Your company is ready to sell to the federal government. You’ve worked through the General Services Administration (GSA) seminars on Multiple Award Schedules (MAS), and you’re on a schedule. You have the NAICS codes for your products and can ramp up with the first big order.
So how do you let federal, state and local procurement officers know that?
Selling to federal, state and local governments is a competitive game, and you’re not the only business trying to do it. Fortunately, demand from the government is huge: GSA has long-term contracts with private businesses to provide access to more than 11 million products and services, and influences the management of $500 billion in federal assets annually.
“It’s an extremely difficult, ultracompetitive market,” says Dick Leslie, a San Diego–based business counselor with SCORE who’s worked extensively providing IT solutions to the Department of Defense. “Because the government spends an enormous amount of money, and invariably pays its bills.” SCORE is a valued partner with American Express OPEN, including their support of the Government Contracts: Victory in Procurement (VIP) for Small Business program. When it comes to marketing yourself to the federal government, Leslie advises talking to one person at a time. Just be sure to pick the right person. Government agencies are mandated to do a certain percentage of business with small businesses. Most agencies have the equivalent of a small business advocate. Often they are actually called the small business advocate. Sometimes they have different titles. Most work in the agencies’ Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization, or OSDBU. Whatever they’re called, they all share one thing in common: They can help you get the agency’s attention. It’s that person’s job to help you through the process, and to put your company in front of decision-makers.
Building up your company’s credibility is important, too. “Agencies tend to stick with the companies they know or are known by other agencies/bureaus that they trust,” GSA advises in a guide to marketing to the government.2 You can build a good reputation among government procurers by working as a subcontractor for large companies that have been awarded big federal contracts.
GSA Advantage!, www.gsaadvantage.gov, the agency’s online electronic shopping and ordering system, offers a way to get your firm in front of the government officials who hold the purse strings. Provide links through Advantage! to your company’s website, and make sure all your firm’s relevant information is loaded onto that portal as well.
GSA also recommends displaying any GSA contract information prominently on your website. And make sure your site and any collateral print marketing materials feature the GSA star mark logo to show that your firm is on a GSA schedule. You can download a high-resolution version of the logo at here.
Look for ways to use the Internet to network and to build B-to-G (business-to-government) connections. “You could create or participate in Webinars that provide information or solutions to agency problems,” the GSA marketing guide suggests. “Some have used short 10 to15 minute Podcasts, and others have used various blogs to network with others and indicate your interest in partnering with other companies, large or small.” Another valued partner of OPEN, Women Impacting Public Policy (WIPP), frequently holds webinars for its members. Visit www.giveme5.com for upcoming sessions.
And then there’s more traditional marketing. GSA has a magazine named MarkeTips that is published and distributed bimonthly to the federal community. Ads from vendors are free, but ad space is limited to only 20 spots per issue. Other publications GSA suggests looking at for getting ads in front of government eyeballs include Government Executive, Federal Times and the Armed Forces Journal.
Contracting with the government can be a lot of work, and there is a lot of competition out there for attention. But, there are many helpful resources—from government officials who can guide you to websites to publications you can use to stay on top of the market and promote your company. And groups like OPEN, Score and WIPP are always providing timely, updated forums to help you keep your marketing efforts current.