Four Easy Lessons
Using Free Market Research
The Business Development
& Teaming Workbook
President and CEO
494 N. Pickett Street
Alexandria, Virginia 22304‐2106 USA
Four Easy Lessons in Free Market Research
These notes present Four Easy Lessons: Using Public Sources for Competitive Intelligence.
Here, you can learn who your competitors are, and who they sell to, find out what commercial off‐the‐
shelf products your competitors are selling and how they’re pricing.
These lessons show you how to use free data sources to identify business trends, buyers and
competitors. All this costs you is time – and that can be a perfect investment when you’re getting
Once you finish these lessons you can:
• Invest more of your time by assigning a team member to do this research and become very
good at it and find you the information you need ...or
• If you have a short time frame or lack personnel or expertise, consider leveraging your
business development funds by engaging one of the market research firms.
Easy Lesson #1: Research Buyers and Competition on FedBizOpps
The FedBizOpps web site includes more than upcoming contract notices. Find out how to use this public
resource for inexpensive market research and competitive intelligence.
Go to www.fbo.gov.
Select the VENDOR part of the site.
In the top right section of the next screen, select "Find Business Opportunity".
There, you can set up your search criteria to find contract awards.
1. How far back in time can search for past contract awards?
2. How can you refine your search, below the level of Procurement Classification?
3. How can you tell schedule contract wins from other contracts?
1. You can specify the range of dates you would like to search. You must remember to search both
"Active" and "Archives" if you want to get data older than awards published in the last two months.
When you select the option for Archives, if you don’t specify a range of dates, you can get some data as
far back as 1998, but not necessarily all transaction records.
2. You can do a text search for the names of vendors, buyers, or items. You can also use text search to
refine your search by specifying the Special Item Numbers that you saw listed in GSA Advantage. Those
are displayed in the FBO application as "Contract Line Item" numbers (CLINs).
While you can search using either North American Industrial Classification (NAICS) codes or Procurement
Classification codes, the results are likely to be very broad. For example, remember the range of items
that were offered under GSA Schedule 70? If you have a list of all the RFP’s, or the most recent awards,
for Product Service Group 70, it’s still hard to know exactly what was bought or sold. Special item
numbers / would help narrow the search, but they aren’t provided in the data.
3. GSA Schedule Contracts list the buying agency as "General Services Administration", AND, when you
select the specific contract to see detailed information, will list the GSA Office that does the contract
administration as the Contracting Office Contact.
Conclusion: FBO has limitations as a tool for competitive intelligence research:
• Most importantly, you can scroll your reports to your heart’s content and refine your search
within those results. But there’s no way to export that data into a spreadsheet to work with
it and analyse it. (In other words, you have data but no intelligence.) It’s not useful if you
want to analyse a whole year’s worth of data, to discern buying trends and get the whole
picture on the seller’s market.
• Descriptive information is usually limited to the definition of the Procurement Classification.
That does not provide enough detail to know what was actually sold, nor how many units.
• If you competitors made a sale from their GSA schedules, you cannot see any information on
which end user department or agency used that GSA Schedule to make the purchase – from
What’s a GSA Schedule, and what are your competitors offering at what prices?
That’s in Easy Lesson #2!
Easy Lesson #2: GSA Schedule Contract Competitive Research
If you want to offer the US government commercial, off‐the‐shelf, products or services that are exactly
the same as what you sell to your private sector clients, and at least some of your competitors may doing
the same, then the US General Services Administration could offer some insight into your competitive
If you are thinking of offering your products or services on a GSA Schedule – any schedule, not just IT –
you’re going to want to know what your competition is offering. You can expect to offer prices that are at
least moderately competitive with those, and/or to define your own offering so differently from your
competitor’s that your prospects will be eager to pay a premium just to buy from you...because they can
see all these prices just the same as you can.
This exercise will give you some sense of how GSA Schedule Contracts work, at least a partial picture of
what your competitors are doing, and some ideas to consider for your own company.
You’ll need about 45 minutes for this exercise.
1. Log onto www.gsa.gov. Type "Schedules e‐library" in the search field.
2. Go to the Schedules e‐Library ’s home page.
3. Click on a listing for products or services that interests you, perhaps one that corresponds best
with what you offer. (For example, "IT Solutions and Electronics"). You’ll then get a list of
Schedules that are used to buy related products and services.
