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5 Pricing Tips for the New Year

As we enter a new calendar year, we begin the madness of sharpening our budgets and pipelines.  Some of the focus ends up being on managing expenses and headcount, as it should, but often some quick and easy planning can help you to optimize your pricing strategy for the next year.

To get you started, here are five pricing tips for the new year:

  1. Contract Labor Bill Rate Review
    Have you had any staff turnover on your firm fixed price or time and materials contracts? If so, you may be able to capture some labor efficiencies by “greening” those positions and/or consolidating functions under higher bill rate positions. BONUS TIP: This is especially helpful if the contract is up for a re-competition and you’re the incumbent.
  2. Cost-Plus Contracts
    If your Cost-Plus contract is coming up for a re-compete, review all of the direct labor rates, and examine them against market rates (such as a survey or government rate data such as Bureau of Labor Statistics).  Bid market rates, NOT current employee rates.
  3. Subcontract Review
    Are there opportunities to bring in new subcontractors of the same quality/scope, but with better rates? This might be dependent on teaming agreements and workshare commitments. If the contract allows it, develop an active strategy around subcontractor selection and rates every year.
  4. Overhead & Infrastructure Review
    Facilities – this is a big one. Are there opportunities to renew different types of leases/facilities?  You may want to explore the trend of shared/co-working spaces. This solution can provide a lot of cost efficiencies if your contract/company policy allows it. Telecom expenses are also a major player. There are a multitude of new options that minimize the telecom costs for entire companies through third-party vendors and resellers, or cost sharing with other companies. Do your homework and save your company money in the long run.
  5. Beef Up Your Back Office Support
    Can you outsource major functions such as accounting, HR, recruiting, contracts? Believe it or not, this is becoming a good option for many mid-tier contractors. Use this opportunity to get lean without sacrificing quality and compliance standards.

The tips above are not a one-and-done type of deal. You should be reviewing internally each year as you plan operations and execution of contracts for the new year.  While much of this is common sense, seldom is it applied to affect pricing strategy/updates.  Use this information to bid sharper and smarter than your competitors and get the edge in pricing!

CMS-PEO Pricing Synopsis

Pricing Alert – The massive HHS/CMS PEO RFP is out!
Are you prepared to tackle the complex pricing requirements?  It might seem straight forward at first glance, but read our detailed Pricing Synopsis to look out for some challenges and pitfalls to avoid.

Abstract:  This 10 year $2B IDIQ contract has two task orders along with the IDIQ awards. However, bidders beware. Despite the use of fixed price task orders, there’s still a large amount of pricing detail and documentation required. Teams with large number of subcontractors will need dedicated management and support to ensure submission of accurate proposals.

Contract Overview

The Provider Enrollment and Oversight (PEO) Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contract will provide contractor support to Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to detect, prevent, and proactively deter fraud, waste and abuse in the Medicare and Medicaid programs.

CMS anticipates multiple awards with a combined ceiling of $2B over the life of the contract. The ceiling may be increased at the CMS’s discretion. A minimum of 4 awards will be reserved for small businesses (under NAICS code 541990 and a size standard of $15M). The RFP (75FCMC18R0014) is silent on the number of potential awards to other than small businesses. The maximum ordering period is five years plus (1) additional five-year option period for a total ordering period of ten years. Neither the RFP or the IDIQ Ordering Guide clarify whether the task order period of performance can extend beyond the IDIQ ordering periods.

In addition to the IDIQ contract awards, CMS will also award two Firm Fixed-Price Task Orders on an unrestricted (full and open) basis for Site Verification Services – Eastern Region and Western Region. The RFP notes that one Offeror cannot be awarded both Site Verification Services’ task orders.

IDIQ Pricing Requirements

The proposal is organized into six volumes. Volumes I through IV pertain to the IDIQ proposal. Volumes V and VI are reserved for offerors bidding on the two awardable task orders which we discuss separately. The IDIQ pricing information content is divided between Volume I – Contract Documentation and Volume III Business Proposal.

All offerors must submit basic pricing information which includes typical IDIQ level pricing requirements including accounting systems information, indirect rate information, and the submission of a sample task order pricing. The IDIQ award will be based on this information.

Adequate Accounting System

The RFP contemplates a predominant mixture of Cost Reimbursement (CR) and Firm-Fixed Price (FFP) form of task orders awarded. Offerors must have an accounting system that is deemed acceptable or adequate for determining costs Subcontractors who are anticipated to have CR contracting arrangements, including non-commercial Time and Materials type contracts, must also have an acceptable or adequate accounting system.

