Unlocking Federal Business Opportunities: A Deep Dive into the GSA Schedule

In the competitive landscape of government procurement, a highly-functioning GSA (General Services Administration) Schedule can be a game-changer for businesses. This blog provides 8 intrinsic steps for leveraging the GSA Schedule as a business development tool.
Kees Hendrickx
9 min read
Blog Cover - Unlocking Federal Business Opportunities A Deep Dive into the GSA Schedule

Making the GSA Schedule Work For You

In the competitive landscape of government procurement, you need a highly-functioning GSA (General Services Administration) Schedule. It can be a game-changer for businesses looking to establish a strong foothold in the federal marketplace. This is where Principal of Schaus & Associates, Jennifer Schaus, comes in.

In a recent webinar with Jennifer, she went through the eight intrinsic steps for leveraging the GSA Schedule as a business development tool. You can view the full webinar for free here.

8 Steps to Leveraging the GSA as a Federal BD Tool 

Step 1: Be Proactive Not Reactive

For anyone new to Federal Contracting; what makes this market unique is the volume of publicly available data. All you need is an internet connection! Using the data that’s out there, you can determine where best to invest your time. This makes you more efficient. Which, in turn, makes you a more successful contractor.

It also helps when building pivotal relationships with prospective customers.

If you're just looking at sam.gov, and responding to RFPs and RFQs, that's really a knee-jerk reaction. You need to be proactive and not reactive, so use the data available to you.

It’s a requirement of federal government departments to post their acquisition forecast. This is a list of what they’re getting ready to purchase for the next fiscal year. To get a feel for these spreadsheets, head to the 9:50 minute mark of our webinar.

Step 2: Get to Grips with The FAR

OK, so you’re on the path to leveraging the GSA as a BD tool! You’re using available date to build relationships. Now, you also need to know the rules for federal contracting.

The FAR are the Federal Acquisition Regulations. They consist of 52 parts for every week of the year. Thankfully, Jennifer and her team covered all 52 in a series of videos. These videos span everything you need to know regarding the regulations themselves. They include a definition of words and terms, plus patents, data, and copyright. They also cite improper business practices; R&D contracting; acquisition planning, and much more.

Step 3: Know your Customer and their Pain Points

To succeed in the federal marketing space, you really need to understand your customer. So, again, be proactive. Go and learn as much as possible about them.

You need to know their pain points in order to serve them in the best way. All companies are using the same data, so it’s essentially an equal playing field.

However, what will set you apart from the other businesses is your ability to cultivate and maintain relationships. Define what is unique about you, your business, and how that can serve your customer.

The easiest way to keep abreast of what’s going on for your prospective customer tapping into resources. These include:

• Signing up for Google News alerts

• Reading/subscribing to the local paper, The Washington Post.

• Keep an eye on federal publications such as Gov Exec, Federal News Network and Defense One.

• Get plugged into the associations. How involved are you; are you volunteering for various committees? Are you attending the required networking events?

Once you get to the department or agency website, typically they will have a newsletter. This usually found via the public affairs office.

Hop over to the small business office within that department or agency. That's where you're going to find the procurement forecast. You'll find the industry days and the open houses that they have. There’s also matchmaking events or any events that they might or may be attending. So make sure that you are there because again, that's where the relationships matter. That’s the special sauce here!

Step 4: Maximize your Company Branding and Digital Presence

It doesn’t stop with keeping abreast of in-person events. You must also engage with prospective customers online.

Does your website and LinkedIn speak to federal contracting? Are you using the correct verbiage and vernacular? The federal government (particularly the agency/department you’re targeting) all use certain terms. Have you the lingo?

That said, you can be nailing all the Governmental requisites and talking the talk. However, that’s of little consequence if your customer can’t find you.

So, you need to ensure that your brand logo is showing up in publications that Governmental bodies are reading. This brand recognition and familiarity will give them a sense of security. Also, they’ll know you’ll be present at key events.

It’s worth noting that the government is notoriously risk averse. They want to employ the services of someone that is capable and qualified to execute contracts. They also want a good price.

Step 5: Federal Marketing 101

At the 14:34 minute mark of our webinar, Jennifer outlines The 3 “Givens” in terms of federal marketing. These are components of how you are presenting yourself. Ultimately, they will make it easier to market your business.