4. Click on the schedule ID number, in the far left column. You’ll get a list of the categories of
products or services included under that schedule contract. (For example, your choices are:
00CORP – an omnibus schedule; 58 – for telecom; and 70 – for IT software, hardware and
5. Pick one (for example, Schedule 70), click on that ID number, and you’ll get...another list, this
time for Categories within that Schedule. (For example, scroll down to 132 51 Information
Technology Services ‐ SUBJECT TO COOPERATIVE PURCHASING.
6. Click on "132 51" in the left column. You’ll get a list of every vendor who offers that category
(also called a Special Item Number, or SIN) of goods or services through a GSA schedule.
On this screen, you see right away that there are over 4000 vendors who have a Schedule 70 contracts to
offer IT services. And, if you are a spreadsheet whiz, then you can download all this information and get
to work analyzing your competition.
Some vendors list a logo for "Cooperative Purchasing or Disaster Recovery." These vendors have agreed
to extend their offering under this schedule (an option that GSA permits for Schedules 70 and 00 CORP)
to buyers from state and local governments. Find out more about that on www.gsa.gov , and consider
the advantages and disadvantages for your company if you have, or are thinking about getting, a GSA
Next column, you see a contract number. Notice that GSA contracts begin with "GS". This can be helpful
to remember if you’re doing research with more detailed data. For example, GSA schedules are one of
many types of contracts. They are not the US government buyer’s only choice, nor are they the only
option vendors use. When you are searching for your competitor’s records of US government sales, you
might see not only contracts that start with GS, but also ones that start with AF, for Air Force, or N, for
Navy. That doesn’t necessarily tell you which US government agency purchased the products or services.
One US government department can use a contract vehicle that’s administered by another department.
GSA Schedules are a perfect example: nearly all US government agencies may use a GSA schedule to
purchase from one of the Schedule Contract holders.
Move another two columns to the right. Notice that you can sort the information by city and state. Scroll
down. Now, remember these are just the companies whose names begin with "A". A lot of companies
from California (no surprise), and Maryland and Virginia
Back to the screen.
Next column, "Socio‐Economic". If you click on the button, above this column, for "Display small
business", you’ll see the first 50 of a total of over 3500 small businesses who have GSA Schedules for IT,
and are eligible for a variety of preferences in the procurement system.
In this column, you’ll see codes, for:
• d: Small disadvantaged
• s: Small
• v: Veteran‐Owned small business
• dv: Disabled Veteran‐Owned small business
• w: Woman‐Owned small business
• 8(a): Certified minority‐owned and/or otherwise economically disadvantaged small business.
** For now, just remember that a firm that is based solely in Canada, with no legal corporate entity in the
United States, does not qualify as any kind of small business in the US procurement system.
So, there were over 4000 companies offering IT products and services through this specific GSA contract,
Schedule 70, and over 3000 of them were some kind of small business. Because the US government
spends billions each year on IT, these must be the lucky companies winning all that money, right? Small
businesses get preferential treatment in US government procurement. Furthermore, most Canadian
companies don’t qualify for those preferences. So what are the realistic opportunities, with so many
The US government spends $15 billion a year using contracts issued under Schedule 70. That revenue
isn’t evenly distributed among all these contractors.
Just because someone has a GSA schedule contract does not mean that they have sold anything to the
US government. A GSA schedule contract can take a lot of time to win, and it guarantees you absolutely
no sales at all.
Here are some of the most chilling statistics for any would‐be marketer to the US Government.
• Nearly 5000 companies hold a Schedule 70 contract for one or more of the listed categories of
goods and services. The top 2% of companies win over 67% of the total dollars spent through
these contracts by the US federal government.
More chilling is what didn’t happen:
• In 2003, 42% of Schedule 70 contract holders won less than $25,000 in business through
their contracts. That means they’re at risk of having their contracts terminated.
• And it gets worse: 38% of firms who spent the time, effort, and considerable resources to
win a schedule contract sold absolutely nothing.
Do you need a GSA Schedule? Will you sell enough through this contract vehicle to get a return on your
To propose and negotiate this kind of contract, expect an investment of several months of time, and, if
you hire a consultant to assist you, anywhere from US$5,000 to US$25,000 in professional services fees.
Find out your competitors’ prices to government.
Next column gives you an option to view a text file. Click one.
THIS IS THE COMPANY’S CONTRACT WITH GSA.
Keep scrolling down, and you’ll see all the items they offer, and the prices or labour rates for each one, to
all buyers who are authorized to buy from this contract.
