“Shotgun” Approach in Federal Opportunities, a Sin or a Life-Saver?

In most articles and posts, a reference is made to the “Shotgun” approach in the bidding process on Federal Opportunities as a bench mark for incompetent business practices as far as bidding is concerned.  “Shotgun” approach means that you participate in every RFP that you get your hands on with the hope that, at the end, you are awarded one of them. The argument against it is that the correct business procedure is to do proper capture management practices, proper selection and qualification of RFPs, and proper planning to participate in bids that you have a higher chance of winning. All of that results in a higher ROI. I want to dispute that!

Let me say that I have written proposals for the past 25 years of my life; so I am not a newbie. I have written over 100 successful proposals for the federal government worth over $5 billion. Have I done that through the “Shotgun” approach? Of course not; well, at least not for most of it!

So, let me start with a factual account. During 2006-2011, I know of five US construction companies who were involved in bidding on USACE contracts in Afghanistan. All five practiced the “Shotgun” approach participating in more than 6-8 large proposals per month, on anything, anywhere in Afghanistan. Their win-rate was around 10-15% but due to the number of proposals, all received many MATOC and IDIQ contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars. This was obviously a special situation in which USACE had a large number of RFPs, all were for a generally specific location (Afghanistan) and most were very similar to each other in terms of structure of the RFP. So why not use a shotgun and get some of those large birds?

I have also encountered IT companies with a unique product or service that use this approach. The reason is that their proposal development costs is not high due to the similarities in each proposal; therefore, they can shoot for every RFP that comes across their radar.

Am I disputing the importance of the proper capture process, the fact that we need to know the client’s needs and concerns, the fact that it is to our benefit to be influential in shaping the RFP from before it is published, ….? Of course not.

What I want to emphasize is that each business entity must understand how it is going to bring back profit. They must analyze their market and their own capabilities and the specific situation that surrounds them. “Shotgun” approach might be a sin to a company but might well be a life-saver to another. Those US construction companies in Afghanistan understood well that the market and the situation required them to participate in the maximum number of bids possible. IT companies with unique solutions, especially those in niche markets, might reach the same conclusion.

When would you use this approach? Here are some thoughts:

  • Special circumstances in which the US Government has rushed to a location in the world to do some good; examples are Afghanistan and Iraq in recent years.

  • Sudden surges of interest in some special topics; example is the sudden surge in cyber-security RFPs starting a few years ago (and still going)

  • Natural disasters or climatic special circumstances in which you just have to participate in every RFP that you can get your hands on

  • August and September of every year: If you try to go by your routine ways of participating in RFPs during these 2 months, you will surely lose many opportunities.

Important note: Don’t think that this is an easy method. In fact you would need a very strong proposal development team. If the usual proposal team in a company can be equated with a sedan, then you need a bulldozer for having an effective “Shotgun” approach. Preparing 6-8 proposals, for federal opportunities, is not an easy task even if most of it is copy-pasting. You either need a very capable team (not one person) or you need to find a proposal development company that accepts fixed cost service contracts for a set number of proposals per month (instead of charging you per proposal). Consider that you can cut the cost of capture and add it to your proposal development. But, again, make sure you are making the right decision.

Let me know if you need help on assessing your situation, that is if you are now tempted a little!