Federal Marketing 3 “Givens”
  • Capabilities: Define and then clarify your expertise. What are you doing really well? What are you known for in the industry? In other words, you need to know your niche. Don’t try to be everything to everybody. Unless you hone in on specialization, you won’t be serving your potential customers adequately.

Be clear about what you're bringing. Present to the government or even potential partners, your capability. This is your value prop. What are you doing really well? What are you known for in the industry? Don't try to be everything to everybody.

  • Price: Competitive pricing is key. If you’re playing the game of “We’re offering the lowest price”, then the GSA schedule is for you. What if your prices are on the higher side? You’re more providing a higher value to government clients? Then, a GSA schedule may not be the right marketing tool.

  • Past Performance: The longer you’re in the game of federal contracting, the more acumen you’re going to have. If you’ve done anything with state local education, government sectors, then that can be relevant. This also goes for any commercial or subcontracting.

From 16:04 minutes in the webinar, Jennifer provides further insight on Federal Marketing. These include Contract Details, Set-Aside Certifications and, yes, building relationships!

After all, these relationships are what all your research and positioning boils down to.

Step 6: Know The GSA Schedule

For the record, Partaking in the GSA schedule is optional. In Jennifer’s experience, about 18,000 to 20,000 companies are using it. Most of said companies make zero sales through their schedule. In other words; about 63% are not doing any business via their schedule.

How is this the case? Oftentimes, they’ve employed a “Build it, and they will come” type strategy. That might have worked for Kevin Costner and his baseball field, but it won’t work here. More reasons as to why such a high proportion of companies don’t sell via a schedule from 17:40 minutes in the webinar.

By way of an outline; The GSA Schedule is…

  • Optional. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise!

  • All facets of the Federal Government are using it. These include some SLED and quasi-entities: The World Bank, IMF, IFC, Red Cross, United Nations, etc.

  • Again, the main focus for GSA success spans three key factors. They include your Capabilities, Past Performance, and Price. In Jennifer’s experience, the main component to consider here is the latter.

Price is about 99% of the focus here. Again, if your angle on federal contracting is offering the lowest pricing, then GSA will serve you well. If you're more on the value proposition side, maybe reconsider the GSA.

What is a GSA Schedule
  • The GSA is a contract, complete with Terms & Conditions. You will need to bring in at least $25,000 per year, through your schedule.

  • It is a Multiple Award Schedule (MAS). This means there are multiple awards to multiple companies. As previously stated; while many qualify, most have zero GSA sales. They might hold millions of dollars in federal contracts, just perhaps not through the GSA schedule. Jennifer digs into this from 19:00 minutes in the webinar.

  • The top 20% of the vendors are doing the bulk of the work.

  • GSAs are segmented by what your solution is – be it your product, service, or software offering. SINs (Special Item Numbers) identify you, acting as your differentiator in terms of what you’re offering.

  • It is one of many contract vehicles, which Jennifer expands upon from **20:46 minutes. For instance; The Navy has Seaport-E; NASA has SEWP; and DHS has Eagle.

  • While GSA does a great job of marketing itself, it’s still only 10-15% of Federal Purchases. That’s a small percentage – but it still represents billions of dollars.

At this juncture, it’s worth noting that said prices have been negotiated down to your lowest prices. They will coincide with that of other companies on the schedule selling similar products, services, or software. As you start bidding for work through your schedule, you will bid below your GSA rate. It is a ‘price ceiling’ or a ‘not to exceed’ rate.

For further insight into meeting the requirements for solicitation, make your way to 21:40 minutes in the webinar.

Step 7: Be Aware of the Advantages

In Jennifer’s experience, some notable advantages of being on the schedule include the below. Want to hear Jennifer outline them in more detail? Then, make your way to the 24:42 minute mark in the webinar.

GSA Schedule Advantages
  • It comprises of a smaller subset of competition viewing opportunities.

  • Additionally, it limits your competition. That said, this competition is more qualified.

  • The Government knows you are vetted so there’s a higher level of trust. Furthermore, it knows that your pricing is negotiated down to basically the lowest rate. Therefore, you’re competitive with the other companies on the schedule.

  • Being on the GSA Schedule brings credibility. It also indicates that you’re serious about and committed to the market. However, that should not be the sole reason for joining.

