It might not seem like it on the surface, but government buyers are nervous. Why? Because in this economy government, and more specifically the Federal government, is the only one really buying and every technology vendor in the world wants to sell to them. Why would this make a government buyer nervous? It would seem like a good thing to give government that level of choice. Choice is not the issue, the choices are.
The problems with many technology vendors when it comes to selling to government are that they:
- Are new to government. Which is a nice way of saying that even though they may have lived under our government for 40+ years, they don’t understand it. I was speaking with a committee staffer who was approached by a SMB who wanted to find out how to get a Member to insert language into a bill that would require every Federal agency to purchase their software, not understanding that the Federal procurement process doesn’t work that way.
- Don’t understand the government procurement process. Following up on the example above, most vendors new to government do not understand that the procurement process is a long, drawn out, highly regimented series of events that involves a large number of people. I have spent a lot of my career explaining that there is no single decision maker when it comes to government procurement.
- Have products that don’t fit or are untested in government. As much as government managers may say they like examples from private industry, when it comes to buying something, government managers don’t like to be guinea pigs and will expect at least an example or two of a successful government adoption.
When it comes to technology, there are specific events in the industry that are making government buyers even more nervous. Most of these are based upon the current condition of the economy, but there are others. These events include:
- An increase in merger and acquisition activity. The down economy has weakened companies and others are taking advantage of that. For example, in speaking with government technology managers both the BearingPoint acquisition by Deloitte and the potential Sun acquisition by IBM are a concern not because Deloitte and IBM aren’t great capable companies but because it adds an increased level of uncertainty for the government, something no government manager likes.
- A volatile technology landscape. The amount of change in technology continues at an increasing and unprecedented rate. What was a standard technology for government a year or two ago in now obsolete. Government agencies are still trying to get their Web sites and call centers running correctly and now they are expected to be blogging and up on twitter?
- An aging infrastructure. Government has found itself with a well-aged (some would say worn out) infrastructure where some agencies are running major applications on old mainframes and others still have operational PCs with Windows 98 or Windows 2000 as their operating system. A concern among government line-of-business and IT managers is how to move to the next technology on an infrastructure that may not support it.
It is clear why government buyers are nervous. You have done your homework and followed the Seven Rules. So what can you do to provide additional reassurance to a government buyer? When it comes specifically to developing your proposal or making your sales presentation be ready to:
- Explain how the solution overlays the problem. Be realistic and clear about what problem you are able to solve and how your product or service will solve that product. Now is not the time to gloss weaknesses or gaps in your product or service. Be ready and willing to provide case studies of successes in government.
- Provide a product road map. You need to be ready with a 3-5 year or more product road map for your product and the overall product class. This should include expected changes in the actual product, corresponding technologies, and a risk analysis that explains what could potentially impact the lifespan of your product.
- Make more financial information available. This may be disconcerting for a vendor, but some contracting officers are now asking for much deeper and detailed information about the financial health of vendors. Some requests I have heard about include a request for list of major contracts along with expected revenues and lifespan of the contracts. One Federal project manager asked for detailed investment plans in the product line for the next 3 years.
The Bottom Line: Government buyers are nervous. Give them multiple reasons to trust you.