Rate Information

Offerors must submit indirect rate information in Volume I including both approved provisional indirect rates and any forward rate price agreements. Offerors that have no prior history of approved indirect rates must submit support documentation for the prior 3 years consisting of their current year operating budget and a forecast covering the anticipated period of performance and associated documentation on that supports the proposed rates. The RFP does not request offerors to propose any IDIQ ceiling rates for either direct labor, indirect or fixed fee rate. However, the RFP contains a clause which gives CMS the option to establish ceiling indirect rates. We think clause this has implications for pricing the sample task order discussed below.

Sample Task Order Pricing Requirements

The sample task order pricing is straightforward. Exhibit E.8 “QASP Sample Task Order Business Proposal Template” is to be priced for base and one option period. Labor is priced as fully burdened (inclusive of fee). The labor rates are then linked to a labor rate buildup backup detail for each task order period. Offerors must show the full detail of their proposed labor rate (including the erroneously termed ‘Fixed Fee’).

Curiously, the pricing template requests offerors to map proposed travel and ODCs by SOW section. However, similar mapping information for labor costs is not required. Travel cost detail must be provided for the Kick-off meeting. However, for remaining travel, CMS requests offerors to use a plug unit cost of $2,000 per trip per person. For indirect rates, the instructions specifically state to cross-reference Volume I for indirect rate basis information. Finally, a compensation plan must accompany the sample task order pricing. CMS provided a streamlined template in Exhibit E.8 reflecting the minimum information necessary to comply with FAR 52.222-46. We recommend offerors take the hint and provide just the bare minimums necessary for compliance and nothing more.

While the Exhibit E.8 is in itself not very complex, importantly, Offerors are required to provide additional, lower level, labor-hour detail under Technical Factor 3 – Key Personnel and Staffing Plan within the Technical Volume. The task order RFP requests full-time equivalent (FTE) and labor detail by CLIN, labor category, prime/subcontractor. The staffing summary must provide both full-time equivalents and labor hours. While the instructions do not request a lower level labor breakdown by individual subcontractor, subcontractors are required to provide this FTE and labor hour detail by CLIN (and 2nd tier subcontracts) in their Exhibit E.3 Subcontractor Proposal Information Checklist. Therefore, it will be important for primes to ensure their subcontractor labor data ties in three different proposal documents, Volume III Exhibit E.8 QASP Sample Task Order Business Proposal Template, Volume II – Technical Volume staffing summary, and Volume I – Exhibit E.3 Subcontractor Proposal Information Checklist. (Unfortunately, we revisit this theme of cross-volume data checking under the two larger (and real) task orders below.)

We’re not fans of RFPs that require pricing sample task orders that are not awarded. We believe they invite aggressive and potential unrealistic and irrational pricing. However, as mentioned above, there’s one RFP clause that could give bidders some pause from overly aggressive pricing of the sample task order, at least for indirect rates. Section E of Volume I instructions state, “In accordance with FAR 42.707, entitled ‘Cost Sharing Rates and Limitations on Indirect Cost Rates,’ CMS may establish indirect cost ceilings in the contract. If established, reimbursement will be limited to the negotiated indirect cost ceilings established in the contract…” We wonder what would happen if a bidder proposed aggressively low indirect rates for the sample task order (below their current approved provisional rates) and were awarded an IDIQ contract. Could CMS accept these low sample task order indirect rates and subsequently cap those rates for the life of the IDIQ? (Don’t say it can’t happen just because CMS did not make good on the threat on other contracts. I recall an Army recompete where, based on the prior contract, bidders priced the IDIQ using T&M rates with the understanding the Army would ultimately request task order pricing using those T&M rates, but issue task orders on a fixed price basis. Many bidders proposed low labor rates, assuming they could subsequently manage the labor hours on a fixed price task order to ensure adequate profit. The Army subsequently issued T&M type task orders, not fixed price, and the contract holders were stuck pricing and executing their task orders using the artificially low IDIQ T&M rates. The moral of the story: Anything is possible. Don’t assume past agency behavior is an assured prediction of future behavior).

Task Orders 1 and 2 Pricing Requirements

The IDIQ award will be based on the sample task order. CMS included two additional Firm Fixed Price (FFP) Task Order RFPs that will be awarded:  Eastern Region Site Verification Services and Western Region Site Verification services. Both are full and open competitions. Offerors are permitted to bid on either one or both. However, CMS will not award both task orders to the same offeror. The cost proposals are contained within Volume VI (VI-A Eastern region, VI-B Western Region).

