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Assessing the Competition with a Non-Cost Evaluation Model

One of the most important and valuable elements of an effective competitive assessment—as well as a solid capture strategy—is assessing who is the “team to beat,”  the competitor in the strongest position to win. This process highlights the areas where you need to strengthen your capture and proposal efforts so that you can outmaneuver the top competitors and secure a winning spot.

To assess the competitors, analysts develop a non-cost evaluation model based on how the customer is most likely to review proposals to determine which competitor is worthy of an award. In order to create an eval model, you must understand how the customer will evaluate each proposal. There are several ways to determine this.

The first and most valuable source of the customer’s evaluation criteria is Section M of the customer’s Request For Proposal (RFP). This is where the customer provides detailed guidance regarding how they will evaluate proposals and make an award decision.

If, however, the procurement is in its early stages, there likely will be no section M to review because the customer has not yet released the RFP. In these situations, there are other options for developing an eval model, such as a Draft RFP (DRFP), the RFP from a prior iteration of the contract, other RFPs from the same customer, or even something like customer guidance provided in an industry day briefing.

Whatever source you use, carefully examine the language to determine the various evaluation factors the customer will use to assess proposals. These factors may include criteria such as technical approach, management approach, past performance, price, etc.

Once you have identified the various evaluation factors, it is important to also understand the relative importance of those factors. Assigning quantitative values (numbers/percentages) to each of the factors in the eval model is a useful way to calculate a numerical score for each competitor. This enables you to determine who has the highest score, and thus who is in the strongest position to win. The key to developing an effective eval model is to ensure that the factors and point values you assign closely mirror what the customer has indicated.

Building an eval model that reflects the way the customer is likely to review the proposals is just the first step. In order for the process to be helpful, you must populate the model with information on your potential competitors to determine where each is likely to stand. This requires solid research and analysis of your competitors’ capabilities, solutions, strategies, strengths, and weaknesses on the given opportunity.

Creating an eval model is closely connected with understanding the requirements. The more you understand your customer, the more accurate and valuable your eval model is likely to be.

In addition to giving you excellent intelligence on your competitors, an eval model will also reveal or reinforce what is true and what you believe about your firm. For example, an eval model can tell you if you have the internal capabilities to claim the winning position, or if you need to fill gaps or mitigate weaknesses by adjusting your strategy or teaming with other companies.

Eval models vary by client and by opportunity, and are very different if you are bidding on a product or a service. And remember, an eval model should be updated continually throughout the procurement process as you learn more about your competitors and yourself.

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How to Assess Your Competitors Without an RFP

In a perfect world, the government customer would always know exactly what they want, would always publish clear and thorough solicitation documents in a timely manner, and would explicitly and clearly explain how they plan to evaluate you and your competitors to make an award decision.

Unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world.

Often the customer experiences delays upon delays, and industry is forced to wait for the RFP, or even a draft RFP, to obtain the guidance they need. In other instances, the customer chooses to use an entirely different process, such as an OTA (Other Transaction Authority), which provides no Section M or evaluation criteria whatsoever. Regardless of the reason, there are many times when capture and competitive intelligence efforts must move forward cautiously in the absence of clear instructions from the government customer.

The question is, how do you evaluate your competitors against the customer’s criteria when the government hasn’t provided that criteria? The answer is NOT to simply kick the can down the road or forego that evaluation altogether. No, the answer is to use the next best thing—a notional (or strawman) evaluation model built on a series of assumptions that can be updated later as more information becomes available. There are almost always clues at your disposal that you can use to develop a notional evaluation model.

In developing a notional evaluation model, remember the goal is to approximate the process the customer will most likely use to evaluate proposals. As a starting point, always consider whether the opportunity in question is a new program or a recompete. If it is a recompete, there is a strong possibility that the customer will reuse the same evaluation process from the prior iteration of the contract. Even if it’s a new program, customers often use and reuse (and reuse again) the same evaluation process for all of their solicitations; so it may be a safe bet to use the section M from a similar, recent program from the same customer. You can see what standards and requirements they deemed important, and it can give you the foundation you need.

