Are you interested in selling to the government? If so, you’re not alone. The federal government spends billions of dollars every day and many businesses would love to have a piece of the pie. While only a fraction of the federal budget, Arizona’s “All Funds” FY20 annual budget was $45.1 billion, which is a considerable amount of money spent on goods and services. So it’s only natural that a lot of companies decide to target the public sector for sales opportunities.
However, the public sector sales process is anything but straightforward. Government is made up of branches, jurisdictions, departments and programs. The state of Arizona alone employs close to 38,000 employees. By way of comparison, the state of Colorado employs about 30,000 employees.
Given the size of government, it can be challenging to connect with the right decisionmakers. Even if you do find a key official, it’s not likely the same person who controls the budget or the contracting process. This is why many sales executives burn out in the public sector; it’s complicated and can take a long time to make a sale.
So, let’s simplify the sales process. It can be useful to think in terms of channels, specifically channels of influence or authority. Regardless of how you refer to them, it’s important to think through all of the categories of people in the government market who could impact your sale.
Legislators: Legislators play an influential role from a matter of policy, budget and oversight. While “vendor bills,” or bills that set aside funds for one specific company, are generally frowned upon, a legislator can sponsor a bill that creates a new program that may open the door for your company to do work. A legislator may also have a say in the budget process that ultimately gives a department money to spend on a product or service.
Governor’s Office: The governor is the CEO of the executive branch. While a governor can certainly meet with corporate executives, he or she has a cabinet of agency directors who manage the day-to-day government operations (see below). Educating the governor’s staff on how your product or service aligns with - and promotes - the governor’s priorities is always a nice gesture if staff has the time (keep in mind they’re busy people). But, remember that the staff is not responsible for administering the procurement process or making the final purchasing decision for an agency.
Agency Director: The director is the CEO of the agency, setting the vision and priorities, and managing operations at a very high level. A director has budget managers, CIOs, procurement officers and program managers who are responsible for evaluating goods and services that drive their vision. Meeting with an agency director is a rare occurrence, given how busy these individuals are, but you are certainly setting yourself up for success if you can influence the agency's strategic priorities.
Agency Programs: The programmatic side of government is responsible for providing services to its constituents. For example, issuing driver licenses or providing vaccinations are services. These are teams of people who have first-hand knowledge of how to further the agency’s mission and what would be helpful in terms of operations. If you’re selling a good or service that helps a program deliver a service better, cheaper and faster, then bingo! These are key decisionmakers.
Agency Operations: The operations team includes all of the administrative duties for an agency. The department typically includes budget, technology, procurement and communications, to name a few. While not on the front lines like the programmatic team, these individuals are the technicians who have an enterprise view and are evaluating services and products to support the programs. For example, an agency CIO will be asked whether a new technology solution integrates with the existing IT environment. These are also the officials who advise the director about whether there is available funding and a contract. Put simply, the operations channel is primetime.
Legislative Liaison: Last, but not least, the agency legislative liaison plays an important role as the bridge between an agency and the legislature. When funding that could be spent on your product or service is at stake, a legislative liaison may play a critical role in organizing support for the appropriation. Another example is if a legislator wants to create a new program that may be an opportunity for your company. Here, the legislative liaison could have valuable information about whether that program will be implemented.
So there you have your channels of influence. But, there’s one important caveat to note: When you’re weighing these channels, make sure to also evaluate your sales pitch. No one in government is going to buy a complex product and/or service just because of your name, price or general assertions about what your product does.
Does your software “modernize operations?” Does your service “lead to efficiencies?” Fantastic. But that alone isn’t going to resonate with any decisionmaker in government. You have to speak in terms of how your product or service enables a given agency’s strategic priorities. This is the winning ticket to government sales. Interested in learning more? Stay tuned for my next blog, where I’ll cover this more in-depth.