August 10, 2010

Two Tips For Doing Business With A Government

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We tend to associate governments (and big business) with bureaucracy. Mark Twain exposed red tape brilliantly in The Facts in the Case of the Great Beef Contract.

Governments also buy thousands of products and services. Why not get them to buy from you and your network?

I attended a three hour seminar on how to sell to the provincial and federal governments. The same basic ideas probably apply in other other countries and with other levels of government.

The Seminar

The room was filled with over 100 attendees seated at 12 tables with eight seats, and in chairs at the back. There were many meaningful audience questions, an excellent sign of interest.

The presenters were sincere and knowledgeable. They wanted to help. Questions were recorded to help improve the answers. Isn't that a great idea?

Two Tips

Here are two key tips
  1. eliminate surprises
  2. follow instructions

Eliminate Surprises

Buyers don't like surprises. They've spent time deciding out what they want. Give them credit for figuring out their own requirements. If they wanted help, they would have asked.

If your bid goes beyond the scope of the request, you won't get credit. In a sense, you're wasting the time of the reviewers by giving other options. You might not agree with what they want since we see as we are. If you were looking for a particular house, would you like your architect to propose something else? Maybe early on, not when you're ready to make your final decision.

Do your proposals include surprises? A "free prize" is fine because that's a bonus. I mean a twist where the client is expecting Q and you propose R? In a competitive situation, you may want to surprise the competition at the last minute when they can't react. That's a bad strategy when dealing with governments. They want to make sure all bids are on the same basis.

Follow Instructions

Following instructions is boring but helps the buyer by accommodating the structure they prefer. For example, there are different formats for dates. Does 3-11 mean March 11 or Nov 3?

Rules needn't confine you. Think of how creative a 140 character tweet can be.

You want to stand out but breaking the rules isn't the path to distinction. For instance, proposals must be on time. Why not submit them in advance to allow for potential delays?

Have you ever completed an RFP (Request For Proposal)? I've worked on several that were successful. Each time, we focused on answering the questions as written and got thorough reviews from colleagues. That's the power of teams. That's also exactly what the buyers wanted.

Attend A Seminar

Governments may not buy your category of product or service, or they may not buy from a company your size. That's okay. By attending a seminar, you'll get a better idea of how to market your offering in general. That's valuable since we may get sloppy and take shortcuts.

Losing bidders might even get a private debriefing to help them improve. Do you have a process like that when buying or selling?

You probably have people in your network who could sell to governments. Why not help them by sharing what you've learned. You may open up a major source of revenue for them (and perhaps yourself).


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