Another valuable source of data on customer evaluation plans is the Government Accountability Office (GAO). For those unfamiliar, the GAO is the government entity responsible for adjudicating protests filed by contractors in response to a procurement decision. All of the GAO’s protest decisions are made publicly available on their website, GAO.gov, and can be very useful in getting detailed insight into not only the customer’s evaluation criteria, but also how specifically they rated certain competitors, and in some cases, even the prices proposed by those competitors.

Finally, remember that key requirements and evaluation plans are often communicated in general terms via industry day materials, or presentations given at trade shows, which can provide helpful clues for building a notional evaluation model. 

We continually stress the importance of customer intimacy. You must know what the customer truly cares about in order to develop an accurate evaluation model to objectively and effectively examine yourself and your competition.

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Understanding the Requirements: How to Earn a Winning Edge

It may seem rather obvious that the first step in competing for a federal contract would be to try to understand what the customer is actually asking for. Isn’t that just common sense? And yet a surprising number of companies make the mistake—consciously or subconsciously—of underemphasizing this fundamental principle. Consequently, the resultant proposals are either too self-centered, or worse, non-compliant.

Failing to (a) understand what the customer actually needs and (b) address those needs thoroughly in a proposal is often the reason companies fail in their attempts to secure contracts in the federal marketplace.

How does this happen? It happens when a company focuses too much on convincing the customer to buy what they’re selling rather than first taking the time to understand what exactly the customer needs and then striving to satisfy those needs. This may seem subtle, but there is a vast philosophical difference here that can truly make all the difference between winning and losing.

It’s important to note that every RFP contains explicit and implicit requirements. The explicit requirements are those requirements that are articulated by the customer to all bidders, so that all are equally aware of them. These explicit requirements are the foundation—they are the key components that a contractor MUST address in order to qualify for a given opportunity.

Just because they are explicitly stated does not mean they are clear. Sometimes (okay let’s be honest, much of the time), the customer doesn’t actually know what they want. Sometimes (if you’re lucky), the customer will be conscious of their limitations, and will seek input from industry (via RFI, sources sought, Draft RFP, etc.) to help them understand what is possible, but not always. Unfortunately, there are many times where the customer has no clue what they want, but thinks they do, and moves forward at ramming speed.

Behind the explicit requirements, there is typically a hidden list of unspoken—or implicit—requirements that represent the customer’s true definition of value. These are what we call “customer hot buttons,” and every customer has them. A customer’s hot buttons will motivate them, inspire them, or perhaps even keep them up at night. Identifying and addressing these implicit requirements is where a winning strategy beings—it is how a company differentiates themselves from their peers and gains a competitive edge.

You may ask, how does one go about identifying a customer’s implicit requirements? The answer is … (you guessed it!) … good old fashioned customer intimacy. Know your customer. Study your customer. LISTEN to your customer! Talk to others in the industry about your customer. The ultimate source of your customer’s hot buttons is always your customer.

Once you have come to understand explicit and implicit requirements of an opportunity, THEN you can begin matching them against your internal capabilities. Your strengths and weaknesses will emerge quickly, enabling you to develop strategies for leveraging and enhancing your strengths and mitigating your weaknesses (e.g., teaming).

The better you understand your customer’s explicit and implicit requirements, the better positioned you will be to enhance your proposal in ways that your customer appreciates and values. Don’t assume you know the answer, don’t be afraid to ask “dumb questions,” and don’t try to sell what you have before you understand what your customer wants.

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Price To Win: Know When to Hold ‘em and When to Fold ‘em

In today’s federal marketplace, anyone can compete for business.

And anyone can win—at least some of the time. It’s the possible losses, however, that can provide more than experience to learn from—they can, at times, be ruinous.

Therein lies the rub.

Because opportunity incurs costs—in resources, bid and proposal feeds, and your staff’s time, smart would-be government contractors know that Price To Win (PTW) strategies are a key part of capture. Smart government contractors can tell you that identifying your Price To Win position is more than a number; a true PTW strategy reflects the complex relationship between your customer needs, their allocated budget, and their spending patterns.

Industry expert Randy Richter, Chairman and Price To Win Director at Richter & Company will tell you that even smarter contractors take the definition of PTW a bit further. These competitors know that determining their PTW position for a given opportunity not only involves factoring in the impact of their customers’ needs, budgets, and spending patterns, but also analyzes their competitors’ solutions, strategies, tactics and degree of aggressiveness throughout the bid cycle.

