I am a little slow getting around to this post considering it is a response to an article in last month’s Marketing Magazine’s B2B article “Love me tender” by Kimon Lycos.
The article is not really B2B but more B2G (business to government) and while I am not even sure that is an acceptable marketing acronym Kimon certainly outlines a lot of things that highlight how different it is to market and sell to the government. For those that don’t know, this is exactly the area I work in, marketing and selling to Federal Government Agencies
Kimon is jaded. The article is very negative however I must confess that from time to time I have felt exactly the same way about the process of marketing & selling to the Government. Yet this is simply being the victim. It isn’t always like that and marketers don’t have to let that happen. That’s why I thought I would share a few “tricks of the trade” in working and tendering to Government.
Kimon believes that government just announces to the market their need and everyone responds and it is competitive and fair and a great solution is found (I paraphrased there). I agree with him this is delusional, however, this is too simplistic. It doesn’t address the real possibility/fact that a provider or business has an existing relationship with the Department and that they have a deep understanding of the problem and have helped shape a buying vision (a solution, which they can provide, and which the client believes it wants).
It is the buying vision, built from a need or pain, that prompts and shapes a tender or request for quote.That’s why getting a tender or request for quote should not be a surprise because you knew it was coming because you shaped the clients buying vision.
If you are sitting back and betting your company’s survival on Departments just knocking on your door and telling you what they want then you are a lunatic. Sure you will win some work but hear this – in the B2G space you will only win 20% of tenders/quotes where you don’t have an existing relationship with the Department. Considering some tenders take months and a team of people to respond then I wouldn’t be hanging my hat on winning 1 in 5.
Often a mechanism that provides a reason to talk to clients is a panel. If you aren’t familiar with panels then they are essentially a pre-qualified group of suppliers from which a Department can purchase without having to jump through all the procurement hoops. Being a member doesn’t guarantee any work whatsoever but it does provide you a reason to start talking with key people in Department’s.
Often it is from panels that Departments will seek suppliers who are invited to tender for work. For example, the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) has a Capability Development Panel and then has approximately 55 Federal Departments signed on to access pre-qualified suppliers. The structure of the panel is such that it satisfies the Government’s Procurement Guidelines and allows Department’s to sole source (they don’t need to go to a competitive bidding situation and can instead just approach one company who will quote pre-accepted pricing). It’s kind of like your Mum giving you some money and then taking you to the shops and saying “you can buy what ever you want when you think you need it, I trust you and all the shops here".
There will also be times when you will receive a tender out of the blue from a client you are not currently working with. Often your response will be “excellent, it will be great if we can win this”. But remember, there is most likely another marketer somewhere who shaped the buying vision and who is expecting the tender to come out. Sometimes a Department will still ask for 3 quotes just to keep it all above board but really they have made their choice. This is what we refer to as a “donkey vote”. The skill comes in recognising these and choosing not to spend valuable time and resources on writing a tender that you will not win.
If this isn’t teed up for you to get on and build relationships and buying visions then you need to move on. If your company provides development services in areas such as Leadership, Learning and Development, and this is the first you’ve heard about the APSC panel then you better hope your boss doesn’t hear about it because you’ll be a dead man walking.
However, the APSC panel isn’t the only panel around. There are heaps and often Departments will have their own and even have a few depending on the type of services they believe they’ll need e.g. IT, Marketing, Training etc
To help businesses be aware of current panels and tenders the Government has a website called AusTender at www.tenders.gov.au where you can essentially set up an email alert, similar to Google, for Tenders or Panels that meet your key words.
Once a tender does come out it is too late to start building a relationship. There are rules governing contact with public servants and businesses and it is essentially a closed shop. Often even a question trying to clarify something will be published to all tenderers along with the Department’s response.
One of the most important steps in tendering for Government work is what happens after you get a “No”. It doesn’t end there and you should be seeking a debrief where a Government employee will outline for you why you did not receive the work. For example, I went to a debrief this year where it was outlined to me that I positioned the company’s strengths too much instead of focusing on the individuals being nominated for the work.
I believed that this approach would help position us as big, strong and dependable and that the individuals were not as important because all our staff are great and we had capacity to meet their timeframe and needs. However, I now know that future tenders into that Department will need to strongly showcase the individuals and not so much the company.
Marketing and selling to Government is complex and wile I have tried to cover some major points above I would love to take questions or hear your thoughts or tips in the B2G space.