Strategic Partnerships, Inc.

mnabersGetting better every day…But, competition is keen!


by Mary Scott Nabers, CEO of Strategic Partnerships, Inc.

Companies of all types and sizes are moving into government marketplaces at a record pace. In the past, firms may have shied away because of bureaucracy, longer sales cycles and/or rigid procurement practices, but today the marketplace is simply too large to ignore and most firms cannot jump in fast enough.

Public sector contracting has also changed, and the environment is not as daunting or rigid as in the past. Public officials are no longer required to make purchases based on low bid. Instead, they look for the "best" bid and numerous factors - along with price - are considered.

Cooperative purchasing programs - or contracting vehicles - are frequently used, negating a requirement for expensive and time-consuming bid documents. Unsolicited proposals are more welcome today and public private partnerships (P3s) are becoming quite common. Public sector marketplaces are much more attractive than in the past.

Another good thing about selling to government is the fact that all information is public. Individuals may ask for any official documents held by public entities. Successful bidders are often the ones making the most Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. It is not unusual for prospective bidders to file requests for current contracts, contract end-dates, past proposal submissions, budget data, audits and/or historical information.

In spite of all the positive changes though, there is occasionally a dark side. Bureaucracy can be burdensome. Sales cycles may be slow and entrenched incumbents are often hard to unseat.  And, while politics should never enter the procurement environment…occasionally that happens.

Here are a few suggestions about how to handle such obstacles if they occur "on the dark side" of public procurements.

  • If bureaucracy is a problem, let someone know about the problem in a very non-threatening and professional way. Point out that transparency, open communication and access to public officials is what taxpayers expect from governmental entities. Ask if there is something you do not understand.  Simply put, ask for help. If you get no response, find an elected official and make a polite inquiry about how to proceed and where to find relief. This should get you attention and a response.

  • When sales cycles drag out indefinitely, ask what is happening.  Most likely, the opportunity is stuck somewhere in the procurement process, but you are entitled to some sort of answer. Don’t worry about being too aggressive. The purchasing officer is almost never a decision-maker and as long as your inquiries are professional in nature, there is no foul.

  • Entrenched incumbents are always hard to unseat if the work being performed is satisfactory. The way to effectively compete with an entrenched incumbent is to know as much as possible about the contracting opportunity. And, know as much as possible about the incumbent’s contract, cost structure, performance record and operational model.  With enough information to analyze, a vendor will usually find a unique value proposition to offer…one that is guaranteed to result in serious consideration.

  • Political interference should be reported immediately. Political influence related to a decision should be protested. Such activities are unethical and illegal. Don’t be concerned about losing the contract. Be more concerned that such actions are stopped. If politicians get involved in procurements, you are dealing with a governmental entity that should be avoided by all legitimate vendors and service providers.

Mary Scott Nabers is president and CEO of Strategic Partnerships, Inc., a 15-year-old procurement consulting and procurement research firm headquartered in Austin, Texas.