But only the smartest contractors, says Richter, understand when the PTW process should actually begin. “Some will say that the process should begin early in the life cycle of the bidding process, but in reality, the smartest competitors begin crafting their PTW strategies well before a draft RFP is in place,” he says. “The wisest decision a contractor can make is not to try to decide how to win a bid, but whether to compete at all. Sometimes, the better part of valor in government contracting is to step back from a given opportunity so you can live to fight another day.”

Richter says his firm’s PTW support is provided by experienced analysts who understand the government process, know how to price, and can think outside of the box. “We train our team to ethically gather information, analyze it to create actionable intelligence, and develop solid assumptions,” said Richter. “We then customize our proven processes and tools that we’ve developed to each potential competitor’s situation to produce accurate, defensible results.”

There are two ways to build a PTW strategy:

  • The Top Down process uses historical data, including information on bids previously awarded and budget information to identify the parties’ “comfort zones.” In other words, a Top Down determines in what range customers tend to award bids, and where competitors tend to receive them. The Top Down approach is best used in early gate reviews to help firms decide whether to compete at all, and/or to develop proactive solutions using “design to cost” approaches. Effective Top Down efforts can be pursued easily and affordably as ongoing projects because very little data is required.
  • A Bottom Up PTW analysis is best performed as soon as customer requirements and evaluation processes are known, typically once the DRFP is released. Based on identifying targeted competitors’ solutions, building up their costs, and identifying how these costs will be prices using their strategies, is the foundation of Bottom Up PTW reviews. Results are updated as new solicitation documents become available, with work continuing to cover amendments, ENs, FPRs, and negotiations.

Once you have your PTW position, what needs to happen next? To compete, or not to compete. To engage in the game and work to win the hand, or—like The Gambler—know when to walk away and when to run? Hold ‘em or fold ‘em?

Richter says this is one of the most important moments in the entire process—where a business decision must be made that only the potential federal contractor can make. “Our job is to show our client the position they need to achieve to beat their competitors, but whether they should attempt to move their company into that ‘win zone’ is entirely up to the firm’s leadership.

If you need more information to decide about whether to engage, my best advice is to ask questions,” said Richter. “I always told my kids that the only dumb question is the one you don’t ask, and I extend that advice to our clients today. Unless the project is classified, of course, why not take a chance? Ask the question. You just might get the answer you need to make an informed decision.”

Richter & Company’s consistent process, innovative tools and experienced staff have helped customers win over $30 billion since 2006.

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Introducing Our New CA and PTW Tools

We are pleased to introduce to you some of the newest and most powerful solutions here at Richter and Company – our competitive analysis tool, competiRATER, as well as our Price To Win Tools, laborRATER & wrapRATER. While these new products use elements of our traditional services, they intuitively analyze general capabilities and solutions in the context of an awarded contract vehicle or market segment. As a result, these productized results now may be offered at a much lower price on an non-exclusive basis to multiple clients seeking improved performance.

Our traditional services provide detailed assessments of the low-level solutions and capabilities of targeted competitors, based on consistent processes backed by comprehensive and ethical research. Each analysis is highly tailored to meet the requirements of specific opportunities and specific clients. As a result, these services are offered on an exclusive basis to just one client per opportunity, through our PTWservices and CAservices offerings.

Our competiRATER tool is intended to provide a high-level analysis of a targeted company’s general capabilities in the US Federal market. Each unique analysis is based on independent, open-source research which augments prepositioned information in our extensive knowledge base. competiRATER deliverables use a consistent format to analyze and present accurate and highly-reliable information. Results provide insights and actionable information to increase your win probability and profit — news you can use, not fluff filling a binder. Results are generally provided within five business days of acceptance of your order. Pricing is per single competitor; discounts are available for multiple purchases.

Note that competiRATER results are not intended to assess the specific capabilities, strategies, or solutions in the context of the requirements of a specific opportunity. They are offered on a non-exclusive basis. Clients wishing an opportunity-specific assessment are encouraged to request a proposal for exclusive support.

