Common Misconceptions About Selling to Government

Confused about government selling?We talk with executives all over the country who are considering ways to break in or improve their government business.  One of the barriers to success we see often are misconceptions about the market itself.  Get these out of the way so you don’t stumble as you move forward.

Government agencies are massively wasteful.

Believe me, as taxpayers, we can be just as outraged as the next guys about some of the “pork barrel” spending that comes out of Washington.  Ridiculous, pet projects can happen at the local level as well.  Certainly, government agencies are not always frugal and efficient with the money they’ve been given. 

However, we also would not categorize them as being massively wasteful in the general sense.  There are many processes and practices in place to reduce waste and frivolous spending.  As government salespeople, there have been countless times when we’ve half-seriously longed for the government to be a little less stingy or a little less focused on the almighty budget.  If you’re expecting to land deals because agencies are throwing money around willy-nilly, you’re probably in for a rude awakening.

Government workers are less skilled or lazy.

So we’ve all experienced the “typical” government worker behind the counter at the DMV or the Post Office.  The unmotivated, listless—even rude, worker who “helps” us with our problem.  Like all large organizations, the government has its share of these poor souls.

However, over many years, our experience with program managers, contracting officers and other purchasing stakeholders has been pretty stellar overall.  We’ve worked on the corporate side of things as well, and can tell you that some of the brightest, most competent people with whom we’ve worked across the board are government employees—particularly at the managerial level.

We’ve been around salespeople in the past who seemed to view government prospects as being somehow inferior to them.  Their attitude showed through and it hurt their success.  Like other markets, the foundation for selling lies in relationships and respect.   

Government business will be a way to quickly drive revenue.

Too often, companies experiencing declining sales numbers decide to pursue government markets as a short-term way to bolster declining revenues.  Government business can be highly lucrative for the right vendor.  But it is rarely short-term in nature.  Credibility, lead generation, partner development, contracting decisions, etc. all affect the sales cycle.  We’ll discuss this in greater detail later, but for now, recognize that government business, while a substantial opportunity, is not a path to overnight success.    

Government business is too difficult and expensive to tackle.

Another common misconception about government markets is they are simply too difficult or too expensive to penetrate.  While there are plenty of rules to follow and the payoff is often down the line, companies can build strong pipelines and profitable businesses, even if they are starting from scratch.  Patience and commitment are the two most challenging requirements. 

If you tend to believe any of these misconceptions, it will likely serve you well to reconsider.  Exploding these myths can be a first step to stellar success in the government market.

Traditional Government Contractors Teaming with Commercial Tech Giants Like Google and Apple

Image representing iPad as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

Recently, we’ve joined the ranks of the techno cool by acquiring iPad 3Gs.  Since then, we’ve pushed the boundaries of what these things can do for actual work (in addition to the mindless fun).  We love them.   As we’ve naturally showed off our new toys and discussed our purchases with others, we’ve noticed a bit of buzz from contractors and agencies surrounding these and other new “consumer” gadgets.   It has made us wonder how quickly government agencies and contractors will jump on new personal productivity technologies as standard issue.

Apparently we’re not alone as an article in the Washington Post discusses how contractors are looking to team with consumer tech giants to solve problems traditionally relegated to internal IT departments.  The article points out how Google Federal is partnering with Unisys to offer a services program that would include IP-based e-mail, calendar and collaboration tools. Prior to this, the company teamed with federal contractor CSC to offer a search application for the Defense Department and with Lockheed Martin on geospatial products.  Unisys’s federal division is partnering with Google and working to secure Apple iPhones and iPads for government use.  Unisys  says it is readying a secure “sandbox” feature that would partition government data from other data on these devices.

Apparently, technology consumers who are employees of government agencies are driving the demand for applications that work on their personal devices (with which they are already comfortable).  This is an interesting reversal where traditionally, IT departments and requirements drove the delivery means.

It will be interesting to watch how these technologies continue to morph from personal fun machines to serious work horses.  Just please don’t expect me to stop listening to my classic 80’s music collection while playing Paper Toss, at least occasionally.

