Think about the scale of the federal government and you'll understand the revenue opportunity available to companies that compete in public sector RFPs. Consider Walmart. It is a huge business, employing some 2.1 million people globally with approximately 1.6 million of those working in the United States. It is, by headcount, the largest employer in the USA. And it is appreciably smaller than the federal government, which employed 4 million people in 2021. That number is dwarfed by the number of state employees (5.5 million), which looks quaint when measured against the number of local government employees, which exceeds 14 million.
The scale of federal, state, and local government in the USA is so vast that if the employees were to leave and start their own country, its population would roughly match up with Taiwan’s. It would be substantially larger than the Netherlands, Belgium, and Sweden. Its citizenry would be more numerous than the combined populations of Honduras, Nicaragua, and El Salvador. (Country population source: Wikipedia, List of Countries by Population)
The average American doesn’t spend much time thinking about the myriad layers of government spending. Sometimes news will break and a story will be discussed for a few days: delays and cost overruns on a fighter jet program; massive investments in bridges and tunnels; pay raises for Congress. Most of the line-item level spending is more mundane. These millions of employees need millions of desks and computers. They need papers and pens to put those desks to good use and software to get value out of their computers. All in, the budgets of government across all the different levels are unfathomably large. For large and/or complex commercial engagements, the tool of choice in the public sector is the RFP.
Differences between Public and Private Sector RFPs
Public and private sector RFPs differ in many ways. Public sector RFPs are much more regulated and formalized than private sector RFPs. They usually have standardized formats and require certain legal documents and disclosures, such as political contribution disclosure forms, non-collusion affidavits, certain investment disclosures and so on. Procuring businesses usually don’t need to comply with the same regulations set by governing agencies. Compliance rules are defined in-house per what that business’s expectations are for their project. Because of this, companies may issue an RFP with a vendor already in mind for their project. (In the worst cases, the RFP is really a CYA.)
Private organizations use closed RFPs, sometimes called invitation-only RFPs or private RFPs, to compare and select vendors. In this process, the issuing organization or consultant conducts market research, chooses a select group of vendors and privately issues the RFP to them, inviting them to submit a proposal. And for all the hand-wringing about private RFPs, they tend to be a lighter lift for sales people. For one, they tend to be smaller than the whopping public sector RFPs, which – on average – according to data published by RFP360 entail a 116-page RFP and a 144 pages response. The payoff for all of this hard work? The US federal Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency suggests that it will take nine months to more than three years to award a contract.
Finding Public Sector RFPs
That’s the bad news. The good news? These RFPs are publicly available? If your business provides the goods and services that the government needs, you can be proactive and submit a proposal. You don’t have to cross your fingers and hope that you’re on the private invite list or spend months schmoozing key stakeholders to score an invitation.
- Web search: You can use search engines like Google to find public sector RFPs. You can use keywords like “public sector RFP” or “government RFP” to narrow down your search.
- Aggregator subscriptions: You can subscribe to an RFP database or aggregator service that collects and distributes RFPs from various public sector organizations.
- Public agency websites: Public sector organizations often post RFPs on their websites. You can check the websites of government agencies, school districts, and other public organizations to find RFPs that match your business.
Best Practices for Public Sector RFPs
So you’ve decided that you want to be a player in the public sector. Here are some tips about how to get the most value out of the bidding process.
Build the right team
Proposal managers lead the proposal team. They should have a clear understanding of the RFP requirements and the company’s capabilities. The team should include subject matter experts who can provide technical expertise and writers who can craft a compelling proposal.
Only respond to RFPs you can win
As part of your bid-qualifying at the beginning of your RFP response process, add a go/no-go checkpoint to ensure that you only respond to RFPs you can win. This will help you avoid wasting time and resources on proposals that are unlikely to be successful. You should also evaluate your competition and assess your strengths and weaknesses before deciding whether to respond.
Respect contributors’ time
Contributors are often busy professionals who are volunteering their time to help with the proposal. You should respect their time by providing clear instructions and deadlines, and by being responsive to their questions and concerns.
Document your process
Documenting your process can help you identify areas for improvement and ensure that you are following best practices. You should document your process from start to finish, including how you identified the opportunity, how you developed your proposal, and how you submitted it.
Conduct a win/loss review
Conducting a win/loss review after each proposal can help you identify areas for improvement and refine your approach for future proposals. You should review both successful and unsuccessful proposals to identify what worked well and what didn’t.
Bonus tip – leverage an AI Assistant for RFPs
Coordinating a team and writing 144 pages of content is quite the undertaking. By leveraging smart automation capabilities available in products like Vendorful's RFP AI Assistant, you can reduce the required time by 10x, dramatically reducing the cost of bidding.
Competing in public sector RFPs can be challenging but rewarding for vendors. Public sector RFPs are more regulated and formalized than private sector RFPs and require careful attention to detail and compliance with regulations. Vendors who want to compete in public sector RFPs should develop a set of best practices to help them drive the best return on their invested time. They should also be proactive in finding RFP opportunities by using web searches, aggregator subscriptions, and public agency websites. By following these best practices and being persistent in their efforts, vendors can successfully compete in public sector RFPs and win new business.