There are many things that can go wrong when trying to close a sale to local, state or federal government. You can think you're well-positioned to close a particular deal you've been cultivating for months, only to find out right at the end of the sales cycle (or at least what you think is the end) that you're not as far along as you thought. You may have been seeing many buying signs, but still...
We talk about these last-minute surprises, One of the Biggest Mistakes in Winning Government Contracts, in this episode of Myths of Selling to Government hosted by Rick Wimberly. We also offer a solution.
Hint: know more about the government client's purchasing process than your client coach does.
One of the Biggest Failings - Not Understanding the Process.
So, you’ve been working a government sales prospect for a long time…a really long time. You understand the pain they need relieving, and you’ve figured out how your product or service can relieve it. You’ve presented it well. You know because they’ve asked engaging questions and even told you that they like what you’re saying. You’ve quoted pricing. They didn’t flinch…even confirmed that your price is right at their budget. You’ve got a good client coach and she’s telling you that you’re doing great. She’s even told you what your closest competition is pitching, and that you’re the clear favorite. She’ll be among the prime users…she and her immediate colleagues are the ones experiencing the greatest pain… and she’s a great coach. She tells you they’re moving forward and will be buying soon.
For once, you’re looking forward to the client review with your boss. You’ve got a lot of good info to report on this one, including the confirmation from your coach. It’s time to lock down a closing date on your forecast.
Sounds great, I’m proud of you, you’re told. Then, you’re asked, what’s next? Well, they’re moving toward a purchase, you say. The boss says, excellent, what’s the process they’re going to follow? What do you mean? I told you they’re moving forward. The boss again says, that’s great, but why don’t you go back and find out the process they’re going to follow. Are they going out for bid? Is there a committee vote? Are they simply going to issue a purchase order? Are they going to need a sole source justification?
Simple enough, you think, I’ll just ask the coach. You do, and the coach says, yep, we’re moving forward. Then you ask your boss’s questions, and your coach says, you know, I don’t really know the precise process. That’s handled by purchasing; I only know we’re moving forward.
Uh oh, you think. They may be going out to bid with this…and who knows, my competition may have helped write the specs.
This is not uncommon. The best coaches are the ones closest to the pain. They know what’s really going on from the inside. They’re the ones with the most vested interest in finding the right solution. And, if you’ve done a good job convincing them that you have the right solution, they’ll provide insight.
Up to a point. The problem is that the people closest to the pain are not necessarily close to the procurement process. They may not be involved in buying much, just those things that immediately affect their jobs. They may know the selection process, but not the buying process. They’re often two different things.
Not understanding the real process is one of the biggest failings I’ve seen when people are trying to close a sale to the government. I’ve certainly come up short myself.
So, what do you do? Well, you become the coach. At some point after you think you’ve become the preferred favorite, you start talking to the coach about the buying process. If they’re unsure, encourage them to find out. They can ask their bosses, or ask their procurement people. They’ll be glad to tell them. And, your coach will be glad to find help you find out. They may give you a procurement contact you can talk to. The referral from the inside always helps. But, even without the referral, find someone in procurement who will talk to you. They’ll do it. They want vendors to understand what’s going on. Plus, it’s helpful if you know the process better than your coach.
Oh, there’s always a process. Then there was the time I was trying to sell something to a major city. My coach said, yep, we’re going to buy from you. You’ll get an order soon. I asked him to guide me on the process and he told me, you’ll get an order. I thought, riiight. I’d better dig into this.
The next day, a very nice purchase order came in over the fax machine. (Remember those, and remember the thrill of the sound of a fax coming in with an under.) Well, I was shocked…and wrong. I was convinced that he didn’t really understand the internal process and it would be weeks…if not months…before we got an order. That hasn’t happened to me often. I usually had to pull in an order, even when I knew they were going to buy from me.
Bottom line, the lesson is simple: Understand the buying process as well as you understand the selection process. Understand it better than your internal coaches…and, by all means, understand it better than your boss.
Thanks for listening. Remember to follow Myths of Selling to Government on your favorite platform, and if you have a subject you’d like me to cover…or a guest to recommend…email me at rick@govselling-dot-com. Rick @ govselling-dot-com.