Shaping as a Contractor

The reason Lockheed Martin and Booz Allen win so much is that they are master shapers.  In fact, many (most?) large government contractors won’t pursue contracts that they haven’t shaped. 

So, what is shaping?

Shaping is a cluster of influencing techniques that companies use to steer the government in ways that benefit them.

Your Goal As a Contractor

  • Get a sole source: The best outcome for you is to convince the government that:
    • It is in the government’s best interests to sole-source to you
    • They can sole-source to you.
  • Reduce competition: If you can’t get a sole-source, then next best is to reduce the number of other companies that can bid.
  • Increase your chances of being selected: Finally, you want to influence the government in ways that increase your chances of winning (e.g. influence the evaluation criteria to align with your strengths).

Shaping strategies

  • Shape the process: Influence how the government buys in ways that favor you:
    • Reduce competition: Encouraging the government to use processes that you can access but that locks out other companies.
      • Example: You are a woman-owned small business, and you push for the [WS1] government to set the contract aside for woman-owned businesses.
    • Don’t get locked out: If the government is considering competition limiting choices that would disqualify your company, you will need to make the case that it is in the government’s interest to broaden competition.
  • Shaping the evaluation criteria: Government solicitations typically contain explicit evaluation criteria. For example, the evaluation criteria could be:
    • That the lowest price bidder wins (this will help low price providers win)
    • That bidders must have three examples of past performance at a specific government agency (this will help veteran vendors by keeping new entrants out)
  • Shaping the need: Companies influence how the government thinks about their need (their solution space). For example, the government might need products shipped overseas.
    • A vendor that provides air logistics might stress the importance of speed.
    • A vendor that provides sea freight might stress the importance of volume and cost.

When you can shape

  • Responding to RFIs and Sources Sought: In the RFI or Sources Sought response, companies can recommend that the government include evaluation requirements or structure the acquisition in ways that play to the company’s strengths.
  • Writing white papers: Before the RFI comes out, companies can send position papers to government decision makers with their thinking about the topic. Not surprisingly, this thinking always aligns with the company’s strengths.
  • Conversations: Many prime contractors have long-standing relationships with their government customers, and they use those relationships to share their perspectives on the government’s needs and possible solutions.