Tools Used In This Recipe
As a growing business that's starting to focus on selling to enterprise, you'll find that market research around competitor pricing is difficult to find. Very few companies list their enterprise-tier pricing publicly. If your competitors are large enough to have already established contracts with the federal government, their negotiated prices are available through the GSA Schedule's searchable database. In this Recipe we'll walk through accessing the database and show how to look up prices so you can understand how your pricing compares to your competition.
Companies that contract with the federal government are required to comply with federal laws around transparency and fairness. Specifically, they are required to do so at a price as low as or lower than the price they offer to any other customer. Since each federal agency has its own budget and purchasing process, the GSA has a standardized process for private companies to establish list pricing that any agency can use in their purchasing process. This process benefits private companies by significantly reducing the complexity involved in selling to multiple agencies across the government. However because the government is required to disclose the negotiated prices, it means that this information is available to you to use as a reference point when establishing your own enterprise prices and understanding how your prices compare to your competitors. You can use this information to help you determine a price to charge your first enterprise customer, or to periodically benchmark your prices against larger competitors.
Before you begin
While the GSA Schedule can be a useful source of competitive pricing intelligence, keep a few things in mind as you leverage this resource:
- The GSA Schedule only covers products and services that the government purchases. If your product doesn't fall under one of the twelve categories that define GSA Purchasing areas, you likely won't get much value from this Recipe.
- Likewise, because only companies who have established federal pricing are listed you shouldn't consider this a complete list of competitor pricing.
- Because the federal rules of procurement require the government to get the lowest price offered by a vendor, you should treat listed prices as a reference and expect that prices charged to private companies will be higher.
- The GSA Schedule defines prices per product unit. For services this is typically an hourly rate, but the units will vary significantly for products. If you don't use the same units in determining your pricing, you'll have to do some conversions to find equivalent pricing.
- Due to negotiations in the contracting process, many companies' products are listed multiple times with similar SKUs at different price points. Because the contract information in the GSA eLibrary is typically PDF it can sometimes be difficult to figure out which is current.
Researching prices with the GSA Schedule
The GSA Schedule Website is free to use and doesn't require registration, but like many government Websites it can be difficult to navigate. It's worth spending some time reviewing the information on the site before diving in. Once you're ready, click the link labeled GSA eLibrary on the right of the page (or use this link to open the page directly).
The GSA Schedule covers the following twelve broad purchasing areas:
- Office Management
- Furniture & Furnishing
- Human Capital
- Industrial Products & Services
- Information Technology
- Professional Services
- Scientific Management and Solutions
- Security & Protection
- Transportation and Logistics Services
If your startup's product or service doesn't fit into one of these categories, it's likely that you won't get useful information from the GSA Schedule.
For the purpose of this Recipe we'll consider a hypothetical startup that offers a portable blood sample analysis device. Competitor products would be listed under Scientific Management and Solutions, so click that link to get started.
Because they can be broad, most of the categories have sub-categories. Our hypothetical blood sample analysis device would be listed under Laboratory Equipment, so click that.
Scroll down the list of sub-sub-categories until you find Analytical Instruments. The most likely competitors for our hypothetical product will be in the category Blood Cell Analyzers for Clinical Hematology And Related Chemistries, so click that link.
This subcategory has only five contractors listed (some have hundreds). If you're following this Recipe for your own startup, hopefully you should recognize the company names as competitors. The legal name of the company is listed, along with the contract number, phone, and headquarters location for the company.
What we're interested in is the icon that looks like a sheet of paper, in the column named Contractor T&Cs/Pricelist. Click the one for Immucor, Inc.
The GSA contract for Immucor will open in a new browser window. Most GSA contracts are in PDF form, but a few are saved as web pages. There is no standard format or structure for these documents, so when using this Recipe for your own startup you'll need to plan to spend some time digging through these types of documents. Typically however the contract terms are in the beginning and the price list is at the end. That's the case for this Immucor contract, so scroll down until you find the section titled GSA PRICELIST EFFECTIVE...
In this case the first four entries are for 1) The company's Galileo Echo product, 2) An onsite setup training course, 3) an onsite technical training and support program, and 4) one year of maintenance and support.
Next let's go back to the browser tab with the list of contractors and click the icon for Roche Diagnostics Corporation. Again scrolling past the contract terms to the price list at the bottom we see prices for five different line items. The first three are different sizes of the company's LightCycler product, and the other two are part of their Benchmark product.
Given the size of enterprise contracts, nailing your startup's pricing can be the difference between stagnation and hyper growth. Every data point you can gather to help you make this critical decision is valuable, and while the GSA eLibrary can be difficult to navigate, if your established competitors are large enough to have government contracts it's a very helpful tool for benchmarking pricing.
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