Everybody knows working with the government can be extremely profitable, but B2B companies often struggle to kick-start their B2G sales journey. New suppliers are put off by thorny tender-writing processes, a lack of public sector knowledge and the preconceived idea that government buyers only work with a select few suppliers.
However, most new suppliers do not fall short of winning public sector contracts because of a lack of skill or technical knowledge, but because they get into the bidding process far too late. When 46% of won government contracts have been “shaped”, influenced, or pursued before publication of a formal tender, it is necessary to develop a pre-engagement strategy to get ahead of the competition and in front of the government.
With gross public sector spending totalling at £379 billion in 2021/22, and more funds being distributed to SMEs, this blog-post sets out three separate strategies suppliers can use to pre-engage with the government and secure a piece of the public sector pie.
1. Pre-engage via contract award data
If you are a supplier with a broad scope and interest in working with the public sector, one way to pre-engage is to look at contract award data. In a market where every tender is public knowledge, the only way to really get ahead of your competitors is by anticipating a buyer is planning on procuring something they have not yet published a tender for.
Depending on your industry, an expiring award can provide early signals that a buyer may procure for a direct renewal, or downstream services in the future. Repeat exercises such as Financial Auditing or IT Security Testing are likely to be renewed on a yearly basis, and an expiring award may indicate that this contract is up for grabs. For example, this DEFRA IT Security award was followed up by a request for renewal a year after expiry.
Similarly, we see consulting and digital transformation awards leading to a variety of downstream software demands later on. Consider this Technical Cloud Consultancy award from DEFRA, won by Keep IT Simple Ltd. In the 6 months following the expiration of this award, DEFRA published 9 contracts worth a combined £6,435,000 for Cloud related software services. Where downstream opportunities can be anticipated, pre-engaging over expiring contracts can help to establish your business as a proactive supplier ahead of official tender.
For industries or solutions where direct renewals or downstream opportunities seem less obvious, unlocking contract award data can be helpful to map out long term opportunities. This intelligence can help you understand where contracts have already been awarded and which buyers to focus your efforts on. For example, a supplier with a new chatbot system may be interested in seeing which buyers have procured similar systems in the past.
Contract award data can help segment prospective chatbot buyers into three buckets:
- Those who have procured chatbots in the past and may have a contract up for renewal
- Those who have not procured chatbots, but have mentioned it in strategy documents
- Those who have not procured chatbots, and have not mentioned it at all
This buyer segmentation can help to focus your strategy and delegate responsibilities. For example, an account executive would approach a buyer who is likely to have an upcoming chat-bot renewal, whereas a marketing manager would reach out to a buyer who has shown interest in a chat-bot system, but hasn't released a tender.
With a free Stotles account you can track awarded and expiring contracts across the market, setting up your feed to capture keywords and competitor awards. Our clients tell us that they first engage with the government up to 12 months in advance of bidding, so we recommend filtering your award feed to look for contracts expiring in 6+ months time.
2. Uncover opportunities with buyer deep dives
If you’re a local supplier with an interest in supplying to your local council, or an account executive interested in selling to a specific government organisation, researching buyer profiles can help you build informed account plans ahead of outreach.
Popular pre-engagement advice tends to encourage suppliers to start pre-engaging with buyers by asking about past procurement decisions, relevant stakeholders and overarching project visions and goals. However, when reality dictates government buyers will often have preferred suppliers and constraints on time, we find that new suppliers stand the best chance if they approach their buyers with an understanding of their buyers preferences.
One way of doing this is by understanding your prospect's key supplier relationships to position yourself against your competitor. Remember, pre-tenders and upcoming expires provide an opportunity to start talking to the government ahead of an opportunity, but it does not guarantee that they will listen. Establishing an eye-catching marketing campaign which highlights the benefits of your solution compared to their existing suppliers may help open doors early on.
Equally important is to position your solution as part of your buyers overarching pipelines and long term needs. Suppliers should expect government departments to be motivated by a greater variety of metrics than their private sector counterparts. Each department has their own delivery plans and ambitions and you can expect campaigns to include metrics around increased awareness, education, or behavioural change. By demonstrating an awareness of these goals, you can demonstrate how your product or service is able to contribute towards them, positioning your product as essential and superior to the competition.
We recommend reading departmental strategy documents to get a feel for core values and key objectives to help define opportunities and shape your pre-engagement strategy early on.
💡SME tip! Whilst it is not impossible, it is rare for SMEs to start working with central government bodies immediately. We recommend prioritising winning contracts with local buyers until you have enough evidence to start bidding on central government contracts. In particular, local opportunities under £100,000 can be an easier path to working with the public sector for SMEs. These tenders face less competition and qualification, as local suppliers are able to “reserve a spot” and avoid the Pre-Qualification Questionnaires associated with larger tenders.
3. Consult over Prior Information Requests
Whether you have a specific interest in a buyer or a particular award expiry, staying on top of relevant market developments can help uncover unanticipated opportunities for your business. The most transparent way to identify early signals in your feed is by tracking pre-tender opportunities.
Pre-market engagement is a series of interactions between buyers and suppliers before the beginning of official procurement activities. This means the engagement takes place before Invitation To Tender (ITT) or Invitation To Quote (ITQs) are released.
This period of time exists for buyers to gather information about a tender opportunity, specifically to learn about the solutions and options available to them ahead of a potential procurement contract. Buyers will typically speak to a mixture of businesses, authorities and experts to ensure they are best placed to plan and conduct procurement later on.
From a supplier's perspective, invitations for pre-tender provide an opportunity to build relationships and position yourself ahead of the competition. Buyers want information on the scope and size of their procurement needs and suppliers who are able to provide helpful, evidence-based feedback are likely to stand out when the time comes to bid.
Whilst pre-tender requests are not a guarantee of a future contract, large frameworks are rarely released without first issuing pre-tender requests. Once your Stotles feed is set up to capture relevant keywords, you can filter for pre-tender opportunities and have alerts sent directly to your inbox, so you are best-placed to engage with these opportunities when they arise.
💡SME tip from Gov.UK
“Recent studies of public sector procurers show that they see SMEs as flexible, quicker to react and able to offer better prices. Use the pre-market engagement to show this by reacting quickly to questions, offering options and evidence of where you’ve responded to change in the past. Recognise that you are likely to be cheaper than bigger players and show evidence that you offer value for money.”
Get in touch with key contacts
Once you have identified the opportunities you are going to pre-engage with, the next step is to identify key contacts to approach in your outreach. Larger deals may involve numerous decision makers and warming these leads prior to your bid is an essential step to increase your chances of winning.
We recommend using a centralised solution to easily access all the decision-makers for all of the buyers in your pipeline. With Stotles Pro, you can request full contact details from any government body, emails provided.
If you have not worked with a government body before, or you have limited brand awareness, your outreach may look similar to private sector outreach strategies you have undertaken in the past. Typically, your first step will involve developing a marketing campaign to grab their attention and drip-feeding them with a series of targeted, personalised campaigns until they are ready for a conversation.
Once you have got to the stage where a buyer is interested enough to speak to you, the focus should be to raise the profile of your business and position yourself ahead of your competitors. Your research with Stotles should have equipped you with knowledge of why the government is procuring and how this opportunity sits within their overall timelines. Now it’s time to flex your knowledge and build a relationship with your buyer to shape the tender ahead of its release.
To start your pre-engagement journey with the government you can, sign up to Stotles for free. With our platform, you can track relevant opportunities all in one place and approach them with the right message, at the right time. For suppliers interested in our expert services, you can speak to a member of our team, you can speak to a member of our team here.