Selling to Government Organizations – What do I need to know?

Government organizations invest millions of dollars in RFPs for goods and services each year; dollars they spend with small-medium-businesses (SMB) throughout the US. There is a huge potential for SMEs to participate and increase their revenue with public contracting. Yet most of them avoid it with lot of excuses including complaints about transparency of the system, time consuming process or budget. They struggle with finding and qualifying right opportunities. When they participate, their win rate is very low, typically around 10-25%. So what are they doing wrong?

Having participated in the qualification of thousands of RFPs, it’s clear that the norm is for SMEs to run headlong into seemingly attractive opportunities without considering whether it’s really for them – that’s not a recipe for sustained results. Winning contracts is a process that starts with baselining your capability and capacity to compete for opportunities. Once you recognise what your strengths are and you’ve a plan to rectify your weaknesses you’re ready to start finding, qualifying and competing for opportunities

Find the opportunity

There is a couple of public websites we mentioned in our previous blog posts (Finding government contracts that you can actually win) where you can find government contracts. These sources usually display opportunities from certain country or region.

However most bid managers will benefit from a single source of information. So instead of browsing different websites, use a single platform source like Tenderscout. You can search for more than 5,000 new opportunities every day from 100+ countries.

Qualify if it’s a right fit for you

Let’s say you found an opportunity in your country that matches your area of expertise. It seems like you can do this one, but should you go for it without further examination? The answer is no! Proper qualification is the most important part of the process. There can be a lot of hidden factors including past buyer records that may warn you from competing for this opportunity.

Make sure you have all the information before making a decision that could cost you a lot of time and resources. Use qualification analytical tools that will help you determine whether to bid or not and avoid contracts you have a very little chance of winning.

Compete

When you pick the ideal opportunity, here comes the real challenge – being the best one among all the bidders and winning the contract. That’s where you need to show differentiation. Show the buyer who you really are and why are you the best fit for them. Understand their needs, think outside of the box and offer the best innovative solution. It is also very useful to follow structured templates that will guide you through the process of writing the proposal.

 

To increase your chance of winning government contracts make sure you build the right process and long term plan. Find, qualify and compete for opportunities strategically. Every SME has a chance to participate and become successful public supplier. Use tools like TenderScout and start winning more business today.

Do I have any chance of winning a government contract?

A Question we are often asked by potential clients in Tenderscout is do I have any chance of winning a government contract? Sometimes the client is frustrated because they are only winning 10-25% of the opportunities they are writing; sometimes they have never tried but have no faith in the fairness of the process. For the record, in our experience 95% of these opportunities are run fairly.

There are two answers to this question:

Yes…but… in short it has to be the right opportunity for you, understanding which ones work for you can sometimes take a little trial and error, but the first step is to understand the need of the buyer, and whether or not you can fulfill this need.

In order to answer this question you should ensure that you have a     strong Bid/No-Bid and Qualification process for each opportunity you are going to pursue.

Figure out exactly what the client is looking for, for example, a new website is rarely the goal of a RFP but a new website is a great way to achieve the goal of improving the look and feel of a brand online. Once you understand the client’s needs, it is easier for you to assess whether the opportunity is right for your company.

Honestly assess your own capabilities – a five-person agency is unlikely to win an opportunity that calls for huge complexity, 24-hour support and has a minimum budget of $1,000,000. Start with contracts that you can almost certainly win and ignore the ones you have little chance of winning. This will have a positive impact on both your team’s morale and your costs!

 

No…Unless… You treat winning public opportunities like a process. When it comes to winning private sector business you have most likely built a sales process that works for you and winning public opportunities is no different. So the better question becomes – how do I go about winning opportunities that work for my company?

As mentioned above start with Qualification and Bid/No-Bid. Next, demonstrate that you understand the needs of the buyer – in the example of the website rebuild that we used above find out why they want to build a website – User engagement, Brand image improvement, Improving User understanding of the service they offer. Showing the buyer that you understand what they actually need and shaping your solution to that need will distinguish you from 90% of your competitors.

Demonstrating your team’s suitability for this project. Your CV’s are you chance to sell a buyer on your team, in the public sector as well as the private – people buy from people. Take this opportunity to tell a story about each team member and what makes him or her suitable for this project, not just another cookie cutter LinkedIn profile or recitation of the jobs that they have done and education they have.

Spend time on your template documents – things like safety statements and CV’s, Case Studies, Methodology may seem like simple items that are taken as read but there are valuable points available here, they are documents and policies that are easy to get right so why don’t you get them right?

