Sources Sought Notices – An Opportunity

What is a “Sources Sought”?  Here’s the Answer:

This is a question frequently-asked question by PTAC clients. The label “Sources Sought” may be seen on many contract opportunities posted on FedBizOpps (FBO), the place federal agencies advertise their upcoming contracts. (You can search for Sources Sought using the “Advanced Search” link on the FBO home page.)

A Sources Sought is not an actual bid or proposal solicitation; instead, it’s a solicitation of interest. Think of a Sources Sought as market research being conducted by a government agency to determine what the capabilities and interests of the marketplace are.

My advice to our clients is to always respond to a Sources Sought if it appears to be of interest to you. Contracting officials frequently complain about how few responses they often receive to Sources Sought announcements. Responding, therefore, can distinguish yourself in a positive way from your competitors, and may lead to an inside track on an eventual contract. It’s also wise to be realistic: A Sources Sought notice may – or may not — be followed-up by the agency with the issuance of an actual bid or proposal solicitation.

There are always very specific instructions in each Sources Sought for responding. Follow these instructions to the letter, and give them no more and no less than requested – in other words, give the federal agency which posted the Sources Sought notice exactly what it asks for.

We know that responding to a Sources Sought represents an investment of time, but by responding to a Sources Sought you actually may influence how a federal agency “packages” any eventual Solicitation. After formally responding to a Sources Sought, you are at liberty to contact the point-of-contact identified in the Sources Sought and offer any suggestions and/or insights you may have about performing the particular work. This relationship-building actually could created an “insider’s advantage” for you on the procurement, possibly even leading to a set-aside (limiting competition to only a few firms in your small business category) or a sole-source award (if your capabilities and expertise are unmatched by others).

The agency involved should notify those who respond to the Sources Sought of the eventual outcome, but don’t rely on that 100%. If you are using a bid match service through your PTAC, this electronic service should pick it up again when it turns into an actual Solicitation. Also, remember that FedBizOpps offers options to be notified. We recommend you put yourself on a “Watchlist” (which will automatically cause an email to be sent to you regarding any developments on a particular Solicitation) and on the list of “Interested Vendors” (which you and anyone else can view by clicking on the tab marked “Interested Vendors List”). The latter can be helpful in terms of not only seeing who your potential competitors might be but also identifying potential team members.

Finally, if a particular Sources Sought announcement spells-out no specific format for laying-out your capabilities, we recommend that you send in a government-specific Capabilities Statement. Give it your best effort and respond by the deadline: Not one second late. Contact a PTAC Counselor for more tips.

See this short video on the subject by my colleague, Carter Merkle of the Oklahoma PTAC:


More about Procurement Technical Assistance Centers (PTACs)

Ninety-eight PTACs – with over 300 local offices – form a nationwide network of procurement professionals dedicated procurement professionals working to help local businesses compete successfully in the government marketplace. Funded under the Defense Logistics Agency’s Procurement Technical Assistance Program through cooperative agreements with state and local governments and non-profit organizations, PTACs are the bridge between buyer and supplier, bringing to bear their knowledge of both government contracting and the capabilities of contractors to maximize fast, reliable service to our government with better quality and at lower costs.


Capabilities Statements for Government Contracting

Capabilities Statements are Essential Tools for Marketing to Government Agencies:

PTAC clients often ask about how to best present themselves to government officials, particularly contracting officers, small business specialists, and prime contractors. PTAC counselors —many of whom are former contracting officers themselves — consistently advise that there are four key ingredients to making a favorable impression within the government marketplace:

  • Familiarizing yourself with the particular agency you are targeting,
  • Being prepared to deliver a concise “elevator speech” (a 30-second description of your expertise),
  • Presenting a business card which displays your CAGE, NAICS, and NIGP codes, and
  • Having a “Capabilities Statement.”

While the first three ingredients are fairly straightforward, here’s what’s important to understand about creating a Capabilities Statement for your business:

A Capabilities Statement should contain particular information
and be organized in a certain way
for use in the government sector. 

For instance, a Capabilities Statement should always identify the company’s CAGE code. The reason for this is that a company has a CAGE code only if it’s registered in the System for Award Management (SAM), the federal government’s vendor database. Showing your CAGE code is important because that way contracting officials know you are oriented to the government sector (if you weren’t, you wouldn’t know you have to register in SAM) and are properly registered (federal agencies can’t do business with you unless you’re listed in SAM). Prime contractors pursuing government contract work like to see their subcontractors and suppliers registered in SAM, too.

Identifying your PSC/FSC and NAICS codes is important because that means you know what they are and their significance. (There are such codes for every product and service, and government agencies specify their contract opportunities using these codes.)

Similarly, if you are marketing to state and local governments, you should show your NIGP codes in your Capabilities Statement, because state and local governments use NIGP codes (instead of PSC/FSC or NAICS codes).

Providing point-of-contact information for the references you list is important in case a government official wants to make a call or send an email to one of them. Each reference listing should also describe the type of work you performed or the products you delivered for that individual or company.

Over a period of time, you’ll want to develop several different versions of your Capabilities Statement, each tailored to a particular government sector audience. This is just like tailoring a personal resume when applying for a particular job. You want your past work descriptions to match-up with the contracting needs of the agency to which you are marketing. Small Business Specialists within government agencies use this information to decide whether to refer you to contracting offices, end-users, and prime contractors. Contracting officials use this information to make initial determinations about whether you appear to have the wherewithal to perform.

In addition to a Capabilities Statement, you should also create a one-page briefing sheet on your firm. It, too, should be tailored to each audience or occasion. Briefing sheets can be very helpful as handouts when you are attending trade shows, expos, pre-bid conferences, or face-to-face meetings.
If you need a sample Capabilities Statement or more guidance on this subject, contact your local PTAC for help. Remember, too, that your PTAC offers classes and one-on-one counseling to provide detailed instruction on marketing your business to the government sector.


More about Procurement Technical Assistance Centers (PTACs)

Ninety-eight PTACs – with over 300 local offices – form a nationwide network of procurement professionals dedicated procurement professionals working to help local businesses compete successfully in the government marketplace. Funded under the Defense Logistics Agency’s Procurement Technical Assistance Program through cooperative agreements with state and local governments and non-profit organizations, PTACs are the bridge between buyer and supplier, bringing to bear their knowledge of both government contracting and the capabilities of contractors to maximize fast, reliable service to our government with better quality and at lower costs.