Relationship Solvency: Top 6 Watchouts in a Prime-Sub Proposal Process

    You’ve decided to embark on the proposal process to win a lucrative Government contract. If you’re awarded, how will you get all of the execution work done in the relatively minimal timeframe allotted? 

    Never mind that. How will you even get an excellent proposal in on time?   

    You subcontract, that’s how. If you’ve already established relationships with preferred consultants, you’re ahead of the game. But you may just be starting out or need specialists you haven’t pulled in before.  

    Teaming between primes and subs isn’t without its tensions. But we’re giving you an unfair advantage. Below are six rules that can save many a Contractor-Sub pairing at the pre-award stage.  


    1. Stay up to speed on teaming restrictions & put agreements in place. 

    Many Agencies now encourage Primes to team with multiple qualified Subs during the proposal process in order to fill a Contract’s requirements. But in the same breath the Agency will insist that Subs only team with one Prime. 

    It’s a great idea for any Prime/Sub partnership to execute a written teaming agreement even before a Proposal starts. Still, with an agreement in place and apparent adherence to the Agency’s restrictions, you may find that your proposal is rejected—even if it’s technically excellent and filed before the deadline. 

     Sometimes Subs will team with multiple Primes, even though they may agree to exclusivity in writing. Of course, they’ll do this to better their odds of winning.  

    Unfortunately, the Agency at hand will nearly always reject the Primes who unwittingly partner with such a Sub. Even if the Prime is in the dark the entire time.  

    Suggested fix: In future Proposals, when an RFP stipulates restricted Sub teaming, include the exact language in an addendum to your teaming agreement, and have an executive of the Sub sign this added page to form an additional contractual agreement. Just as insurance.         

    1. Watch out for conflicts of interest, on both sides. 


    Government RFPs usually require both a Prime and their Subs to individually certify they have no Organizational Conflict of Interest (OCI), such as involvement in a similar proposal with another Agency.  

    If both the Prime and Sub sign such an OCI certification, and the Prime submits the proposalthe involved Agency will reject both the Prime and Sub if it discovers either to be part of a contract that demonstrates a conflict 

    This is especially tough on Subs just starting out, should their Prime decide a conflict doesn’t exist when one in fact does.  

    Suggested fix: Both Primes and Subs: Get an OCI determination on both parties directly from the Government before proposal submission. If this can’t be done in time, Primes, submit an OCI mitigation plan with the proposal itself.   


    1. Know your partner’s performance on previous proposals & contracts. 


    As a Sub, maybe you have direct Contract experience with an Agency, so you and other Subs could be asked by a Prime to join the team on a new endeavor. 

    Before you brag about how close you are to the customer and how insightful you can be during the proposal work, make sure the Agency declaring the RFP can back up your claims.  The same goes for your Prime. 

    If either party’s past performance with this Agency is below stellar and overstated in the current proposal, you’ll lose the Contract. 

    And Subs are just as vulnerable to a Prime’s lousy performance as Primes are to a Sub’s. 

    Suggested fix: Do some back-channel on your partner before you get involved. Sure, you can be trustingeven from the get-gobut do your due diligence. Otherwise, unsubstantiated claims on either side can sink you. 



    1. Insist on flexibility when your partner’s incumbent status is stronger. 


    At times, you’ll need to seek out a partner with the right size standard and certification to team with—such as when the Government changes the size standard on the recompete of a contract. 

    Maybe you find a partner that has a great legacy with the Agency client, and an even better reputationYou sign the teaming agreement and begin the proposal process. 

    This is when an incumbent can make the working relationship intolerable. Sometimes they can’t fathom the necessity of improving their processesthink every decision is based on their relationship with the Government, and can be cautious about sharing information to the detriment of the Proposal.  

    Your over-confident partner can also only insist on being compliant with certain sections of the RFP, and not others. Here again, you won’t win.   

    Suggested fix: Call a meeting between the top execs of both firms at the first sign of trouble. Often, you’ll have to switch out some of the players supporting the proposal—sometimes on both the Sub and Prime sides. But time is of the essence. Don’t wait to act on this one.  



    1. Consider 3rd-party review of sealed packages.(1) 


    During a proposal, you may become reasonably skeptical of your partner. 

    This can be due to their lack of experience on a large proposal process, or inherent conflicts of interest as a result of being on too many teams.  

    Consider 3rd-party review of sealed cost packages on contracts of $100M+. As a Prime, you’ll only get back information on completeness, compliance, and reasonableness of a package against agreed-to rates and requirements.  

    Agree to this outside mediation with your partner during teaming negotiations. Otherwise, sealed packages can often cause contract loss if prices in a package are much higher than what’s stated in your cost volume. 

    Suggested fix: Agree on 3rd-party mediation of sealed packages right up-front and put it in writing as an addendum to your teaming agreement, with signatories on both sides.  


    1. Make sure your technology platforms & data are compatible.(2)


    Software platforms that aren’t able to sync with one another can be the death of your contract award and your working relationship with a partnertoo. If costing data submitted by a Sub is in Excel and the Prime’s platform is a non-compatible cloud instance, the manual re-entry that’s required will alone put your proposal delivery in jeopardy.  

    Make a compatible technology investment mandatory for both sides during your teaming meetings. It’s ideal if both Prime and Sub are on the same platform. 

    Suggested fix: Consider ProPricer for Contractors as your common software solution. The platform enters legacy data automatically, lets you see cost-model comparisons with one click, and transfers data cleanlywithout formatting issues. There are even application extensions that power programs like Word to look and behave just like ProPricer. Request a demo here   




    1. WashingtonTechnology.com Article: How Crazy Subcontractors (and Primes) Can Kill Your Bid 
    2. ProPricer website 





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