Even in a growing marketplace, vendors and contractors still need to tailor their marketing to government specific needs. Using a series of expert recommendations, this article summarizes best practices in selling to all levels of government.
INFLUENCING THE BUYER
Joe Hacker, Director of Sales, Onvia
The most successful companies have a formal business development process for contacting buyers and influencing the development of project specifications well in advance. This includes following up on planned or budgeted items as well as unplanned future purchases.
Influencing the buyer and building relationships before a bid or RFP is issued can dramatically improve win rates, but you also need to be well-informed so you can offer them relevant information. This includes knowing about their past awards, existing contracts up for renewal and future spending plans that can help position you as a knowledgeable, trustworthy resource.Joe Hacker
It’s important to do your research before beginning the outreach. Understand what some of the key factors and trends are for that agency including regulations that might apply. You need to consider the entire buying team, not simply the designated staff person.
- Executive sponsor (who will have to sign off on the final decision)
- Internal champion (who has the most familiarity with your work or brand)
- Consultants (can be important in setting technical specs)
- Informants (admins, assistants, etc. who can help connect you with resources and provide critical intelligence)
During outreach, best practices include:
- Turn “commodity” categories into value-added categories through helping buyers appreciate “must have” features.
- Verify the typical purchase cycle or trigger events
- Inquire about current satisfaction with established vendors
- Learn what the key underlying decision factors will be
- Inquire about the status of recent or current projects
James Baker, Author, Public Sector Technology Exchange
According to his book, How To Win Business From the Government, the best companies will establish a scoring system to rank potential opportunities.
Before committing to pursuing a deal, vendors need to first have a solid understanding of the requirements, the specific vertical market, and the metrics involved with an opportunity.James Baker
- Timing of purchase: Study budget documents. Your team may need 6 -18 months to market a deal.
- Agency strategies and goals: Review and leverage official statements, their website, news, social media and audits.
- Technical requirements: Look at project requirements and determine whether a partner is needed.
- Competition: Study firms that have bid on or won earlier contracts.
- Contract type: Verify that you can fulfill the type of contract expected (i.e. IDIQ, multi-year term, etc.)
- Likelihood of making the purchase: Study draft documents, capital improvement plans, spending patterns, audits, etc.
UNDERSTANDING THE BUYER
Brent Maas, Executive Director, NIGP
Buyers are typically too busy to do extensive research and look for input from vendors who are sincerely interested in that agency’s needs and offer useful information. Maas describes procurement teams as being “understaffed” and often in “reactive mode” without the luxury of adequate time to study and become knowledgeable about the full range of products and services they may have to purchase. So when the time comes to tackle a new solicitation, they end up scrambling to catch up, reviewing older contracts, checking with their peers and being open to advice from vendors.
The last thing a buyer should do is try to manage a new procurement based on limited knowledge without taking the time to access all the information that’s available.Brent Maas
Agencies are interested in relationships of trust and respect with the private sector. Companies need to keep in mind that buyers cannot promise any future business in exchange for their help and most agencies will have some basic rules they follow regarding fairness and conflicts of interest that are often posted on their website.
Mary Scott Nabers, President/CEO – Strategic Partnerships, Inc.
Companies should not underestimate the importance of local economic impacts, as well as local connections, in the contract decision. With major projects, such as construction, one strategy is for national firms to partner with a strong local company once that project is known.
Usually prime contractors need some local participation. If it’s a big opportunity, we normally advise large contractors to find something they can hand off to a local partner.Mary Scott Nabers
Good local partners may:
- Know agency officials
- Be politically well-connected
- Serve as influential community leaders
In many federally-funded projects as well as some funded at the state or local level, set asides will be imposed calling for small, minority or women owned businesses to be used – which are typically also local. Successful contractors will also seek out local partners that can bring specialized capabilities or unique value propositions to help differentiate that proposal.
Larger, competitive primes will normally influence local vendors, trying to convince them that they are the likely winner. They operate with a sense of urgency, realizing that the best subs “can afford to be discriminating and may have more than one offer.”
Regardless of industry or level of government, the strategies outlined here suggest companies should invest time and effort in understanding the uniqueness of their government prospects and clients. Another common element is the importance of networking with and influencing the broader buying team, either directly or indirectly (through a teaming partner with local knowledge and contacts). As Brent Maas notes, buyers are willing to interact with businesses before a bid is issued, provided you come across in the right way with useful information to share.