Are You Asking the Right (And Most Basic) Question?

by | Jun 1, 2021 | Business

A lot of companies work their way into federal sales in a few of ways: 

  1. Partner with a company already established in the federal space 
  2. Stumble on a government RFP (Request for Proposal) and get lucky
  3. Have a new capability that caught the interest of the government customer 

Once in, they try to repeat the magic of the first one or two contracts and get frustrated. 

I had an owner of a small company come up to me after speaking at an industry event. His gut feeling was that he was not doing the right things, and he asked how he could get to the place of routine contract wins. I’ll talk here about how he was asking the wrong question.

It is a reasonable question – but it’s the wrong question. The owner above had been led astray by an array of checklists about the mechanics of contracting, including registering with the government, confirming accounting system compliance, and learning how to write a high-quality proposal, reading spec sheets, get RFPs delivered to his inbox, and more.

The questions to ask have nothing to do with selling or contracting. They have to do with the government’s actual ability to pay. Just like when someone buys a house, car, or boat, demonstrating an ability to pay can help move a deal along. The buyer must be qualified. Sometimes even “pre-qualified.” Similarly, you want to know your government customer can pay. So how do you qualify the government buyer?

The question you must ask yourself, not the government representative: “Is this opportunity funded?”

Two primary things anyone can do when it comes to federal sales:

Understand who the customer really is

It may not be the individual with whom you are speaking. To put a finer point on it, it is highly likely that the person you are talking to is not the actual buyer. I’ve written elsewhere about the customer constellation. You must know the organization chart that surrounds your government contact. Odds are, you are not speaking with the actual decision-maker with authority to buy.

Funding in their checkbook

Is there funding in their checkbook? How would you know? The public budget documents can tell you a lot. Understanding how to identify where a particular agency’s funding is located in the budget is critical. If it was not budgeted, did Congress add funding via an appropriations mark? The final appropriations bill identifies very clearly – by account – how much money was in the account, to begin with.

Don’t’ waste time pursuing a federal opportunity that doesn’t have funding behind it. Click To Tweet

Too often, when I ask a company where their funding comes from, they can only respond with the first level of detail – either the name of an agency or the name of a prime vendor they supply. You want to know the third and fourth level of detail: the agency, the funding account, the program line, and (if applicable) the program element. These facts are within reach of any company selling to the federal government.

Don’t’ waste time pursuing a federal opportunity that doesn’t have funding behind it. Too many people get “happy ears” and chase a conceptual idea that is not a funded opportunity. Aside from the lost time, there are likely several credibility points lost for revealing a level of ignorance in front of the government representative – notice I didn’t say, the buyer. Are you wasting time and giving away credibility?

Need help receiving federal funding for your product or service? Schedule a call with Gene today. 

To get your copy of Pitching the Big Top: How to Master the 3-Ring Circus of Federal Sales, click here

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