By Catalina Dickerson, Owner of Your Launch Pad Consulting
With federal contract awards topping $550 billion in fiscal year 2018, companies look at crossing into the government market every day. While there are business practices that can be applied across multiple market segments, the government market has distinctions that require a specific approach.
I left last month’s Laredo Chamber of Commerce Board meeting blown away and with a big idea bulb on top my head. One of our guest speakers was Laredo’s own Severino Sarabia, Jr., Contract Specialist for Customs and Border Protection (Border Enforcement Contracting Division). Just this past February, he hosted the first vendor outreach event on behalf of CBP in Laredo. He shared with the board that practically zero businesses in our area have been awarded lucrative government contracts because that same number have yet to apply and qualify to be a business that can sell to Uncle Sam. And the other shocker he shared was that Uncle Sam is buying all sorts of things and services and these contracts are being handed over to companies based in states like Oklahoma and beyond. All because we just don’t know enough about these opportunities. South Texas is missing the B2G boat, big time!
What is B2G?
B2G stands for business-to-government. It basically means that a business is selling its products or services to the government. It’s also referred to as B2A, which stands for business-to-administration. Anytime a business sells a service or product to a government agency, that’s B2G—whether it’s a multi-billion dollar defense contractor selling missiles, or a huge company selling IT solutions to administrations, or a tiny small business you’ve never heard of selling office supplies to federal agencies. Interested? Well, I’ve been doing my own bit of research so let’s take a walk and discuss.
Your Big First Step: Federal Market Research
Market research should be the first step in your plan to sell to the government. Become familiar with online resources to determine if there is a demand for what you offer in the government space. One of the benefits of targeting the government market is the public availability of data on federal contract awards. Here are some key links we recommend to check out to get started:
USASpending.gov for overall government spending.
Federal Procurement Data System (FPDS) for detailed, specific breakdowns of federal spending.
Schedule Sales Query for sales specific to the GSA Schedules & GSA Schedule Contractors.
GSA eLibrary for information on products/services offered through the GSA Schedules and Contractors who hold GSA Schedules.
After you check out your options and study what is out there, you need to ask yourself a few questions, like: Who is my ideal buyer? What are they currently purchasing? How are they already getting these items (as in what contract vehicles are they using) and who are they buying them from? Use the tools listed above to answer these questions and to study governement agencies that are most likely to have an interest in your products/services, as well as contractors that are currently providing these products/services.
Your Next First Steps: Government Contractor Registrations
If you have not already done so, complete these steps which are required to sell to any government entity:
1. Obtain a Dun & Bradstreet (D&B) D-U-N-S Number. https://fedgov.dnb.com/webform/
This is a unique, nine-digit identification number that is used by the federal government as a contractor identification code for all procurement-related activities. This number is required to complete the next step.
2. Register on the System for Award Management (SAM). https://www.sam.gov/SAM/
SAM serves as a consolidated portal for multiple federal systems, including the Central Contractor Registration (CCR) and the Online Representations and Certifications (ORCA). You should be aware that there is no cost to register on SAM. Some websites pose to be like SAM and try to charge. If that happens, you are not on the correct website.
Finding Government Opportunities
Nearly all federal business contract opportunities are posted on FedBizOpps, or FBO, which is now incorporated in the SAM website and can be found under “Contract Opportunities”. This is a web-based portal where companies can search for federal opportunities by various fields including: agency, keyword, place of performance, and/or set-aside code. By registering on FedBizOpps companies are able to track selected opportunities. Due to the volume of information posted on this site, we recommend watching or reading the following guides to maximize use of the site: FBO Demo Video, FBO Vendor Guide, and FedBizOpps FAQ.
You can find the FBO here: https://beta.sam.gov/help/contract-opportunities
eBuy is another tool available to find contracting opportunities, however it is only accessible to GSA Schedule Contract holders. eBuy is an online Request for Quote (RFQ) system that allows GSA Schedule Contractors to receive relevant opportunities based upon the Special Item Number(s) they hold.
You can find eBuy here: https://www.ebuy.gsa.gov/ebuy/
Why Sell to the Government?
To most small business owners and startup founders, the idea of selling to governments is out of this world. They don’t even know where to begin. If you work in a startup, the things you care about are probably the opposite to a life in public service: potential for growth vs. job security; freedom and autonomy vs. procedural process. The government seems impenetrable, with bureaucratic nightmares, tight budgets, and crazy contracts. Endless questions pop up that normally keep most people from the idea of pursuing the government as a way to diversify their income funnels. In many ways, selling to the government is uncharted territory for startups. It’s the road not taken. But because no one really understands how to sell to the government, it’s a massive opportunity to blaze a trail, to go out there and actually do it. Selling to the government is about much more than just making a transactional deal. It extends beyond the handshake. It’s about pushing innovation on a truly vast scale. It takes salespeople who are committed problem-solvers, who are patient and dedicated to the task at hand. You need a tool that helps you automatically track every touchpoint with your leads and offers complete team transparency, without burdening the sales process with further complexity. In general, government employees move more slowly and are not incentivized so it’s vital you do not pressure them into the sale with discounts or other tactics. The pace of the sale is contingent on established norms and the employees reflect those norms. Value sells, discounts don’t. This is a lesson that all salespeople can learn from. Look beyond just closing the deal, and the immediate parameters of the transaction, towards how you can provide real, long-lasting solutions for your customers. Ultimately it’s knowing when to push forward, and when to be patient and bide your time, that will carry you across the finish line.