Do not stress about price – price the job like you would in the private sector, charge the price that works for you and not the one that you think will win. Contrary to popular belief, the last thing any opportunity falls down on is price.

Building or improving a robust government contracting process for both Public and Private RFP’s is something that can benefit almost every business we do it every day in www.tenderscout.com. The basics of how we do it are laid out here, if you would like to learn more feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn – or email me at ronan@tenderscout.com

Beating the Odds – How SMEs win RFPs

It’s common wisdom that for small and medium businesses (SMB) competing for government contracts is a waste of time. RFPs are loaded with legal jargon, the requirements are vague, the names of incumbents a closely guarded secret. And what? You want to know the budget? That’s just crazy talk.

Those are just some of the sentiments that I hear from bid managers and sales executive, when I ask them why they’re avoiding government contracts. To a large extent they’re right to. The average win rate for an SME is an appalling 26% according to PwC’s most recent report into European procurement Activity (Report).

To digress into figures for a moment, the same report indicates that the average contract value is €60,000. Most businesses spend around 5% of the contract value on presales activities. It’s plainly unsustainable to build a 20% margin into your proposals just to break even.

Next time you’re weighing up the odds of spending that money on writing a proposal or having a flutter in the casino, take note that in The Signal and the Noise, Nate Silver noted that the odds of winning at Blackjack in Las Vegas were 48% – that sounds more attractive in the short term than slogging over a proposal you’ve little chance of winning!

But here’s the thing, there’s a small cohort of SMEs who are beating these odds and winning as much as 70% of the RPP proposals that they write. At TenderScout we studied over 100 of these businesses to try and understand what they were doing differently and how we could apply their strategies in our clients businesses.

All companies spend pretty much the same amount (between 3% and 6% of the contract value) on their presales activities; the difference is in where they spend it.

In most companies, around 10% of pre-sales cost is incurred on qualifying opportunities and almost 90% on proposal development – writing content, creating graphics and so forth In the cohort that are beating the odds, they spend three times as much, up to 30% qualifying opportunities (and conversely less time writing actual proposals).

The qualification process is fundamentally data-driven decision making around which RFPs, fit the sweet spot and are winnable. We identified 4 key categories of tools used to help make decision:

  • Customer Relationship Management Tool (CRM) to record details of your relationships with buyers and build up a record of your engagement with them.
  • Buyer Profiling to better understand who the buyer is, who the key decision makers are, what the buying history looks like, how they make buying decisions, how much they typically spend and what their needs are.
  • Competitive Landscape Analysis to acknowledge whom your competitors are, their strengths and differentiators, their relationship with the buyer, their track record, experience and expertise and whether they are likely to submit a better proposal than you can.
  • Bid/No-Bid process to standardize decision making in the context of your solution, the buyer need, the competitive landscape, the budget and timescales within which the solution is to be delivered and so forth to determine whether all else being equal your proposal will meet their needs and be a more compelling proposition than that of your competitors.

Businesses are using tools like salesforce, Datahug, VisibleThread and TenderScout amongst others to simplify the process, increasing the robustness of their decision making and ultimately giving themselves a platform for sustainable success.

Finding government contracts that you can actually win

Public sector contracts represent about 12% of the Irish economy. There’s huge potential for companies to grow their revenues through government contracting. Yet, the majority of businesses don’t compete for contracts because they don’t feel that their effort is worth the reward.

Many small and medium businesses have the potential to compete and win government contract, but there are challenges to overcome. The first is figuring out just why all of these opportunities are hiding.

The Irish government publishes around 7,000 tenders each year, the majority of which are between €25,000 and €135,000 in value. They can mostly be found on etenders.gov.ie. If you’re feeling more confident, higher value contracts are found on the pan-European website ted.europa.eu.

There are other sources of tenders, mostly paid-subscription services offering some value added features like email alerts and market research, but most of their opportunities come from these public sources.

The key challenge of course is not finding where the opportunities live, rather finding the opportunities that you actually have a chance of winning. There’s no point in writing proposals for opportunities that just don’t fit your sweet-spot. Even if you win the contract, you’re going to be up against it to try and fulfil the contract terms, much less make a profit.

It’s easy to miss the right opportunity if you’re spending all of your time sifting for hours through different websites looking for that perfect opportunity.

To increase your chance of starting out on the right path, choose a source of opportunities that combines multiple sources and automatics as much of the sifting through opportunities as possible. That means you’ll just be focussing on opportunities that are right for you.