Pricing for both task orders are organized similarly in Attachment J.5.C (Eastern Region) and Attachment J.6.C (Western Region). Each pricing template contains five CLINs representing separate 12-month periods of performance. Each CLIN contains an “AA” sub-CLIN for ‘Site Visits’ (sites not associated with an Independent Diagnostic Test Facility (IDTF)) and sub-CLIN“AB” for IDTF Site Visits. Each subCLIN is further divided into 4 visit types (48 hrs., 7 days, 15 days, or 30 days). While the pricing attachments appear to denote these site visits in terms of visit length, we note that each SOW denotes the 4 visit types in terms of response time. So, a “30-day site visit” as labeled in the pricing attachment appears to really mean perform the site visit within 30 days’ notice according the SOW. A 48-hour site visit would mean perform the visit within 48-hour notice. This is an important distinction and we recommend offerors confirm that the SOW’s definition of site visits types is the correct definition.

Unit Pricing Requirements

Offerors must propose unit prices per visit type with associated breakdowns of fully burdened labor, travel. ODCs, and subcontract costs. The pricing templates are designed to apply the same proposed CLIN/Site-visit type unit price to both the minimum order guarantee quantities and to the (larger) estimated quantities. Therefore, the template produces two total prices:  A ‘minimum quantity’ price and a total price based on ‘Estimated Quantity’.

Detailed Labor Tracking

As discussed under the sample task order, similar cross-volume labor detail is required for each of the awardable task orders. Similarly, it will be important for primes to ensure their subcontractor labor data ties in three different task order proposal documents, Attachment 5 (or 6) pricing template, Volume V – Technical Volume staffing summary, and Volume VI – Exhibit E.3 Subcontractor Proposal Information Checklist. Finally, we also note, the task order instructions are silent on whether the staffing summary must be built to the minimum order quantities, estimated quantities or both. CMS should clarify

Burdensome Basis of Estimates

In addition to providing the Excel pricing attachments, offerors must provide a Business Proposal Narrative. The narrative must include among other things, a Basis of Estimate. The BOEs must, “describe the BOE used to establish those estimates as fair and reasonable. This includes providing all assumptions used to establish proposed prices and any and all empirical data which can provide further support to the proposed prices as fair and reasonable. The Government needs to understand how you determined the prices per element and how that correlates with the technical approach”. We’re surprised this level of detailed documentation is needed given the work scope is somewhat standardized and offerors are proposing fixed prices. We wonder why CMS wouldn’t rely on direct comparison of offeror prices to establish price reasonableness. Regrettably, this represents a lost opportunity to streamline the time and effort required for both the bidders and for CMS.

The BOE instructions request further details for each cost element. Offerors must provide the labor category(s) that make up the “Labor” price per site visit and include information on proposed escalation of each price element as well as the level of ‘productive labor’ in 1 full time equivalent (FTE).

Similar types of information are requested to explain travel and ODC costs. For subcontractor costs, the RFP does not explicitly request similar pricing details as the prime, except it specifically states primes must include a subcontract “Certificate of Current Cost or Pricing Data; as appropriate”. Until the Contracting Officer determines adequate competition does not exist, we do not believe there’s any reason for subcontractors to submit certified cost and pricing data.

SOW Disconnect?

While each SOW (Eastern and Western) identifies the states and territories covered, each SOW also contains an extra provision to optionally expand the geographical scope of services required. SOW 3.3, paragraph 2 states, “The Contractor shall have the ability to conduct nationwide site verification services at locations in all 50 States and 6 Territories, if required by CMS and with a minimum 30-day notification. (emphasis added). We would think the ‘East Region’ contractor might object to CMS and giving ‘East Region’ work to their counterpart ‘West Region’ contractor and vice versa.

Other Pricing Quirks

SOW 3.5, paragraph 2 states, “If there are multiple providers at the same location, the Contractor shall provide one record for each provider with the appropriate provider ID and provider name attached to each record”. However, pricing is based on ‘site visits’ and appear to be location based. In this instance, multiple providers at one location appears to represent (1) site visit. We think offerors should seek clarification.

Conclusion

We’re surprised at the level of cost and pricing data and associated documentation requested for the first two task orders, even though there’s adequate price competition and fixed pricing for presumably standardized services. Bidders with a large team of subcontractors should carefully manage the proposal to ensure the labor data correctly ties out among multiple proposal documents. We also think offerors (especially small businesses) should exercise care when pricing the sample task order to ensure they don’t unintentionally sign up for low indirect rates that they may not be able to adequately accommodate during the IDIQ contract.