Our laborRATER tool product provides labor cost and pricing data that can be used to benchmark your labor rates against others in your market. laborRATER results are based on labor “pools”: groups of similar labor categories that reflect similar types of work. Pricing is for a single labor pool and region and discounts are available for multiple purchases. Results are generally provided within five business days of acceptance of your order.

Finally, our wrapRATER product is intended to provide an estimate of a targeted company’s likely current wrap rate before fee. wrapRATER results do not reflect the company’s likely future rate, strategies, or solutions in the context of the requirements of any specific opportunity.

Results are offered on a non-exclusive basis. wrapRATER results are not intended to assess the specific strategies, tactics, or solutions likely to be used by a company in its pursuit of a specific opportunity. Clients wishing an opportunity-specific assessment are encouraged to request a proposal for exclusive support.

For more information on each specific tool, please contact us at the emails below or by calling 301-845-7300.

competiRATER@richterandcompany.com
laborRATER@richterandcompany.com
wrapRATER@richterandcompany.com

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Richter & Company Employee Spotlight: Avantika Singh

With over 15 years of experience in the government contracting industry as a seasoned pricing strategist, Avantika Singh has a deep focus and understanding of bidding methodologies, pricing tools and techniques, and possesses in-depth experience on cost/price development and analysis.

Prior to joining Richter & Company, Ms. Singh was the VP of Pricing Strategy & Solutions at The McKelvey Group. She has also worked as a Financial Analyst and Project Control Analyst at several government contracting companies, providing thought leadership and valuable financial analysis to help sustain and increase growth.

We are thrilled to have Avantika on the Richter team and we wanted to take the time to further introduce her to you with the following set of ten questions. With that being said, we hope you enjoy learning a little bit more about her!

What made you want to get into Pricing & Strategy?

I have always enjoyed honing new skills and I am looking forward to bringing value to this industry from my past knowledge and experience.

What aspect about your job do you really enjoy?

I enjoy analytical reasoning and estimating, which ties in so well to my role here at Richter.

What is one thing people might not know about you?

I actually minored in Astronomy during my undergraduate career. Finance was my major, but I also enjoy astronomy.

What is one thing people don’t know about Richter that you think they would find surprising or interesting?

The extremely high level of analysis and capability this firm brings to the industry, especially for being a small family-run group.

What is the most unique experience you’ve had at Richter during your time at the company?

I’m too new for this one, but I’m sure to have some stories, soon! Haha!

What is your background? Ex: where are you originally from, where did you go to school, etc.?

I was a Finance major in my undergraduate studies, then I completed my MBA.  Following that, I worked around the beltway for pretty much all sizes of companies, starting with IBM, Siemens’ and L3.

What is your favorite pastime?

I enjoy the outdoors – specifically going hiking. When indoors, I enjoy watching Bravo

Have you travelled a lot? Where to? What was your favorite place and what’s the next place on your list?

Yes, I love, love, love to travel! My favorite place is probably South Africa or Costa Rica. My next dream vacation would be to Mt. Kili in Tanzania, or maybe New Zealand.

What is currently on your Netflix list? 

The Crown.

Do you have any bucket list items? Ex: skydiving, learning to play an instrument, etc.

Skydiving is on my bucket list, as well as living abroad for maybe a year at a time in a new country, once I retire!

So there you have it, straight from Avantika! That’s all for this month’s Employee Spotlight. Stay tuned here to our blog for more industry news and information, including introductions to more of our team here at Richter & Company!

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Richter & Company Announces Chris Richter as President

With 10+ years of proven experience in business development and technical and analytical support within the public and private sectors, we are proud to announce that our own Chris Richter has assumed the role of President of Richter & Company.

When asked about his new role, Chris commented: “I am excited to start my new role as President of Richter & Company. Having the ability to be an integral part of growing the company from the ground up, I’m excited to take it to the next level.”

Chris was recently interviewed with a set of ten questions to help define his approach and personality within the organization.  Take a moment to learn more about Chris within his new role as President:

What made you want to initially work at Richter & Company?

In 2007, Randy Richter (my father and company Chairman) approached me to help provide some research and marketing support. We decided to do a week of marketing to the top 20 programs that year and as a result of those efforts, landed a few new clients. Those clients fueled our growth over the next several years and I knew this type of work was clearly something I felt strongly about and could excel within.

