We all know that winning government contracts takes a long time. It seems that government sales are never closed when we expect. The best way to counter the uncertainty is to have enough in the sales pipeline that when one government sales opportunity stalls, another one is there to take its place.
That said, there are still ways to nudge government contracts along. We talk about some of them in this episode of the Myths of Selling to Government podcast hosted by Rick Wimberly of Government Selling Solutions.
Yeah, yeah, yeah...government purchasing moves at a slow pace, but there are things you can do about it.
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Now, I know I’m preaching to the choir...and, I do love preaching... and choirs...but, it takes a long time to close a government contract, often a painfully long time. Even in those situations where you’ve been told that you will be awarded the deal, you can’t count on the order coming in as quickly as you would like.
And, your bosses and maybe your family often get impatient when you tell them, you just don’t understand how government works. It takes a long time. By far, the best way to get them off your back is to have such a fine pipeline that, when something unexpectedly shows down, something else closes.
I once worked on a sales team where the sales boss liked to have meetings every Friday where he would challenge everyone, in a team meeting, on each opportunity they were working. Geez, these meetings were painful...and a sucky way to start a weekend. Folks sometimes laid it on thick, and were more optimistic than justified, just to get through the meeting. After a while, though, I got a pass from the grillings because I had enough deals working that, even if the exact ones I projected to close that month didn’t close, I had something else that would close. I taught pipeline management to a couple of my colleagues and they got a pass, too. (Um, later that boss worked for me.)
You see, I’ve generally found that government buyers would like to move orders along just as quickly as anyone else. Orders are placed for a reason. Buyers know one of their colleagues is waiting for an order to be processed so they can do their job. Besides, No one likes a full in-box on their desk. (Yes, there are still in-boxes on desks of government buyers.)
Plus, some of the most professional and dedicated people we know are on the government buying side. If you want to be successful in the government space, you must believe this. You won’t move your orders along believing (and acting) otherwise.
Now, these full in-boxes are generally REAL full...really, really full. So, it would be human nature to be tempted to place paperwork from an obnoxious jerk back in the in-box when there are plenty of other orders from us nice folks to process. A single individual somewhere along the bureaucratic process will not likely be able to completely derail your orders - even if you make them really, really mad. But, they could slow them down.
We’ve found lots of dividends in our belief that government procurement professionals really want to be helpful. We’ve not received any orders because of this, but we have been able to speed up the process by being nice and helpful, and well, just asking.
I once sped the process of receiving an order (and earning my commission to help pay for my daughter’s wedding) by simply finding the right person, and nicely explaining why I was checking on the order – I had a wedding to pay for. Somewhere in the conversation, she said, “Well, what do you know, the paperwork is in my in-box. Let me see if I can walk that along the process and I might be able to help you out…and good luck with the wedding.”
The order came in shortly afterwards, then the commission, just in time for the wedding bills. (Well, some of them.) No rules were violated. She didn’t do anything wrong. I didn’t. All I did was nicely ask the right person for the status, and explain why I was asking.
Now, I had laid the groundwork. I had good relationships with the client. I understood the pain we could relieve. I had properly presented a strong Value Portfolio. I had followed the rules. And, along the way, I had asked a lot of questions.
A good question for a procurement person is, “Do you have everything you need from us?” Then, shut up and listen. First, they’ll tell you if they need anything from you. Then, they’ll likely tell you what will happen next. If not, simply ask, “What can we expect next”? Then, finally, “Is it OK if I check back with you?” Then, “When would be a good time?” Don’t be surprised if they do not answer your email or phone call the next time you check back. Still, your polite and properly timed inquiry will at the least remind them check their in-box.
Just remember, they want to move things along just like you do. And, they won’t mind a well-intended (and well-timed) nudge here and there. Who would?