If you’re looking to BOOST your proposal give us a call or send us an email, [email protected] We’re able to provide pricing synopses on a variety of RFP opportunities to help you avoid pitfalls and tackle requirements the right way. 

Prepared by BOOST LLC/Michael Gallo

Opportunity identified by The Pulse of GovCon

Seven Tips for Navigating 4Q18

As we start into the last government fiscal quarter, it is feast or famine time. Some have hit the beaches, getting some much-needed R&R and family time. Some are heads-down in proposal mode, worried about when the next one will hit. Others are in purgatory, the stretch between proposal submission and proposal award, with their fingers crossed thinking about the to-do list should they win.

All in all, summer is notoriously a time for going all out or taking off in the federal space. The battle rhythm is hard to hit. Here are some key points to consider, if only for your sanity.

  • Proposal Hell – make sure you’ve locked in the proposals you plan on bidding this summer. If it isn’t in your pipeline and you haven’t been tracking it, you aren’t ready to prime.  Don’t burn out your team on a bluebird, low probability win. You’re going to need them for your must wins.
  • Proposal Heaven – It’s late in the game, but make sure your templates are up to date and ready to bang out. Opposite of above, be ready to turn a bluebird subcontracting proposal over quickly. If you are doing less of the heavy lift, take more risk and bid more. This is where your templates can greatly reduce effort and your team can respond with agility. Besides, some percentage of revenue is much better than no revenue. Expand your book of business without needing to prime everything.
  • Pricing – As you close June’s books, have your folks review with leadership actual vs. planned for the first half of the year. Is your multiplier running as you expected? Does your pricing strategy for the summer need to be adjusted? Do it now before you turn in those bids. What is the impact for your proposal? Where can you tighten up? Impact on Operations (particularly CPFF work)?
  • Recruiting – It’s a tight market and it’s hard to compete for key folks. Be aware of summer schedules and be flexible as an employer. If they can’t interview in the next two weeks, it’s not necessarily because they aren’t interested. Adjust your expectations for days to hire.
  • Leadership and Recruiting – It’s a great time to schedule those pipeline candidates for coffee where you can. They want to interact with leadership, not the recruiter. Take the time to touch base so when the contract award hits, you can move quickly.
  • Mental Health – This is important for everyone. Take the vacation, take the time off. Get off your phone and dear god, stop driving your team endlessly. If leadership can’t take a vacation and check out for a bit, what have you done wrong in your business? Delegate, empower and document. This goes for CEOs to administrative staff. Absolutely no one is irreplaceable. Create an environment where taking time off is actually a good thing, not something that is frowned upon.
  • Be Efficient (a tip from Courtney Fairchild of Global Services) There will be a great deal of opportunities arriving at the end of the fiscal year buying season, but working smart will save you valuable time and energy. Looking ahead at forecasts; touching base with current government clients; having up-to-date GSA schedules with all the services and products you offer, and being mindful of micro-purchase thresholds can provide meaningful wins and cash flow.

 

Before you disconnect for a bit- get everything in order to jump back in well-rested and energized. If you find you’re a little light on recruiting or pricing preparation, let BOOST know. We’re happy to jump in and have a conversation with you to see where you can tighten up and delegate when possible. Email[email protected] and let’s talk.

Circle of Pricing

Pricing terminology is confusing! Everyone uses the language differently – with different philosophies on pricing, different terms for the stages of pricing and a lack of consistency for terms. All further complicated by which government agency you serve.

Here is the circle of life as it pertains to pricing in a nutshell:

Before the RFP Drops

Competitive Analysis/Price to Compete–this is looking at all external factors to understand your competition and determine what the competitive landscape will be. Think of this as coming up with a range of what would be competitive. This includes taking the following into consideration:

  • Competition and assessing your competitor’s rates
  • Government customer’s budget – current funding and projected forecasted spending
  • Customer’s previous history and buying decisions

This is normally done well in advance of the RFP dropping and can be critical to the bid/no-bid decision. It also serves as a guide for strategic planning and vision. Are you looking at opportunities that make sense for your company?

Draft RFP/Initial RFP 

Price to Win – this is a bottom-up build based on the draft RFP documents and final RFP documents. The end result is to model the Total Evaluated Price (TEP).

The inputs into the TEP (for example, the technical solution), are determined during the Competitive Analysis.

The outputs of the Price to Win analysis are to recommend specific strategies identified in competitors that can be incorporated into your internal pricing strategy. Price to Win should provide you with a comparison of labor categories, location, etc that are being priced by your competitors. You can use this information to compare to your own approach and make adjustments to your solution and to your pricing.