What aspect about your job do you really enjoy?

One of the best parts of working at Richter & Company is the breadth of programs we get to support.  In a single year we may do everything from building tactical vehicles, surface ships, aircraft, healthcare IT, or intel analysis.

What is one thing people might not know about you?

My favorite movie growing up was Top Gun. I think I’ve watched it over a hundred times. My nickname was “Goose” when I was younger and the scene of Tom Cruise on his Honda sport bike led me to buying my first motorcycle in college.

What is one thing people don’t know about Richter that you think they would find surprising or interesting?

Full-time staff does almost all of our work. We are not a “body shop” using 1099’s. We hire the best people in the industry to provide premier value to our customers.

What is the most unique experience you’ve had at Richter during your time at the company?

Honestly, it is challenging to pick only one.  I think the most unique experience was during my first presentation of a competitive analysis. The plan was to present to the capture manager and the proposal manager, but when we arrived to present the briefing, it was the entire executive board. Talk about jumping in with both feet! The good news is that I was able to provide them with information they needed, and Richter & Company was proud to help them to secure their bid.

What is your background? Ex: where are you originally from, where did you go to school, etc.?

I was born in Ithaca, NY and moved to Maryland when I was 5.  I went to school in Virginia and eventually ended up back in Maryland.

What is your favorite pastime?

I grew up playing lacrosse – in fact, my father and I helped really grow the sport within Western Maryland. However, two years ago, I ruptured my Achilles in a Master’s lacrosse game. Having a strong competitive nature, I needed to do something. I was introduced to competitive pistol shooting shortly after my surgery and actually shot my first 12 matches wearing a boot to protect my newly repaired Achilles.

Have you travelled a lot? Where to? What was your favorite place, and what’s the next place on your list?

I’ve traveled to most of the US, the Bahamas and Bermuda, but my favorite vacation was in Costa Rica. The rainforest was amazing, and the people have such a relaxed attitude. Next will be somewhere else tropical, and eventually I want to make it to Europe and the Far East.

What is currently on your Netflix list?

Lost in Space, The Defenders, Iron Fist, Luke Cage and of course, Stranger Things.

Do you have any bucket list items? Ex: skydiving, learning to play an instrument, etc.?

I will say that I’ve done most of my bucket list items. I’ve been skydiving, both tandem and solo, I’ve ridden a motorcycle at 199 mph (I couldn’t turn my wrist that last fraction to break 200 mph), I learned how to ride horses and to shoot pistols and rifles. I think the few things that remain are to make Grand Master in USPSA and to visit Europe.

So there you have it, straight from the man himself! That’s all for this month’s news here at Richter. Stay tuned here to our blog for more industry news and information, including introductions to more of our team here at Richter & Company!

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Getting Personal | Meeting In-Person vs. Virtual Conferencing

meeting in person I was sitting at dinner with my wife and daughter and as I looked around the restaurant I noticed something. Almost everyone in the restaurant was more engaged with their phone than the person sitting next to or in front of them. In today’s technology-driven lifestyle, it’s become easy do everything remotely. I can see my nieces in Omaha via FaceTime, attend a conference via GoToMeeting and even present information to a client via a web conference. The simplicity of it is great but it lacks something. Last week I had the opportunity to travel to a city in the South and meet with some existing clients and some potential new clients. With a business partner we had scheduled five meetings in a period of two days. Over the course of those two days we spent an hour or two with each client. These were in-person, no media, “let’s sit down and have a conversation” discussions. This was personal. You could see the expressions on the face of the person sitting across from you. You could see and hear nuances in the conversation. This was plain and simple a personal interaction and you know what, at the end of each conversation, every client echoed the same thing. They want to develop a personal relationship. They want to know you so that they can pick up the phone and call you with honest feedback, whether it be good or bad. So what came of those meetings? We were able to develop our business relationship with these clients into a more personal relationship. So what does that mean? Well, in the coming weeks or months, we will be meeting with each of these clients and further expand our relationship. We may do some business or simply develop some relationships. Either way, at the end of the day, this personal approach will have a great impact on our business going forward. So guess what, Beth, Brandon and Kevin… I hope you don’t mind doing a little traveling.