Are You Ready to Sell to the Government?

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There’s an old adage that says when you are selling to the government, the hardest part is getting in.  In keeping with this, preparation is one of the most important keys to success. Check out the following five steps in to figuring out if you are truly prepared to sell to the government.

Step 1 – Conduct an honest assessment of your long-term commitment to the process

The path to selling to the government is a unique one, different than selling commercially and one that requires that you understand the unique process details. There are very specific procedures to follow and there may be many roadblocks along the way. Evaluate if your business is ready to go the long haul and if you have the patience to see this through until the end. Rather than thinking in terms of short-term gains, consider your long-term ROI and how you will take the appropriate steps to get you there. Recognize that you will need to invest in order to get in the door in a meaningful way. You will have to build and/or outsource an  infrastructure to ensure that not only can you deliver what you promised; you can maintain and support it. You may also need to be prepared to offer a free or steeply-discounted trial to prove the validity of your solution. Recognizing this and the fact that you may not even break-even on your investment for many years, is an important step when deciding to sell to the government.

Step 2 – Evaluate your commercial success and recognize if your solution is appropriate for the government

Commercial success may both be an advantage or a hindrance when it comes to selling to the government. While you may have had success in the commercial sector with your solution, this doesn’t give you an automatic triumph when it comes to the government. While a commercially successful product or service may provide a springboard into the government, your solution needs to be a good fit for a government-specific problem and the people who are evaluating your product want to see that you’ve done your time in terms of completing the process. Your credibility isn’t defined by your commercial success or even your success in other government agencies. You will need to build this credibility up over time and look to develop personal relationships with the stakeholders in the government.

Step 3 – Figure out how you can establish your own referenceability

The government is staffed by people who control huge budgets but work for average wages, so they won’t appreciate the fact that you may stand to make more in one sale to the government than they make in a whole year. The people who will be evaluating what you have to offer appreciate and respect personal relationships and want to see the big picture – the person, the company and the technology. It may take a while before someone is comfortable enough to give you a shot, but once they do, if you have a product that solves a government problem and you treat the people and the unique process with respect you’ve created referenceability for yourself, and may be able to  take your solution on to other levels or departments in the government.

Step 4 – Create a dedicated team with government-specific training

Selling to the government can be an onerous task and because it requires specialized knowledge and follows a much different process than selling in the commercial sector, your team should consist of people who are dedicated to this process. They should be skilled in what is required to sell to the government. By having a dedicated team, this also shows the government that you are willing to invest your time and money into this process, which is a definite green check mark in your box. From here, you can develop government-specific marketing and infrastructure investments as much of your  commercial expertise  will not work in most situations.

Some organizations choose to  outsource much of the process, including but not limited to:

  • Sales/business development
  • Bidding, contract management and compliance
  • Support and maintenance
  • Billing and collections

Step 5 – Acknowledge the government budget cycle and set your goals around it

The government budget cycle runs from October 1st until September 30th. The bulk of the technology buying is done in August and September, but in order to make a sale at this time, you must have already been in the process well before this time. By starting early in the government’s fiscal year, you may see some success by the end of it. Don’t expect to pitch a solution in the summer and have it reap benefits by fall. Again, patience and long-term planning is the key to your success when it comes to selling to the government.

To reach Peter Ostrow, contact him at postrow@technicalcommunities.com.