Strategic Pricing/Internal Focus – this is the bottom up and top down approach towards pricing out your technical solution. When done right, this is in lockstep with the technical team from the beginning. Factors taken into consideration:

  • Lines of code, widgets required
  • Hours and labor categories associated with each task, level of expertise required, labor rate
  • Travel/ODCs, subcontractors as required
  • Geographical location
  • Quality Assurance/Testing process
  • Certifications required
  • Multipliers/Wrap-rates used
  • Fee analysis
  • Assumptions documented

Depending on available information, relationship with the agency and when the technical solution is developed, this should be done in advance of the final RFP hitting the street (in a perfect world).

After the RFP Drops

Proposal Pricing/Cost Volume/RFP Based – the actual cost volume, narrative and documentation for the audit file. This is the hard-core spreadsheet work, section B, documentation for the cost volume, and everything associated with the proposal as it relates to cost. Ideally, this is done with as much lead time as possible. In reality, it is always one of the last items to be complete as the pricer is waiting on subcontractor submissions, final verification of the staffing plan and any other shenanigans that come up in a color review. The goal is always to have it done in time for a thorough review. The key here is compliance, compliance, compliance. Follow the RFP to the T, focus on checking boxes and keep it simple.

If you need any help with the above, please reach out to BOOST. We have SME’s who focus on each of the above areas and can support any phase of the pricing lifecycle.

Why Pricing?

BOOST is excited to announce the launch of our new strategic pricing initiative, designed to support your proposal pricing needs and provide Price to Win strategy that incorporates all back office functions. We want you to win work, grow and succeed. Strategic pricing can get you there. 

Pricing impacts absolutely everything in an organization. If you haven’t been thinking about it strategically, or have just relied on your accounting shop to pull together a spreadsheet, you are going about it all wrong.

Here’s what I mean:

Capture –

  • How much does this customer have in the budget?
  • What did the incumbent bid?
  • Is it worth it to pursue this strategy?
  • Is this a profit play or increase past performance, new client, new offerings?
  • Impact to teaming decisions and teammates?
  • Did you know that Capture “owns” pricing? They’re ultimately responsible for the bid price.

Proposal Team –

  • What key personnel do we bid?
  • What type of labor mix will show the customer that we can deliver?
  • What price will come in competitively?
  • How do we price our solution?
  • How will our competitors bid?
  • How will we ghost weaknesses?
  • How can the pricing volume help win themes?
  • Other volumes impacted by price, such as SB volume, Contracts volume?

Recruiting –

  • Who are the key personnel and how can I ensure exclusivity (if possible)?
  • What is the geographic location, skill set and salary rates we need to start pipelining beforehand and hire in execution?
  • Greening plan? Innovative hiring solutions for continuity of ops over the contract years?
  • What flexibility do we have on credentials?
  • What type of benefits can we offer to supplement for lower base salaries?

HR –

  • What training do we need to offer to current staff?
  • Who can move from existing work to new work, allowing for career path?
  • How do we manage the workforce needs of the new team?
  • If changing badges, how do we ensure they understand our culture, benefits, etc.?
  • What is the cultural impact to the organization?

Operations 

  • How soon can we transition fully and hire?
  • Will we be stuck managing a team of unhappy badge changers?
  • What is the impact to the other projects if we trade players?
  • How can we keep the customer happy with a new team?
  • How can we hire the talent we need at the salaries we bid?
  • How do we overcome a small (or non-existent) annual increase and keep the team motivated?
  • How will the contract type affect performance metrics? Should we account for risk in the bid?

Finance –

  • What is the cost to hire, how quickly will we hire and what are the cash flow requirements?
  • What will be the impact to margins?
  • How do we deliver for maximum profits?

Leadership 

  • What does the win do for us in the marketplace?
  • Can we deliver operationally and do so profitably?
  • What is the impact to our culture that we need to recognize?

Shareholders –

  • What does this do to the company’s overall position within the industry/market?
  • What is the financial impact?

Absolutely everyone in an organization is impacted (directly or indirectly) by the pricing strategy that you employ on the bid. It goes without saying that to start, you’ve got to win. But the need to win MUST be tempered with the above impacts. Winning a poorly priced bid for headaches in execution is NOT worth it. Do not fall into the trap of “must win at any cost” mentality. It can wreck culture, margins and reputation.

For all the above reasons, we are extremely excited to announce our strategic pricing shop. We’ve got 10+ senior pricers that cover practically every agency, who have won billions. As we push towards fiscal year end, utilize professionals who can help you think through all of the above and win.