Apr 17th 2024 | Posted in Mary Scott Nabers' Insights by Mary Scott Nabers

If the U.S. government marketplace is the largest market in the world, surely one should expect it to be competitive and somewhat challenging. A company’s size does not measure success with a good offering; it is almost always measured by understanding the basics — the culture, process and people.

Sooner or later, most companies realize that ignoring the multi-trillion government marketplace is not an option, and a decision must be made to enter it. I have often cautioned company executives to carefully consider what will be required. It is worth the effort, but it is impossible to be successful without knowing how to navigate. Most will understand this analogy: “If you don’t know how to swim, don’t jump into the ocean.” The same is true about entering the government marketplace.

Success is multifaceted, but the following advice covers important areas:

  • Understand the culture! The government marketplace is unlike the commercial sector. It is extremely structured and process-oriented. The rules of engagement are different, and public officials expect quite a bit from private-sector executives and sales representatives. If an understanding and a knowledge base are lacking, that is evident to a public official very quickly.
  • Government decision-makers are risk-averse. They operate with taxpayer funding, and the penalties for misuse or a misstep can be extreme. Because of that, they move slowly and carefully. They prefer to engage with people they know and trust, and most can spot inattention to detail, a lack of knowledge and promises that are questionable in a very short amount of time.
  • Public officials are very busy. They continually juggle too many balls and have distractions and time-consuming challenges. Few people realize how many responsibilities most officials have daily. Because of this, all communication and every conversation with them should be brief and to the point. Sales executives must remember that public officials don’t have time for small talk and don’t appreciate being given a large media package promoting a company. They won’t read it because they simply don’t have time.
  • Consultative sales conversations are not possible in the public sector. Officials expect visitors to have done enough homework to know the immediate needs and issues. They also expect a sales executive to know if their organization already has a similar solution or offering.
cytonn photography n95VMLxqM2I unsplash 300x200 These critical components will help any business succeed in the government marketplace

Photo by Cytonn Photography via Unsplash

    • Competition is exceptionally keen, so competitor intelligence is critical to success. It is imperative to know everything possible about other companies with similar offerings. What is their offering? What is it priced? What is the highest value proposition it offers? What contracts are already held by which competitors and are any of the contracts nearing an expiring date?
    • After a sales presentation or just a conversation about an offering, public officials appreciate a one-pager summarizing the pertinent points discussed. That communication can be attached to an email, but it is important to remember that a follow-up effort should follow in a few days. It is never wise to believe that a public official will be the one to follow up after a conversation. That usually does not happen – at least not without a gentle reminder. The official often leaves a conversation and is immediately required to address another more pressing situation. Your conversation can be forgotten, no matter how interesting it may have been.


  • Schedulers for public officials are essential to success. Private-sector visitors should strive to build a relationship with every government employee, especially people in positions of power. Schedulers should be considered powerful. Individuals with a relationship with a scheduler can also often ask for advice when requesting a meeting.
  • Contract vehicles are a genuine sign of expertise. These types of contracting options make a huge difference, and public-sector purchasers appreciate them. And it is often necessary to have more than one. Spend the time discovering what contracting vehicle the public entity is accustomed to using and try to obtain that vehicle if possible.
  • Subcontractor selections are another critical component of success. When a company uses subcontractors, every effort should be made to ensure the firms have government designations, credentials, experience with the public entity issuing the solicitation and other public-sector references.
  • When a formal proposal is required, which will often be the case, experienced firms will have a template ready to tweak for each pursuit effort. Developing the template is not a quick and easy task unless there is a good understanding of what should be in the template. Here are a few critical recommendations:
    • Briefly provide company background information, but don’t go overboard;
    • Describe interest in the project with a short explanation of why the company feels it has all the credentials and expertise required;
    • Leave room in the template to ‘localize’ each proposal that will be submitted;
    • Describe every value proposition in the Executive Summary because each evaluator will be required to read this section;
    • List capabilities, references, benefits, and experience in simple language. Use smart brevity;
    • Make the document attractive enough to stand out and ensure the verbiage is simple and understandable.
  • Contract negotiation in the government marketplace is entirely different from anything like it in the commercial sector. A company arguing about terms and conditions should know what is negotiable and what is not. Many million-dollar contracts have been lost in the negotiation phase. Attorneys seeking to engage with the government should be especially careful in contract negotiations if they are not experienced in public sector rules and processes.

Understanding the vibrant, enticing, and lucrative government marketplace does not take long, so make an effort. It is definitely worth the time and patience it takes to be successful.

Mary Scott Nabers

As President and CEO of Strategic Partnerships, Inc., Mary Scott Nabers has decades of experience working in the public-private sector. A well-recognized expert in the P3 and government contracting fields, she is often asked to share her industry insights with top publications and through professional speaking engagements.