What you’ve just learned: how to research your competitors’ offerings if they have GSA schedule
contracts. This is information you need to know, in order to make good decisions about your own pricing
and marketing. Remember the time/money tradeoff: you’re going to spend time and you’re going to
spend money. It will take your time to research, but you can do it yourself. Alternatively, you can pay to
hire someone who isn’t learning about this for the first time.
But – having a GSA Schedule Contract doesn’t guarantee any sales.
Want the details on their GSA Schedule sales? That’s in Easy Lesson #3!
Easy Lesson #3: Find GSA Competitors’ Sales Stats
Here’s how you can find out the sales figures for the vendors on every GSA Schedule, including refined by
The US government provides free reports in ten different formats on its Schedule Sales Query system at
1. On the top left menu, select "Create Report."
2. On the "Step 1 of 3" screen, you don’t need to enter personal information; you can just click
"Proceed" at the bottom of the dialogue box.
Then you’ll be offered 10 different report formats. Each serves a different purpose. This is an easy way to
check them out:
• For each report in turn, select "View Example" and consider how (or whether) this
information might be helpful to you. (Hint: not all of those reports are going to be useful for
a company doing competitive research.)
Three are particularly useful for you to research your competition. Before you begin, Find out which
Special Item Numbers represent which products or services from GSA Advantage
• Report 3: SIN & Schedule Totals by Fiscal Year
Will tell you the total value of GSA contract sales by all vendors for each Special Item Number
(SIN) and for all SINS within each Schedule. This is useful if you need the denominator when
you’re trying to figure out what percentage of sales your firm and your competitors have within
that SIN or schedule.
• Report 6: Total for All Quarters By Contractor By Fiscal Year
Useful if you know exactly who your competitors are, you know that they offer goods and
services on several different GSA Schedules, and want to know the total amount they are
winning through the GSA Schedule Program;
• Report 9: Total by Quarter & Contract for a Specific Contractor and Fiscal Year
Useful if you know who your competitors are, but don’t know which GSA Schedules they have, or
whether they have GSA Schedules at all. When you get the report of contract numbers, you can
go back to GSA Advantage and look up that contract number. That will take you back to the list
from Exercise 1, which offers you the option to view that contract details including offering and
• Report 10: Total by Contractor for a Specific Schedule and Fiscal Year
Essential search tool if someone is offering you the chance to "get on their GSA Schedule, " or
says they have a schedule and are willing to help you market through it. You’d want to know how
effectively they are using their schedule contract now. This report is also useful if you want to
know where you rank, relative to your competitors, assess the competitive activity among
several schedules to pick the ones in which you might like to participate.
Task b) Go back to the list of 10 reports. For each of the three report types listed above, select and select
"Generate Report". Enter search criteria for a category or contractor that interests you.
If you or one of your team is a spreadsheet whiz, then you have the option to turn raw data into useful
information. When you define the report you want, ask for the output in Excel spreadsheet format.
Remember, this ONLY tells you about the contractors who are using the GSA schedules to sell to the US
government. It does not tell you:
• What your competitors are selling, and in what volumes and contract types, through contracts
other than GSA Schedules (remember, the schedules account for only about 15% of the value of
total US federal sales); nor
• Who your competitors are selling to! The contract number, "GS......" only tells you that the
contract was a GSA Schedule. But the buyer might have been in the Air Force, the Department of
Commerce, or the Army Corps of Engineers.
So how can you find information on the other 85% of the market? On who the buyers are, and what else
your competition is up to besides GSA Schedule marketing? And how to find out which of your major
competitors have no GSA Schedules at all but are making lots of money – maybe even out‐shining the
vendors who have schedule contracts?
Time for Easy Lesson #4….
Easy Lesson #4: Research Past Contract Awards
The Federal Procurement Data System provides historical information on contract awards, theoretically
in more detail than either FedBizOpps or GSA Schedule Query System.
1. Log on and register at https://fpds.gov
2. Read the "Welcome" screen. This will give you a good idea of what the site offers – and what it
• “Standard" reports are great for big‐picture market overview. They will let you look at all the
purchases for a single US government agency, for one fiscal year. There are 50 pre‐formatted
reports to choose from. Take a look at which ones might be helpful to you, preview some
samples, and experiment.
• Remember, "Agency" can be a single organization (e.g. the Small Business
Administration), or a part of a larger department (e.g. the Federal Bureau of
Investigation within the Department of Justice, or the Customs and Border Patrol within
the Department of Homeland Security).