To give yourself the best chance of success, focus on finding opportunities that you truly believe are ‘meant for you’. Use alerts services like www.tenderscout.com that give you a single source of information and fast-track you towards winning those contracts you deserve. There are a thousands of public opportunities out there. Make sure that you’re competing for the ones with your name on it.

3 Startup Lessons from the Valley

I was chatting with Paul Burfield, Enterprise Irelands’ man in Silicon Valley over breakfast; we were pondering why it was that US startups appear to have more success at scaling than equivalent companies elsewhere.

As I travel back from the SaaStr 2017, an annual orgy of all that is SaaS, held in San Francisco, I’m musing on what I’ve heard from the founders of leading companies like Facebook, Dumo and Zendesk. Many of the speakers, tell stories of their journey to Annual Recurring Revenues (ARR) to $100m within 5 to 8 year timeframes. They tell stories about cracking $1m in their first 18 months and the struggle to get to $5-6m ARR – when the “cavalry arrives” over the next 18 months.

The level of ambition, or perhaps, it’s expectation, amongst US startups is on a totally different scale to that I’ve experienced elsewhere – they’re only getting started by the time their revenues hit $30m; many founders in a different environment are looking for the exit doors.

Having spent time getting under the covers of many of these startups heading for the stratosphere, I’m struck by how ordinary their technology often is. Listening to the speakers at SaaStr, the talk is not so much about technology innovation – mostly (and it is a sales conference!), it’s about building a sales engine.

Many of the solutions SaaStr are centered around optimizing the sales process, improving your Net Promoter Score (NPS), better tracking of SaaS metrics – tools for all the other SaaS companies to build their own sales engines. Every solution now comes with ‘machine learning’, which means all things to all men, but in truth, there’s no technology that’s any more innovative or game changing than what I’d commonly see in my home town of Dublin or any of the other startup hubs around Europe.

I’ve distilled the thoughts of the leading minds from Stripe, Intercom and their peers speaking at SaaStr into three strategies.

1. Prioritise Market Definition over Product

Prioritise defining your market above the product you’re going to build. US companies happily go to market with ‘minimum viable products’ and trust that the technology will catch up with the marketing.

2. Recruit Sales Recruitment over Engineers

Prioritise recruitment of sales staff and even marketing staff over engineers. In Silicon Valley, this may be a result of the shortage and the cost of engineering talent, but it’s clear that where Irish companies are knuckling down and writing code, their US counterparts are building momentum through brand awareness and early sales.

3. Build your Sales Machine Early

  • Build your sales machine as early as possible. US companies invest in sales technology like Datahug, insidesales.com and pipedrive.com that optimizes lead generation, incorporates predictive analytics and supports a scalable process.
  • Measure every element of the sales process – the lead conversion rate, sales velocity, customer acquisition costs, customer retention costs, churn and the all-important monthly recurring revenue. Because at the end of the day, without sales, nothing else matters.

As I travelled home I met startup founders from SwiftComply, Phorest and several Irish companies. Having spent time learning from SaaS pathfinders, they’re more confident than ever in their ability to compete with the very best on the planet.

Increase your revenue with government contracts

Sales and selling is an integral part of business. Small and Medium Businesses (SMEs) invest in CRMs, Marketing Tools and sales resources to improve their ability to identify and compete for business. Somewhat surprisingly over 80% of SMEs focus almost exclusively on business-to-business (B2B) prospects ignoring the fact that business-to-government (B2G) accounts for up to 18% of Gross National Product (GDP).

Finding Sales Prospects

Generating B2B sales requires a combination of inbound (e.g. website visits) and outbound (e.g. cold calling) strategies. Once you finally get in front of your prospect, closing the sale often requires a proposal.

By contrast B2G opportunities typically reside on publically available databases for anyone to access. These leads require no inbound or outbound sales strategies; they simply exist for anyone who wants to access them.

Qualifying Sales Opportunities

When deciding whether to compete (i.e. invest in writing a proposal) for a B2B opportunity, sales teams will consider whether they have a prior relationship with the buyer, how well their solution matches the buyer need and critically, what the competitive landscape for the opportunity is like.

For B2G opportunities, exactly the same criteria applies. It’s often easier to qualify B2G opportunities, especially where you are not the incumbent because Government Buyers are required to publish details on their previous contract awards.

Competing for Sales

B2B buyers have a multitude of options when it comes to choosing their suppliers. They can be as formal or as informal as they like which it comes to making their selection. They rarely rely on just the proposal you present to them when making their purchasing decision; indeed they have the latitude to incorporate any and all information that they choose into the decision making process.

