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Myth 1
State and Local Agencies Give Notice of Upcoming Projects
21 Days in Advance and That Isn’t Enough Time to Respond

By the time an agency has worked through all the details of what they need to buy and publishes a bid or RFP online, vendors might see the public bid deadline (often 21 days out) and conclude it is not enough time to respond.

However, vendors can learn about upcoming projects long before the bid or RFP is published. Vendors can leverage agency spending and planning data such as past procurement history, agency budgets, capital improvement plans and term contracts and learn about upcoming work months or years in advance. Vendors can utilize agency information to identify key agency contacts such as the procurement officer, buyer or decision maker on the project – then connect with these individuals by email or phone to build relationships.

As a vendor, you can learn about upcoming projects in advance and become a valuable resource to those agency contacts to help them better construct their next bid or RFP. Establish yourself as an expert in the market and position your business for success in your next bid or RFP response.

Myth 2
State and Local Agencies Only Buy from the Big Guys

Vendors might assume only the large businesses will win the contracts. However, many factors drive an agency’s choice of vendor including an agency’s small business or minority-owned contracting targets.

Federal agencies have a goal of reserving 23% of contracts for small businesses. There is no uniform goal across state and local government however many agencies publish their goals on their websites. Some agencies seek to exceed the federal target either in whole or in specific areas, such as disabled veteran-owned businesses. The State of New York’s target is 30% for MWBE state contracting and New Jersey has a goal of 25%. Others, like the state agencies of North Carolina and Rhode Island, have business certification programs for disability-owned businesses but do not have a formal set-aside or pricing preference program. At the city level, one example is the City of Chicago that offers a business certification process for disability-owned businesses for municipal procurements.

Another option if these types of agency goals or set-asides are not available is to team up. As a vendor, you should identify contracting/teaming partners who are adept at handling large contracts and inquire about working as a subcontractor on their next project. With the increased attention to working with small businesses, your presence may actually help them win the business. If your target agency shows a preference for working with large vendors, take an approach of “if you can’t beat them, join them” and work as a subcontractor.

Myth 3
State and Local Agencies are Only Looking
for Vendors Who Can Supply Huge Volumes

Vendors may not be aware of the many smaller, year-round purchases made by state, local and education agencies. A vendor has an opportunity here to provide lower volumes. 

A vendor should establish their business as a reliable partner to provide these smaller purchases. A vendor should also aim to be awarded a term contract from the targeted agency. With a term contract, the awarded vendor will supply products on an “as needed” basis over the length of the contract.

In addition, many state and local purchasing agents have discretionary power to spend without approval and/or going through the official bid/RFP process – sometimes at a significant spending level. Being “top of mind” with that agency means your business may show up as the vendor on their next purchase order, even if the purchase order is not part of a traditional bid, RFP or public award.

Myth 4
State and Local Governments are Risk-Averse
and Aren’t Open to the Latest Technology

Technology in the public sector often lags behind the private sector from one to five years (or more) because of an inherent bias against being the first adopter.

However, many technology products and services that are hot or trending in the private sector (like 3D printing and mobile devices) will soon be trending in the public sector for use in public healthcare facilities, law enforcement, government offices, K-12 schools and higher education. Vendors should know which agencies are considering future purchases and which are actively planning to buy these products and services.

One of the main selection factors many agencies use to select a product or vendor is a proven track record. As a vendor, you should be in a position to educate agency buyers on the unique value proposition of your product or service and provide them with sales materials highlighting why your innovative solution is trustworthy, reliable and the best solution to meet their needs. If you have case studies from private sector customers, share those with the agency. The needs of government buyers are often closely aligned with the needs of your private sector clients.

Myth 5
Agencies Only Purchase According to the Fiscal Year

State and local agency buyers need to make unexpected purchases not timed with the fiscal year or the buying plan of the agency. Also, state and local agency fiscal year-ends are varied -- unlike federal agency fiscal year-ends, which are always at the end of September.

As a vendor, you can use business intelligence tools that track government spending at the agency level to help you identify agency fiscal year schedules and real buying patterns of your target agency. Some agencies front-load spending at the beginning of the fiscal year once the budget is approved and some back-load, save their cash and make the majority of their purchasing decisions in the final quarter of the fiscal year. Others spread their spending evenly across the year. Vendors should know the buying habits and fiscal years of target agencies to strategize, plan and focus on the right time for sales and marketing efforts to win more contracts. Vendors need to be in front of the right agency contacts at the right time.

Summary
Ignore the Myths, Focus on Building Meaningful
Government Agency Relationships Instead

State and local government agencies all have their own purchasing guidelines and practices. One common theme throughout these five myths is that successful vendors have agency intelligence and build relationships with agency buyer and decision makers long before the bid or RFP stage. By becoming a trusted, informed partner with targeted agencies, vendors can win more government business.