• EZ Search lets you answer very specific questions and flexible drill‐down into details. It does
not provide totals that you would want for competitive analysis.
• "Ad Hoc" reports are extremely detailed. They also require the most time for you to set up
and structure your report. .
This site can be useful if you have the time to figure out how it works, and is an excellent way to spend a
lot of time if you learn well by exploring.
Make the Most of the 2008 OSDBU Conference
These five tips will help you make personal contacts with agency representatives who are dedicated to
getting you the info and intros you need to get started. They’re the “OSDBU reps”—the small business
liaison officers who can open the door to dozens of government agencies and prime contractor partners.
1. Get Matched: Register Early!
The conference offers a program to match visiting small firms with interested large prime contractors.
MATCHING APPOINTMENTS FILL WITHIN DAYS – online registration for registered conference
participants opens February 19th 2008 at http://www.fbcinc.com/osdbu/counsel.asp
2. Avoid Forecast Feeding Frenzy
OSDBU reps come loaded with goodies to give away at their booths. Last year, the hottest item was the
Procurement Forecast for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Bound publications a few
hundred pages long, these forecasts list all the major spending planned for every agency of DHS, from
the telecom needs of the Transportation Security Administration to the ammunition buys for the Federal
Law Enforcement Training Center.
Almost every agency has a published forecast, and they’re happy to give them away! The forecasts
include what each agency plans to spend, how much they’ll spend, when they plan to buy, and the
contact name and information for the contracting officer.
When you’re at the conference, you might feel a primal sense of urgency to get one of every forecast
before they run out. You might become aware of the forecast feeding frenzy all around you as crowds of
visitors push their way along the aisles, reaching past people in earnest discussions to grab another big
book and scoot off to the next booth.
But here’s the key: the big value of these shows isn’t the paper. It’s the people. If you spend all your time
collecting paper, you’ve missed the most important thing: the chance to establish a relationship and ask
meaningful questions about how to connect with the people who could be your buyers.
There’s a better way. You can access all of those forecasts are available before the show at
http://acquisition.gov/comp/procurement_forecasts/index.html. Check them out now and find out
before you get there which agencies have needs you can meet.
3. FOCUS: Prepare for Who’s There
When you’ve done your homework, you’ll stand out from the crowd. Very few visitors come prepared to
tap the deep agency knowledge that these OSDBU reps can share. The most common questions sound a
lot like, “What do you do?” or “What do you buy?” or “Do you want to see my emergency lighting
And if you think that gets tiring for government folks, such questions make a profoundly poor impression
on the representatives of prime contractors. The most common things they spend their days saying are,
“Look at our Web site,” and “You need to registered to be considered as one of our suppliers.”
Don’t make this mistake. After you sign up for the conference, check out the list of government agencies,
large prime contractors, leading small businesses, and service providers who will be exhibiting. Visit their
Web sites. Look at what they do and how your capabilities fit with their priority markets and target
clients. Who tops your priority list?
Next, think about what you most want to find out that’s NOT on those agencies’ Web sites. Those are the
questions you want to ask in person at the conference.
4. Plan Your Day
• First, arrive early. The people you want to see are less tired and have more patience for you.
And people may pack up and head out early to beat traffic, so you don’t want to leave your top
picks until the end.
• Second, plot your course. Before the show formally opens, get yourself a coffee and go through
the exhibitor list with a highlighter. Who’s on your must‐see list, and where are they on the show
• Third, schedule your time. Do you have matchmaking appointments set up? Which onsite
workshops would help you most? Plan to take a lunch break because the leading reps on the
show floor will, too. Or, if you’re a work‐through‐lunch type, schedule your lower‐priority visits
for that time slot.
• Fourth, be a card carrier. Bring more business cards than you think you’ll need.
• Fifth, talk to your neighbors! Chat up the woman in the chow line, or the man next to you.
Everyone is here because they care about government contracting. Ask people what brings them
here, and what you can do to help. You might know just the person they need to meet and vice
5. Follow up!
If you had a particularly useful conversation with an OSDBU rep—especially if you’d like to stay in
contact or arrange a future visit—send a hand‐written thank you note within a couple of days. That
rare gesture can have quite an effect.
If you promised to send information, then send it promptly. If you collected a lot of stuff —forecasts,
business cards, “Doing Business With…” sheets—sort through it within a day or two (or, better yet,
on the plane ride home if you’ve flown in). Identify the people and agencies that offer you the best
prospects. Then plot your next steps to turn these contacts into potential customers.