To be successful, it is critical to know this about selling to governments

November 2, 2023

Companies that are interested in expanding their public-sector business footprint, increasing sales revenue, or entering the government marketplace for the first time often begin by searching for a registered lobby firm. That’s a mistake that can be costly and disappointing.

The word ‘lobbying’ is associated with advocacy to an elected official  in the legislative or executive branch for the purpose of attempting to influence legislative actions.  Lobbying can also be associated with public relations, advocacy on a ballot issue, or working to promote or kill a political initiative of some sort.  Lobbying, however, does not mean ‘business development’. It is very important to realize that lobbying firms and business development firms do not offer the same type of services.  

Business development firms offer government relations and many register as lobbyists because most state laws require it. Business development teams also communicate with elected officials and government executives but not for the purposes defined as lobbying. They do not try to impact legislation for a client. Instead, business development firms focus on helping companies increase their government revenues. They alert clients to upcoming opportunities, work to get them well-positioned to compete, offer insight related to the procurement goal and the competition, and provide strategy and political guidance.

In the past, companies interested in selling to the government realized that the marketplace is different, and successfully selling into it requires a unique understanding of almost every aspect of the process. An assumption was made that a lobby firm should be engaged because advice about the government marketplace would be required. Unfortunately, the type of assistance and advocacy that a lobby firm provides is at the elected level of government and that is not where procurement decisions are made.  In fact, elected officials work hard to stay away from procurement decisions.  They rely on staff recommendations.  It may be possible, but it is extremely hard to find a good lobby firm with experience and a history of success when it comes to working at the staff level of government on procurement issues.

Business-development firms routinely provide the following services:

  • State and Local Government Profiles – no matter how good a sales executive is, there is a critical need to know everything possible about a governmental entity before trying to sell something.
  • The type of guidance sales teams need is related to the following:
    • Knowledge of every governmental entity’s governing structure (a critical component of success), the political landscape, fiscal year/budget cycle, current financial status, current needs and issues, contract vehicle processes, and ethics requirements;
    • Characteristics of every key entity in each state –state agencies, higher education systems, school districts, public hospitals, and quasi- agencies;
    • Characteristics of every key entity not under the state’s oversight and the specific governing structures;
    • Issues related to what, why, when, who, where, and how of the procurement landscape, such as reporting requirements, cooperative purchasing programs, consolidated services, security requirements, and small and minority contracting rules; and  
    • Conferences and organizational gatherings where networking opportunities will be available.
  • Market entry strategies, visibility enhancement, competitor intelligence, and best practices.
  • Current market and industry trends and political issues that could impact procurement.
  • Public information, including budgets, upcoming opportunities, expenditure reports, existing contracts. and more.

Business development firms provide legislative monitoring, public relations, advice on contracting partners, message delivery, and political guidance.  But they do not lobby legislators or elected officials about procurement. A business development consultant provides information about a company’s capabilities and benefits to public officials, but that type of advocacy does not cross the ethical lines that are established for lobbying activities.

Business development firms submit Open Records Requests and analyze them for clients. A consultant then advises clients about areas where they are scoring lower on proposals they submit. These types of consultants also work with clients on presentations, BAFO negotiations, and all other aspects of competition for capturing new business in the government marketplace.

In closing, this advice should be of high value – engage with a great lobby firm for legislative action or assistance on a political issue. But look for a good business development firm that also provides government relations if the objective is to be more successful in selling to government.  There’s a big difference in what kind of services the two types of firms offer clients!

Government Market News Staff

Welcome to Government Market News, your trusted source for in-depth coverage of the U.S. government marketplace. Our dedicated editorial team provides comprehensive insights on contracting opportunities, private-public partnerships, funding programs, and industry trends. As a publication of Strategic Partnerships, Inc., we offer unrivaled expertise to help you navigate this unique marketplace successfully.

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