To begin the government procurement process, consultants would be wise to take three steps:
- Register with the proper agencies.
- Define a government sector or sectors in which your firm can market its services effectively.
- Develop relationships up and down the chain of command in those sectors.
That’s the advice from Stephen G. Charles and Matt Price, two consultants with extensive government procurement experience. We contacted the two in response to a question on government procurement from TechRepublic member Ben Woelk.
While Price and Charles agreed that consultants must focus on a specific area of government and specific, niche offerings, Price also suggested that smaller firms might want to partner with a larger firm to help secure contracts.
Here’s a closer look at their advice for developing relationships with key players in government agencies and partnering with larger consultancies.
Second of two parts
This article is the second installment of a two-part series about government procurement. To read more about the registration process and defining a government sector and specialty, read "Focus is key to winning government contracts."
Making the sale: Getting inside government agencies
Charles, cofounder and Executive Vice President of immixGroup, Inc., recommends that firms hire a salesperson who already knows government customers. It's critical to find someone who has "been there, done that, and has the W2s to prove it," he said.
"A lot of companies try to shortcut the process by hiring independent business development people, hoping that they can learn along the way. It usually takes them a couple of years to get traction taking that approach," Charles said.
Price, a principal consultant who procures government work for Dallas-based NOC Builder, said his firm "stumbled across" its first government client through a cold call made by one of its sales representatives. The company, which develops network management solutions for network operating centers, went through the registration and paperwork processes with that client and, after having "a good experience," decided to pursue other government work.
Price, who has a sales and finance background, was tasked with procuring those contracts and decided to focus on the state and local agencies near the firm's Dallas/Fort Worth office.
Aim for IT, procurement workers
Both Price and Charles said building relationships is just as critical in procuring government work as it is in the private sector, regardless of your firm’s size. Charles said his firm's goal is to get to know the "functional-level people," like IT managers, program managers, and even end users.
"We want to get the people who are actually responsible for getting things done excited about what we have to offer," Charles said.
To secure local government business, Price said his strategy has been to contact IT directors and/or CIOs, ask about upcoming initiatives, and see if NOC Builder's skills are a match. If they are, he tries to secure a meeting.
By speaking with the key players about possible upcoming projects, he can get a head start on any preliminary research necessary for upcoming RFPs. While strict regulations forbid government officials from discussing the details of an RFP after it is issued, you can pose questions to the procurement department, Price said.
Helpful Web sites
To keep track of RFPs that may match NOC Builder's qualifications, Price uses Web sites like governmentbids.com, ProNet, and the Texas-specific Qualified Information Systems Vendor (QISV) program site. Woelk said he uses two paid services to find RFPs: RFP Finder and Onvia. Woelk said the former has limited search capabilities, while the latter's are "fairly impressive."
Consultants can find similar bid match sites for their state through Piper Information's State and Local Government on the Net site or Fedmarket Jumpstation. Additionally, local government entities, like school districts and county governments, usually have procurement opportunities listed on their Web sites, as well as a form for vendor registration, Price said. Consultants can contact the listed procurement officials who regularly work with vendors.
"The procurement people are usually very helpful because it's their job to deal with vendors. They'll answer all the questions that you have about how you do business with that county or city," Price said. "The challenging part is then getting beyond them to your actual end users."
Partner with larger organizations
Price said NOC Builder is in the process of securing partnerships with organizations, such as larger consultancies or product vendors, to help them procure federal government contracts. This kind of partnership presents two opportunities for smaller consulting firms. First, smaller firms that concentrate on a niche offering may be able to meet a need that larger firms haven’t targeted.
Second, minority- and women-owned and small consultancies can prove attractive to companies that are working to satisfy government requirements to purchase a certain percentage of supplies and services from such businesses.
Price said most large-company Web sites have information about partnering listed under headings like "diversification opportunities" or "supplier opportunities" and have whole departments dedicated to nurturing these relationships. For example, EDS has a Supplier Diversity Group with over 4,000 diverse suppliers, and the Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), an employee-owned research and engineering company, also offers a Supplier Diversity Program.
Price said his strategy to secure partnerships is to call or e-mail the company, fill out their subcontracting applications, and follow up with a letter stating his company's capabilities and standout qualifications.
"They also like for you to have some information from an RFP that is coming out that they might be interested in." Price said. “So if you can bring that to the table, that's always a benefit."
Finding more information
The tangle of paperwork, rules, regulations, and procedures connected with government contract procurement can be daunting, but help is available. Whether you’re a large firm that may choose to outsource the registration and sales processes or a smaller firm striking out on your own, the Web has a wealth of resources.
One source Charles recommended is a free series of articles called "Doing Business with Governments" by Richard White of Fedmarket.com. The series contains practical information about selling to governments at every level.
Do you have advice to offer?
With the recent spike in government spending, we hope to offer more tips, tricks, and tales to help consultants find work in government sectors. If you have some advice that may help others, send us your story or discuss your experience below.