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4 Sales tips to develop more business with the public sector

Ever thought of selling to the public sector? Many businesses do at some point, though many conclude that the economy is too tough and the rewards not as good as they used to be. However, don’t be fooled by this perception.

Government organisations, including local authorities, publicly-funded bodies in health, education and law enforcement, including many other quangos, can still be highly profitable if you get your sales process right.

Admittedly, it can be like hitting a brick wall

Anyone who has previously sold B2B or directly to the consumer, will always tell you that public sector selling is tough. It is the same in any country in the world in fact. Similar rules seem to apply no matter what language you speak. Selling to those paid by public funds is so very different to any other sales process.

However, a structured approach to selling will quickly unlock the potential of this interesting and rewarding arena to ensure success.

Seen it done it, got the T-shirt

After nearly 20 years in B2B selling I knew I needed a fresh challenge. On my first day with one of the big British business process outsource (BPO) companies I strode up to the front door, chomping at the bit to sell, sell, sell. After meeting a few new colleagues, I was a little surprised that they were all started to say the same thing to me.

“What worked in the private sector doesn’t work here”.

Now believe it or not, I can be subtle. However, I’ve since gone on to make a lot of money successfully selling to the public sector so here’s the four things I focused on doing really well.

Culture Clash

The biggest hurdle to get over when selling to the public sector is one of culture. They are used to consulting with everyone from members of the public to elected officials. They can’t make snap decisions.

There is more to it than just red tape. Essentially, public sector procurement officials have to ensure that they have demonstrated value for money by using a fair procurement process. If they are unable to show that a product or service was purchased using a fair process then they could easily end up in court. Understandably, the thought of getting it wrong makes public sector buyers very twitchy, so it is important for anyone trying to sell their services to get their heads around this concept first.

Effectively qualify the opportunity

Anyone selling to the public sector needs to be very good at managing their time. Qualifying a public sector opportunity efficiently is vitally important in ensuring you don’t waste their time or yours.

Some of the questions to focus on include:

  • Is their time to put a winning proposal together?
  • What resources are needed to bid for the work?
  • What is the current relationship with the client?
  • Is a profitable outcome possible to make the deal worthwhile?

For on qualifying and questioning, download my free tool to help you be more successful.

Just do what is asked

One of the really great things about selling to the public sector is that once the procurement officials have decided what they want to buy, they will tell you exactly what you need to do to win the business – apart from the price you need to quote, of course.

Unlike selling to private sector clients, where purchasing professionals appear to keep an ace up their sleeve, public sector procurement teams have to be open and fair with any organization that wants to submit a tender. From the date you need to submit the proposal all the way through to how many points they will award the bidder with the best price, there are clues available to help you win. Points really do mean prizes when selling to the public sector.

It just comes down to reading all the rules and following the guidelines strictly. If, for example, they say that the bid must be submitted by 12pm then you must meet the deadline. If you are one minute late then you might as well have dropped your proposal in the bin. Remember, they cannot bend the rules for anyone.

Constantly communicate all the benefits

Unless your solution is the only
 one that can do the job, which is
highly improbable, then
communicating the benefits
effectively is paramount to your
success. Contrary to popular
opinion, the lowest-priced bid is
not guaranteed a win. The
 solution has to truly deliver what the public sector needs. In fact, they often have to prove that it has delivered the benefits promised in order to receive further funding from central government.

Presenting the benefits, both in writing and face-to- face, is often an odd experience because of the way the procurement process is run. All team members were expected by the procurement officer to keep poker faces as the whole process had to be run in a fair and consistent way with all bidders. I always found it amusing when someone let their enthusiasm for my product show.

Times are changing

'When public and private sectors combine intellectual and other resources, more can be achieved' Gro Harlem Brundtland Click To Tweet


Interestingly, modern public sector leaders do not fear people selling to them as much as they did when I first started working in this field. In fact, they now embrace and welcome the private sector’s approach to commercialism, which hasn’t always come naturally come to them. This means that anyone who can ask the right questions, whilst carefully interpreting the answers, then give a stellar performance presenting the benefits will be successful in delivering big wins for their business.

Size doesn’t necessarily matter when it comes to selling to the public sector, but that’s another point all together!