B2G buyers on the other hand are bound by rules and conventions. They cannot arbitrarily make decisions about who to award contracts to – they must rely solely on the information presented in proposal documents. The challenge for the buyer is to ensure that they solicit the right information from suppliers. To suppliers this presents both an opportunity and a challenge. As you are solely judged on the quality of your submission, suppliers who can write the best proposals stand a better chance of being awarded the business.

Conclusion

Suppliers competing for B2B contracts can never be certain of success for the simple reason that the rules governing the award of contracts can and do evolve over the course of the sales process.

On the other hand, everything about the B2G sales process is transparent. As opportunities are freely published, SMEs don’t have to have extensive sales capabilities, but they do need to know how to quality opportunities that are both suitable and winnable. They also need to know how to write a winning proposal.
Qualification of opportunities
and proposal writing skills are easily learnt, while tools like www.tenderscout.com ensure that SMEs receive a steady stream of pre-qualified opportunities and incorporate guidance and templates that get SMEs to the finish line quicker.

SMEs should seriously consider B2G as part of their revenue mix. With a little bit of experience (and some expertise) it won’t be long before government buyers form part of your client list.

Double honour for TenderScout

Last night was a humbling experience for me personally as well as the entire team at TenderScout as we picked up the Best Digital StartUp and the Grand Prix awards at the 21st eir Spider Awards 2016.

Last night was a humbling experience for me personally as well as the entire team at TenderScout. We picked up not one, but two awards at the 21st eir Spider Awards which took place at the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel.

First, I want to say a big thank you to eir for organizing that amazing event and secondly, to all the judges who decided to honour us with these great awards – The Best Digital StartUp 2016 and the Grand Prix!

To be selected as the overall Grand Prix winner was an incredible surprise and I would like to thank everybody who made it possible. The night was such an amazing and long lasting experience.

The award is a great validation of the hard work that the team has put in over several years. It’s gives us confidence that we’re on the right path and we look forward to achieving more success in the future.

These awards top off a great year for us; we are closing a significant funding round which will help us to capitalise on our customer wins in the UK and the US and to deliver better value to those firms putting their trust in us going forward.

Why our schools need Computer Science

I was interested to hear the news that Computer Science is finally going to be offered to Leaving Cert students. The news is very welcome, though some may be surprised to learn that it won’t be the first time the subject was offered for the Leaving Cert curriculum in Ireland.

This article first appeared on Dublin Globe.

I was interested to hear the news that Computer Science is finally going to be offered to Leaving Cert students. The news is very welcome, though some may be surprised to learn that it won’t be the first time the subject was offered for the Leaving Cert curriculum in Ireland.

25 years ago, I took Computer Science at school (Crescent College Comprehensive in Co. Limerick) as part of an experimental programme whereupon the University of Limerick recognised it the same way it did Physics or Applied Maths for entry to university courses. Having studied the subject then, I can see the potential it has to radically change the way coding is learned in Ireland, and open it up to a much larger audience. For me, it was a course which allowed me to explore further my interest in coding, which started with a Commodore 64 and self-taught BASIC skills. Though I went into it with an interest in computers, I’m sure the course introduced many others to coding for the first time and helped them discover that they too had an aptitude for it. We learned Pascal, 8086 Assembly programming, how a Central Processing Unit (CPU) works, how to write flowcharts… all in the experimental and open-minded environment instigated by our teacher, Eamon Stack.

The teaching of Computer Science will not only allow Leaving Cert students to determine if they have a talent or a passion for coding, but could also potentially help third level institutions with the selection of students for degree courses. Right now, the many universities and ITs that teach Computer Science exclude countless capable students by insisting on higher level maths for entry. In 25 years of working in tech, I’ve never required that level of maths knowledge and fail to see why this emphasis has been put on one single subject. I progressed through the school system before this requirement existed, and having been accepted to NIHE Limerick I graduated with a 1st in Computer Systems, going on to build a successful career in tech – ordinary level maths notwithstanding. Of course, Computer Science and coding can teach mathematical problem-solving skills, but at their core they are creative disciplines which require innovative solutions to solve existing problems.

A Computer Science course at Leaving Cert level, along with a more sensible admissions system to third level, is vital for students and the country right now. Looking at it from an economic standpoint, the benefits are obvious. This country is now home to the headquarters of the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox, and of course Google. These companies have been calling out for a change in the education system, one which recognises the importance of Computer Science and coding. Most recently, the managing director of SMB sales (EMEA) at Google, Fionnuala Meehan, said that the Irish Government needs to add computer science to the curriculum to secure jobs, while others have gone so far as to describe the lack of Computer Science on the Irish Leaving Cert as ‘worrying.’