  • GSA Advantage Website, GSA eLibrary, and gsa.gov publish all pricing. You can look at your competitors’ pricing and determine if this contract vehicle is in your best interest.

You can be on the schedule and bid for opportunities that are a little lower than your GSA rates. It is a price ceiling. Again, if your angle is your pricing game, and you're the ‘low guy’ in town, then GSA will work wonders for you. If you're not, then you're going to have some hurdles – like 80% of the companies on the schedule. Again, you need to conduct that research upfront.

  • GSA Ebuy is one of the sites where, once you’re on the schedule, you sign up for RFP notifications. Buyers across the federal government can look for your company, your product service or software, and send notifications to the companies that hold the special item number. Then, you should get RFP notifications.

Further details on the benefit of GSA Advantage from 28:50 minutes in the webinar.

Step 8: Leverage The GSA Schedule

You’ve conducted the necessary research, and you’ve built the relationships! Your pipe dream customer is now a viable prospect, so it’s time to leverage your position.

There are some things you need to be aware of, which Jennifer expands on from 32:08 minutes in the webinar. By way of an outline:

  • If a prospect is asking how they can connect with you, this should set alarm bells off for having a contract vehicle in place. This should give you the impetus to get onto the schedule.

  • You shouldn’t rely on just one prospect, you should have a pipeline full of multiple organizations. All of these should prefer to use the schedule to connect with you.

If you have a contract that's not on the schedule – let's say it started out as a $10,000 purchase years ago but now it's coming up to $25k. The government's saying, ‘Okay, we must put this on sam.gov’. You can help steer that customer to purchase from you via the schedule. it would not have to be posted on Sam, where it's just then a direct award to your business without any other eyeballs seeing it.

  • It enables the process for the buyer. There is so much paperwork, particularly in anything related to the government. So, anytime somebody can reduce the paperwork for you, which is what the GSA schedule will do, it makes it easier for the buyer. Additionally, the prices are compared for them; past performance is easily viewed; and your capabilities have been verified.

  • Before you get too excited; you’re still going to need to write proposals in response to the GSA schedule. That’s OK; VisibleThread can help with that.

  • If you do have the schedule, make sure it’s evident to the buyers. There should be something very obvious on your website with the GSA logo. This is allowed and encouraged. It should link over to your GSA price list, which – in turn – shows up on GSA Advantage.

  • Also put the logo on the back of your business card, alongside your schedule number and your SIN numbers. It should be on your capability statement (QR codes work well here). In short, put it everywhere appropriate.

It should be on your auto signature and all of your emails, again, with a link to your price list… Add it into your LinkedIn description with a link to your schedule pricing. We now have, I think it's 2-to-3 million feds on LinkedIn. They do use it, businesses use it, prime contractors use it.

Final Thoughts

Each scenario will obviously vary, but the takeaway here is to be cautious about venturing down the schedule route. At the risk of repetition; you must do your homework upfront. Additional thoughts include:

  • Use the data available to you and be proactive, not reactive.

  • Cultivating and maintaining relationships with prospects is key to everything.

  • Your relationships will leverage your GSA/contract vehicle of choice as your BD tool. Or, as Jennifer puts it…

Let’s use this analogy of a guy and a sports car. He’s trying to get a gal to go out with him. He may be the best looking guy. The car may be a red convertible and he’s wearing the right clothes. But if you're just an empty suit, that's not going to help. You need substance. That substance plays into the relationship, your past performance, and your capabilities.

  • With that in mind; it’s worth noting that the real sale takes place outside of the schedule. The schedule is merely a mechanism to simplify this whole acquisition process.

  • If you’re playing the low game on price, then the GSA will serve you well.

  • Don’t get onto the schedule and then start marketing. It really happens in the opposite direction; the marketing and capture and research process happens first. That’s where the bulk of your time and effort will be spent. This will ensure everything that happens afterwards helps facilitate the purchasing process.

More From Us

Whether it’s your first time here or you’re a plain language convert, we’re here to help! Just reach out to us.

Plainly put; VisibleThread is a language analysis platform that helps you win more business! We support a range of customers – from solopreneurs to governmental bodies. Our expertise lies in complex documentation and improving business writing. We also provide ongoing guidance via our dedicated team and helpful webinars like this one!

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