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We all know that things take time when you’re selling to government. Purchase decisions are buffeted by the political winds. They’re affected by legislative schedules: A session may end before the legislation authorizing the purchase of your product makes it out of committee. Government purchasers are delayed by the caution natural to people who know their actions are scrutinized by the media and/or their boss’s constituents.
Ah well, what’s another year? Honestly, you can use the time. Here’s how.
Build relationship commitment
Robert Morgan and Shelby Hunt in the 1990s conducted what we consider to be ground-breaking research on relationship marketing. The goal, they said, is for the customer to believe that an ongoing relationship with you “is so important as to warrant maximum efforts at maintaining it; that is, the committed party believes the relationship is worth working on to ensure it endures indefinitely.”
Relationships may be even more critical in government sales than they are in other kinds. Because the cycle is so long, purchasing mistakes will haunt them for a long time. Because their offices are scrutinized, bad decisions carry extra penalties. If they know you, know they can trust you and your product and service, you’ll have a clear advantage over vendors they only know from the pages of an RFP response.
Establish your expertise
Establishing a reputation for expertise is essential is you’re going to make a success of government sales. If your reputation precedes you, it’s more likely that your RFP response will make it into the final consideration set – and that means you’re likely to win a greater share.
You don’t establish yourself as an expert overnight. First, you need to actually be good or get good at what you do. Then you need to a) find a writing style or a presentation style that enables you to communicate your expertise and b) find outlets for exercising those gifts – for example, trade pubs that want your articles or conferences that will let you speak.
Once again, you need time. Long, slow government sales cycles give you a chance to get up to speed.
Help shape the requirements
If you’ve done the first two right, and you have the purchaser’s respect and trust, you and your company may be on their mind as they draft the RFP. This doesn’t mean you’re exerting improper influence. But it does mean the RFP, when it comes out, is less likely to be full of requirements you and your company can’t possibly meet.
In years of selling to government, we have learned to embrace the process. Just like relationships made slowly, sales made slowly often have the most staying power.