This important change to the Irish school curriculum won’t happen overnight. It will require significant preparation to ensure that (a) it is relevant and (b) the resources are in place to ensure it is taught correctly. My early programming career involved writing code to build graphical interfaces, neural networks to train the inept (mainly myself) to play the guitar and to manage core banking systems – none of which required a math degree, but necessitated plenty of hard work and creativity. Based on my own experience, the re-introduction of a second level Computer Science course that encourages students to explore computing and coding in a creative manner will greatly benefit both the education system and students, not to mention Ireland as a progressive, tech-forward nation.

Boost your revenue with government contracts

Generating revenue is a constant preoccupation for small and medium sized businesses (SMBs). For those that have a sales strategy, keeping a pipeline filled with qualified leads that are likely to close is an uphill battle. Yet, every year, the vast majority of SMBs are ignoring over 100,000 contracting opportunities that could help to revolutionise their bottom lines.

Too many SMBs are stuck on B2B selling

Most SMBs rely on other businesses for the majority (over 70%) of their revenue. When I started my first company, I relied heavily on just a couple of contracts for my entire cash flow. And even then, the cash didn’t exactly flow – as a supplier, you’re often at the whim of buyers when it comes to getting paid on time. Quoting non-compliance with Directive 2000/35/EC of the European Parliament on late payments isn’t likely to speed up the process, and is more likely to reduce your chances of getting another contract!

Nowadays, buyers are very well informed about what it is they’re buying, how much they should be paying and what kind of service they can expect. They have plenty of choice when it comes to selecting a supplier and are increasingly more comfortable with a ‘panel’ of suppliers rather than relying on just one or two companies.

What’s wrong with this picture?

My own experience, working with several hundred SMBs, is that most don’t even have a sales and marketing strategy. ‘Sales’ generally consists of fielding referrals and keeping existing clients happy enough that they’ll give the company more business.

This type of selling is expensive – it requires businesses to be extremely flexible when it comes to different client demands. Some clients will want marketing brochures, some will want workshops or demos and others will want full-blown proposals. They’ll all be at different stages of their buying cycle; and they may simply be educating themselves without having any particular buying need.

Governments spend billions every year on equipment to maintain roads, research reports, office stationery, landscaping and thousands of other goods and services. In the private sector, where most SMBs do their business, there’s an opportunity missed every time the government goes to the market.

Government contracts = qualified sales leads

The great majority of SMBs treat government contracts with disdain, because participation can be expensive or require specialised skills. But there is a huge upside for SMBs here – all government contracts follow a standardised process. It’s not perfect by any means, but it’s got a beginning, middle and an end; the rules of engagement and how the contract is to be awarded are clear. And government organisations tend to pay on time too!

SMBs that learn how to incorporate competing for government contracts into their overall sales process have a massive opportunity to grow their business through consistent and cost effective sales activities.

In my next article, I’ll look at ways to create a pipeline of such opportunities through a process of finding, evaluating and selecting the right tenders for your business.

HSE faces EU fines over procurement

At the weekend, the Independent published a story about HSE recruitment: HSE facing huge EU fines over tender delays

The taxpayer could face huge EU fines because of the failure of the Health Service Executive (HSE) to issue new tenders for agencies to provide doctors and nurses across the country.

In recent years, procurement competitions involving healthcare personnel have been subject to significant challenges, the recent High Court action brought by healthcare providers being just another example. One of the reasons for this may be that when dealing with outsourcing of specialised services, it is difficult to award contracts where much of the criteria relates to subjective judgement around the quality of personnel and support processes.

Nonetheless, it is unacceptable – given the level of support available to buyers from organisations such as the Office of Government Procurement – that procedural issues remain in the effective administration of contracts.

Ultimately, the issue is one of transparency. The public procurement rules are clear as to how public contracts are advertised, awarded and administered. Any deviation from these rules must call into question the framework and suggests that those responsible don’t actually care whether they are following the rules or not. If this is the case, it’s very disappointing – especially given all the effort the Government, the Office of Government Procurement and bodies such as Intertrade Ireland have been expending in encouraging suppliers to participate in public competitions.

A Procurement Ombudsman has been mooted several times in the recent past. The idea is that an ombudsman would keep public servants on the right side of EU and national legislation, but sadly there’s no sign of that happening soon. It is more than a shame that the HSE, charged with administering health services, has failed to administer its own contracts, with the net impact being fewer resources available to deliver health services in Ireland.