Expert: Landing federal sales is a year-round task
As the federal fiscal year draws to a close on Sept. 30, Govpro.com reached out to government market expert Jennifer Schaus about end-of-fiscal-year strategies for vendors to the federal government. Schaus directs Washington-based Jennifer Schaus & Associates.
Schaus’ consulting firm provides expertise to U.S. and European firms interested in entering the federal government market in the U.S. As the firm’s website explains: “The U.S. Government is the largest purchaser of goods and services in the world. We know the challenges of businesses and help create a strategic approach to tackle the market, build relationships and accelerate sales in the government market.”
Govpro: Do you have any suggestions/tips for federal buyers and vendors on end-of-federal-fiscal-year buying and sellin
Jennifer Schaus: The most effective suggestion and how we advise clients is not to wait for the fourth quarter to find opportunities. Sometimes you may get lucky and win, but Q4 is ultra-competitive and you are a day late and a dollar short if you are implementing your strategy in this period. The federal government, like any other vertical market, buys products and services based on trust/comfort with the vendor (established through relationship-building over 18-24+ months) as well as competitive price, quality offering and ease of purchase. Most educated government contractors can meet three out of four, but find that competitors have long-standing relationships or know someone. This is the real silver bullet to success and does not happen overnight.
Govpro: What can federal buyers do to ensure that key procurements are processed by the close of the federal fiscal year?
JS: Manage the process and hire a project manager or government contracts expert to ensure your paperwork gets in on time and has all of the necessary information. Minor issues can and will cause orders to be rejected or delayed in payment. Make your list and check it twice, especially by outside eyes.
Govpro: For vendors, is there much opportunity selling to federal agencies as we head toward Sept. 30?
JS: This fiscal year seems to be atypical in that many of the Q2 and Q3 purchases have been pushed out. The contractors have been pre-selected, but the funding has been slow to trickle down. With this reality, the playing field becomes even more competitive especially for firms new to government contracting.
If your strategy is to sell now (July, August, September) you should be well aware that the purchases might not take place for 18-24 months. This is not a market for those without a strategy, finances to support the necessary sales and marketing efforts, as well as thick skin to endure the sales cycle and competition.
Govpro: For vendors, are there any strategies especially suited for the 2011 end of the federal fiscal year?
JS: Review your sales pipeline and any Sources Sought and RFIs that you have responded to within the past 12-18 months. Revisit with the contracting officers for these solicitations to determine if they may be receiving funding. Ensure the end-users, program managers and contracting officers know you and your firm. Make it easy for them to contact you, buy from you and understand your solution.
Those that scramble in Q4 for opportunities may have a stroke of luck, but the real winners are the firms that have a B2G strategy in place for months (sometimes years) before the mad spending occurs. They have demonstrated their solution, obtained buy-in from various levels, shown their value-add and made it easy or advantageous for the contracting officer to make the purchase. In a government buying and risk-averse environment, success does not happen overnight.
Govpro: How do opportunities in the federal marketplace compare to the private sector in the second half of 2011?
JS: Many experts are noting a decrease in the federal budget and major cutbacks to programs and agencies. The federal marketplace still remains a more predictable and steady market to sell products and services. Where else can you obtain information on budgets, agency level forecasts, historical and future purchase information, competitive analysis and competitor pricing?
Having this market intelligence provides the smart vendors with actionable information to plan and implement a strategy. Because of this, the federal sector is still one of the most stable verticals to be selling into. The private sector has less transparency and more surprises. Commercial companies are typically not going to inform you of upcoming budget cuts or the company closing its doors.
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