Economic stimulus is making government one of the nation’s most vibrant markets. (See Gartner Report.) Companies that would normally have little patience with the slow pace of government sales are taking notice, particularly since they’re facing so many challenges in other markets. They know the amount of money available through American Recovery and Revitalization Act (ARRA) is significant (granted, an understatement). They hear that Congress and the White House want the money spent quickly. To them, these messages translate to low-hanging, quickly-harvested fruit. Boy, are they in for a surprise!
Those of us who have been in government sales for years know that there’s no such thing as low-hanging, quickly-harvested fruit when selling to the government. Government sales can be slow-moving and complex. Sales cycles are long, often very long. The sales pipeline can be misleading. Sales opportunities can easily lose momentum, then resurface quickly when least expected. Company leaders who don’t understand the nature of government sales often become impatient.
Companies without experience in government sales shouldn’t consider this message one of hopelessness. Government markets can be very rewarding – financially and otherwise. (After all, you’re serving your nation.) Instead, the inexperienced should remember, first and foremost, that government buyers are like all buyers; they’re looking for good value provided by vendors they can trust. If you can’t deliver that, read no further.
Secondly, finding potential government sales can be challenging, but the hunt can be quite successful. In some cases, it’s easier to identify potential buyers because of efforts to make government transparent. In other cases, it’s tougher because of the sheer complexity of government. It takes establishing methods to sift through the complexity, and ability to ask lots of good questions.
Once an opportunity is identified, the value proposition must be strong. Government buyers are smart and generally conservative. They know what they want, and aren’t likely to take big risks. So, their needs must be understood and properly addressed.
When the value proposition is finally made to the right people, the procurement process then kicks in. The rules can be frustrating and the process can be slow. The most important key to success of the procurement stage is to understand the process, which will vary from organization-to-organization and even procurement-to-procurement. Careful reading, and lots of questions will help. With the requirements well understood, a well-written response must be written with all items properly addressed. Then, the waiting begins…and, it almost always takes longer than promised.
Yes, government sales can be frustrating. ARRA won’t change that. However, economic stimulus will mean big dollars to many organizations. They just have to be smart…and patient.