6 Things to Know to Successfully Sell to Local Governments

It is important to understand that selling to (local) governments is different than selling to other businesses...

Selling to the government is similar to selling to any other big business though it has some nuances you need to know about. In this section, we’ll shortly explore those nuances.

1. Understand what’s top of mind for your prospect

Government institutions typically have strategic planning documents prepared to spell out their priorities, investment plans and challenges. Locating these may not be that easy but it’s well worth the effort. You may have to dig through the local government’s website and use search, presuming such capability is included.

Another source of information could be good ol’ newspapers and their online editions. You’ll want to find what local politicians have been talking about to better understand their agenda, so you could pitch them with a relevant project.

2. Promote new ideas

If you’re trying to sell something new, chances are such a product or service hasn’t been added to the procurement plan. So in order to even begin selling your offering, you should start building the interest for it.

In order to do this, you are best off organizing practical demonstrations that could include trade shows or “industry days” which some jurisdictions have from time to time. Your potential customers need to SEE and EXPERIENCE your offering so they would recognize the need for or effectiveness of it.

Alternatively, depending on the product/service you’re selling, you may be able to launch a limited pilot project with a cooperating jurisdiction to ensure they understand their problems and issues which your offering could successfully address or improve.

3. Find out who’s influencing the purchasing process

After determining the needs of your potential clients, the next step is to figure out who to engage with. Know your contacts and where they sit within the organization. Understanding this will help you identify interrelationships and responsibilities, so you can get to the person with a significant (if not crucial) influence in the purchase process. This is especially important for projects that involve ongoing maintenance that may be partly performed by people employed by the local government.

Most local governments publish an organizational chart that will break this down for you. That chart may also extend to other organizations functioning within the city — make sure to check that out, as well.

4. Get to know the rules of the game

In most countries, the public sector has a very defined, often complicated procurement process you will need to understand in order to be successful. This process is complicated for a reason, with one of its goals being to prevent wrongdoings and corruption.

Be prepared to disclose information about your company’s financial status to the specifier. Also, be aware that all information in a public contract is subject to the Freedom of Information Act in the U.S. or similar acts in other countries.

Generally speaking, there are four different procedures when tendering for a contract to provide goods or services.

  • The open procedure, widely used by local authorities, is where all interested suppliers are asked to return tenders by a specified date, which are then evaluated, and the contract duly awarded.
  • The restricted procedure is where a shortlist of expressions of interest is drawn up and those companies on it are then asked to tender for a contract.
  • The competitive dialogue procedure is for more complex contracts and a negotiated procedure is where the buyer negotiates with a shortlist of sellers.
  • Framework agreements are where an authority draws up a list of approved suppliers and individual contracts are awarded during the lifetime of the agreement, usually about four years.

No matter how cool the project you’re offering is, you will have to fit into the procurement process. So, do your homework and learn what’s required from you upfront.

5. Pitch solutions, not products

We live in a tech-enabled world but not everyone is up to date with the latest technology trends. In many countries, local officials can be out of date and they may not appreciate the latest tech mumbo jumbo. Heck, even if they’re already familiar with tech novelties, it is smarter to sell them on benefits rather than features. After all, it will be those benefits they will later sell to their constituents. By helping them, you help your business score a potentially valuable contract.

6. If you can’t score big, try scoring small

In some instances, you may not have enough previous experience to score a big government contract. That, however, doesn’t mean you should just give up. Perhaps you could get some subcontract work through prime contractors. This too could be a viable business — which is already the case for many companies.

Then, you could slowly grow from there with a few subcontract jobs helping you grow your portfolio that could ultimately help you play in the “big league.”

The bottom line is – the better your project sounds to the local official’s constituents, the easier it will be to sell it to them. It is one of those must-know rules.


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