I’ve talked to a number of business professionals over the years who, while recognizing the huge opportunity in government markets, felt it was too complicated for them to crack. No doubt, government markets are complex and, at times, seem bent on forcing contractors into processes that take away any competitive edge. Yet, whether you’re a newbie to the field, or a seasoned veteran, there are three simple secrets that should always be kept in mind in any sales and marketing effort.
First, solve the problem. You might think this is obvious, but so many times we are guilty of pushing features and functions where we think we have a competitive advantage instead of presenting real solutions to real needs. In order to solve the problem, you must find ways to get prospects to open up and reveal their true pain. This means being there first (before the RFP is issued) whenever possible, and it means establishing good rapport and strong credibility. It also means discovering pain at different levels of the organization since the pain at one layer may not be the same as that of another.
Once the problem is well understood, the solution offered must clearly and obviously provide a legitimate fix. “Smoke and mirrors” may win you the occaisional deal, but real solutions create a long-term business. If you can’t solve the problem, move on (or at least tell the prospect you’re unsure there’s a good fit–you may find them changing requirements if they really want to work with you).
Second, follow the rules. Rules and regulations are foundational elements of government markets, and contractors must be adept at following them. That doesn’t mean a contractor can’t have some degree of influence over the process. However, influence must come early in the process. Once RFP guidelines have been issued, for example, it might take an act of Congress to change them (literally).
Third, make it easier than the next guy. “Ease” builds value in the government market (in all markets really). So even if your product solves the technical problem, and you’ve followed all the procurement rules, your solution still may not make the cut if another vendor illustrates they are easier to work with, or require less handholding. You see, buyers subconsciously evaluate the ratio of perceived personal glory and perceived employer benefit to the perceived effort required. In other words, from the buyer’s perspective, vendors that can “make me and my department (particularly me) look good for the least amount of effort” will win.
These three concepts may seem elementary to some, but brilliant game plans will not win games if blocking and tackling such as this is poor. Keep these three fundamental secrets in mind, and you’ll end up with the odds in your favor.