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Smart New Ways to Sell to the Public Sector


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Contractors remain bullish about work coming their way from the U.S. government. This year, the Onvia Government Contractor Confidence Index hit a “new record high score” and that was backed up by a big increase in first quarter 2017 bidding opportunities coming from state, local, and education markets.

"The 2017 GCCI provides a view into why government vendors are feeling optimistic about their prospects for increased sales," said Paul Irby, Onvia B2G market analyst. "The five percent increase in this year's score was driven most notably by 21% improvement in expectations for overall agency spending, and eight percent improvement in the outlook for funding in specific departments."

Further, voters approved more than $200 billion in infrastructure projects late in 2016 and those projects are now entering the market. In Q1 of 2017, almost all major industries had bid and RFP growth coming from government and the four with the highest growth depend on construction. Transportation bids and RFPs were up by 13%, followed by environmental services (12.1%), water & energy (9.7%), and healthcare (5.4%). The most growth is expected to continue at the state, local, and educational levels.

So, if the indicators for real growth in government contracts are true, what are some strategies you can use to expand your government business, or simply break into the contracting process? The first strategy is to become valuable to your customer.

Too Much to Do in Too Little Time

According to Onvia’s survey of Government Procurement Professionals, the number one pain-point they face is pre-bid research and planning. When you also consider that 40% feel overworked because of extra hours and less staff, it’s clear that whatever you can do to lighten the load the better it’ll be for you and for them.

Smart Idea #1: Position your firm as one with the answers and show that you have the willingness to do some extra work to accommodate both procurement officials and the end users. Government agency staffs say the research, planning, and specifications of the formal bid/RFP process gives them the biggest headaches. If you build relationships and offer your help to overworked buyers by providing information about the market, products, and best practices, you can ease their pre-bid challenges. Just don’t demand loyalty or future business in exchange. You simply want to make your business memorable.

It’s Still About People

Even though you’re working with a so-called government bureaucracy, everything is still personal. The people you interact with have needs, concerns, problems, and aspirations related to their work but they also related to their personal lives. Staying aware of the human side of government contracting keeps you helpful and opens doors to the people you need to deal with. E.Republic’s 10 laws of doing business with governments include a great deal about keeping it human.

Smart Idea #2: Ensure you and your company are considered trustworthy. Figure out which people in the government procurement chain are the key purchasing influencers and decision makers and know the dynamics of their roles and relationships. Become very knowledgeable about rules and regulations that govern the relationships between government buyer and seller. Get engaged in the conversations about problems and solutions related to RFPs you are interested in.

Predictable Results Really Count

Procurement professionals must weigh contractors against each other as they consider who’s going to get the project. They are highly interested in minimizing the work they have to do to see the contract through to its completion. Many times there are unique ways you can differentiate your business from the competition. The Small Business Administration’s, Service Corps of Retired Executives suggests bringing your personal methodologies out into the open.

Smart Idea #3: Do you have a project management process that’s more collaborative than the average one? How do you handle quality control? Does the extra mile you go with quality mean there are fewer punch list items, or fewer callbacks on critical systems? Do you use a unique change order process that offers multiple solutions for meeting the project objectives? When you differentiate your business from the next person’s by highlighting how your approach to managing a government project reduces pain points for the agency, you make your bid more valuable and your company more memorable.

Do It For Now, But Mostly Do It For The Future

If you want to win contracts from government you need to be in it for the long haul and you need to finely tune all of your processes. Procurement professionals work within constrained business cycles and they value consistent partners who understand their market. They also are interested in partnerships that include the right participants.

Smart Idea #4: Become an expert in government contracting and make this  an important aspect of your business. That means knowing the budget cycles and how projects are funded. Stay connected to your government contacts even when you don’t have a project or an interest in an RFP. Stay focused on your core competencies to get your foothold and then build on your successes. Pay close attention to the vendors and subs you include in your government contracts. You have to manage the channel, and that means choosing project participants with a critical eye on your long term government contracting goals. Watch your reputation because the government contracting grapevine is very talkative and there are many people watching what happens with public money. Have a well-rehearsed public relations plan with a foundation of transparency.

Yes, there is bureaucratic stuff to deal with, and, yes, you will never break into government contracting quickly. But, many contractors have figured out how to balance the pros and cons, and have found profitable, consistent work in government contracts. In many cases, you will also be building your community and bringing your know-how to solving some of its most pressing problems. It’s a win-win for everyone.

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