What the Risk-averse Government Buyer Really Wants

Carnival of Souls

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Government purchasers go out of their way to make their procurement process appear to be rational and objective, solely focused on a measurable end result.

In reality, the process is largely meant to assuage the many fears that bedevil the government buyer – fear of being criticized by bosses, peers, the minority party, the special interest groups. Fear of being blamed for lost votes. Fear of losing their job. If you’re high up the government agency food chain, your day can go from really good to really bad with a single phone call from the media.

So if you’re making a career in government, your likely M.O. is playing it safe. If you’re a buyer, you may be much more interested in NOT making a bad decision than in making a radically, exuberantly right decision.

When you’re selling to government, a big part of your job is to make sure you understand the fears that are your prospect’s strongest drivers. Of course, you’re going to be hampered in doing this by the fact that admitting to fears of any kind is the last thing your prospect is going to do.

Surfacing and scoring the hidden government buyer fears

In our book, Seven Myths of Selling to Government, we introduce the Value Portfolio concept as the way to think through, rank and then finally determine how to neutralize these fears.

We based our Value Portfolio on the common notion of an investment portfolio. An individual’s investment portfolio will likely be made up of stocks, bonds, mutual funds, maybe some gold, art, antiques, real estate, etc. (all dependent on assessment of return and risk). The government buyer’s Value Portfolio will be made up of all the requirements and experiences involved in a purchase.

An investment advisor’s job is to balance what’s in the portfolio to give the investor an acceptable mix of risk and reward.

In our Value Portfolio, we’re loading in all the requirements and, for each, thinking about what our prospect’s potential risk and reward are – as they see them.

For example, for a software product, the buyer’s stated requirement may be “I want a low initial price.” What he’s afraid of (but not saying) is, “I’m afraid I’ll exceed my budget and be seen as a poor manager.” He also sees a potential upside: “We’ll be able to acquire the software and I’ll be seen as a tough negotiator.”

As you construct the Value Portfolio, you think through every requirement this way. You probe for the perceived up-side and down-side – but your main goal is to uncover the hidden fears and determine which fears are strongest.

With our software buyer, we used price as the example. But he may be much more worried about how real your 24/7 service guarantee is, because he fears his boss’s wrath if the system goes down when she’s catching up on paperwork Sunday mornings.

We’d like to point out that being motivated by fear is not a unique trait of the government buyer. Any corporate buyer these days, especially a buyer of technology – is wading into unknown waters. If you can learn to minimize the fear in the buying process, you’ll be golden with purchasers in any organization.


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