$1.8 Billion in New BTOP Awards Announced

NTIA logo

Image via Wikipedia

Yesterday, Vice President Biden announced the release of 94 Recovery Act investments in broadband projects across the country.  The projects are part of the BTOP program administered by the NTIA and the Rural Utilities Service (RUS), created with a goal of expanding broadband access and adoption to un-served or under-served populations.   The announced investment totals $1.8 billion.

Yesterday’s announcement includes 66 grants awarded by the Commerce Department for projects to deploy broadband infrastructure, connect community anchor institutions, create and upgrade public computer centers, and encourage the adoption of broadband service.  It also includes 28 awards from USDA for broadband infrastructure and satellite projects that will provide rural residents in 16 states and Native American areas access to improved service.

The Department of Commerce awards also contain grants for public safety broadband networks designed to  improve response times and communication at the scene of emergencies.   These projects are “demonstration projects” and touted as “a head start on President Obama’s commitment to support the development of a nationwide, interoperable public safety wireless broadband network.”

In reviewing the list of awarded BTOP projects, there is heavy funding of the “middle mile” as well as support for public computing centers.

Contractor “Naughty List” to be Public Information

The Federal Administrative Court of Germany

Image by solidether via Flickr

The federal database of contractor integrity information is about to go public.  According to Federal News Radio, the database containing contractor criminal activities, canceled contracts, defaults, etc. was previously only accessible to the government.  That is about to change as vendor information will be open to anyone with an internet connection.  What will this mean for contractors and the contracting process?

Good question.  On one hand, federal contracting officers are required to look at this database before making an award.  Contractors fear past bad experiences will haunt them for years to come, despite the fact that responsibility for the negative result is sometimes shared with the purchasing agency.  On the other hand, the information is self-reported by the contractor.  Failing to report negative events or leaving out details might theoretically result in the suspension of a contractor, but  there is little or no real policing of this performance data.

Rob Burton, former deputy administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, said in the article, “That’s the bottom line. It’s really not [enforceable]. So much of our federal procurement system is based on self-certification. We rely on the contractors to tell us, because it’s just such a big system that there’s really no way for the government to find out.”

In the end, business reputation is critical to long-term success–database or not.  Sure, shoddy work can be swept under the rug for a while in a large procurement system like the Federal government’s.  However, it will catch up with you.  Focus on selling and delivering strong value and you won’t have to worry about the negative results of being listed in a database like this.

House Cuts BTOP to Fund State Aid Package

H.R. 1586, a $26 billion state aid package created to halt layoffs of educators and other state/local government employees, is being funded through cuts in the  Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP), according to a post on FierceTelecom,.  Approximately $300 million is being carved out of the BTOP to fund the initiative.  It is estimated the law will rescue about 160,000 education and library jobs, though there appears to be no estimate provided of jobs lost on the broadband implementation side.

-LBB

Will the iPad Take Over the Government?

Will the Apple iPad be the next big thing in government computing?  Hard to say at this point but according to an article in Federal Computer Week, there are signs that interest is beginning to simmer.

According to the article, Apple sold 3 million of these in only 80 days on the market (hey, we’ve purchased three of them in the past few weeks ourselves).  Reuters reported Aug. 1 that Apple “could sell 25 million of the electronic tablets next year, based on the trajectory of past consumer hits.” One research outfit thinks tablets will account for one of every four PCs sold by 2015.

Of course government agencies don’t typically push the envelope on technology for everyday workers.  Will they buy into this thing?  According to the report, it’s already happening.  More than one agency already lists the iPad as an option on purchasing contracts, while some are testing the devices. NASA, already a big user of Apple Mac and iPhones has also started testing the iPad.  John Sprague, user services project executive at the agency’s Outsourcing Desktop Initiative (ODIN), said he sees its potential value as an on-the-go platform.

Perhaps it isn’t likely the iPad will eliminate the desktop anytime soon.  In fact, the device is still highly dependent on the desktop computer.  However, the mobility and flexibility are really useful.  We can envision all sorts of apps by government-oriented vendors ranging from communications to public safety.  While it’s still early, it will be interesting to watch the rate of adoption for the iPad within government.

What do you think?  Will the iPad be the next big thing in government?

Best regards,

Lorin