.
- We can figure out what they can offer in terms of past performance – Get a grip on the potential arsenal of past performance of the competitor. What did they provide? What was the customer? Who were their subcontractors?
- We can expose their weaknesses – Most business websites project a modest (cough!) degree of embellishment. Instead of believing the marketing material, through even some modest CI, you can find out what they’ve actually sold (e.g., under contract). Claims of capabilities that don’t have any sales represent a weakness you can exploit… usually referred to as “ghosting the competition.”
- Today’s competitor could be tomorrow’s partner – The better you know your competitors, the better you know when you might make use of one on a specific opportunity. We live in an opportunistic world and partnerships of convenience can work. CI allows you to evaluate your partner before you go down that path.
Perhaps you’re thinking, “I do this already by looking them up on GovWin/BGOV/etc.” Paid database tools can be useful, but they have limited utility. Everyone else is using the same information which, if available or accurate, might get you to a 50% solution.
There is a better way!
- Identify contract vehicles – These are critical arrows in the quiver of any capable contractor. These are crucial to access customers…and to gain access to any given opportunity. Paid databases tend to overlook many of these because most automated programs don’t pick up nuances of local contracts nestled under a GSA Schedule, etc.
- Explore the identity and nuance of task orders embedded under an IDIQ contract –This is a very important data point to conquer considering how much work is embedded up under such contracts. Database tools might identify some. And for those with direct access to a contract vehicle, they may have more inside knowledge – but even that demands you monitor the activity to understand what’s being provided. A more effective choice is to leverage contracting data, open source data, and your professional network to help you understand the details.
- Understand their key personnel – People are the heart, body, and soul of any business. If you understand who is or will likely be featured on an opposing team, then it will help you understand how strong or weak they might be. If you’re feeling particularly crafty, maybe you can make the high-value employee one of yours. Understand the caliber and composition of your competitor and you better understand them and, possibly, their proposal approach.
Here’s the multi-million dollar question…how do you accomplish the above? What are some of the sources of open source data to be used?
- Contract vehicles can be identified through .gov resources such as GSA e-Library, FPDS-NG, USASpending and often the contractor’s own website – Beware that there are many contract vehicles that exist on a very local level and they’re not very public. This means that you really have to dig into contract data to discover that they exist.
- Task orders can be deduced through contracting data and some creative sleuthing – This is where most paid databases fail and your creativity needs to pick it up. This requires the ability to make educated guesses and some offline investigating. Correlating key data points (e.g., press releases, information provided by people, agency announcements, reports on programs, etc.) can be used to put this together. (We do custom training on this if you want to know more about how to maximize the range of available sources…contact us for more)
- LinkedIn is a weapon… Use it – You know the value of LinkedIn for networking, thought leadership, etc. Add another value to the equation: Competitive Intelligence! People love to talk about themselves and their work. Use that information to deduce task orders and contract nuance by piecing together comments made by company employees.
- Using open source data smartly requires you to connect the dots among the sources to draw reasonable conclusions. This never eliminates the need for “on the ground” intelligence gathered by field business development or operations personnel. It only makes their information more useful.
- Above all considerations, use your knowledge of your business to add context for a valuable relationship! Through the leveraging information gained in the above, your imagination and knowledge of your business can make the difference. Based on what you’ve learned about the competitor, can they be turned into an ally for at least this one opportunity?
Developing and utilizing good CI requires a bit more than logging into a paid database. It’s doable, though, and your pWin in the federal contracting market will benefit. It is better to be informed than to find yourself at competitive disadvantage.
As always, feel free to contact FedSavvy Strategies to discuss this topic. Call us at 301.760.8977 or contact us here. Good luck and good hunting!
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