While the debate on “government outsourcing” (the use of government contractors for “inherently governmental” work) goes on, the use of contractors in these roles grows. There just are not enough personnel in the government to do all the things that need to get done, and not enough to get them done well.
The key steps in the process of selling professional services to the government are:
- having the right personnel
- understanding the long-term nature of the sale
- setting your business development professional loose in the market to match your core strengths with current and emerging opportunities
- identifying the opportunities you can most likely win
- meeting with the key government and industry people involved in those opportunities and setting up meetings with your key staffers
- developing the relationships and establishing your area of expertise
- pursuing and capturing the business
While this is somewhat over-simplified, it is the basic process.
The government acquires services almost exclusively through contracts, including the GSA Schedule. There are literally hundreds of companies vying in each service category for this business. And once again, many companies sell only to government, and are quite experienced in pursuing this business. Therefore, it is quite competitive.
On the GSA Schedule, the main Schedule for services is MOBIS – Mission Oriented Business Integrated Services (Schedule 874). Here you will find:
- survey services
- acquisition management support (yes, the government gets help in procurement)
- consulting services
- facilitation services (facilitation and related decision support services to agencies
- training services (off-the-shelf or customized off-the-shelf training packages to meet specific agency needs related to management, organizational and business improvement services)
- support products used in support of services offered (including workbooks, training manuals, slides, videotapes, software programs, etc.)
- privatization support services and documentation (support, assistance and documentation generation required in the conduct of OMB Circular A-76)
- program integration and management services (services to manage and integrate various management and business improvement programs and projects that may or may not be the result of MOBIS recommendations).
These may include projects internal to Federal agencies, project management that connects and maintains liaison between multiple contractors, monitoring of multiple projects, expert services supporting agency Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) programs both formal and informal.
In order to become a provider of professional services to the government (Federal, state or local), there are several things you must consider.
First, understand that most professional service sales are long-cycle sales. These often require business development (BD) professionals as opposed to sales personnel. Good business development professionals start by matching your core strengths with agency requirements.
Then they identify current or emerging contracts where the agency buys (or will buy) this type of service.
Third, the BD people go out to meet with the government officials, the contractors likely to bid (or the contractor currently holding the contract) to start developing a relationship, and communicating your company strengths. They set up meetings with both the clients and the contractor to introduce your various team members, further developing the relationship and establishing your area of expertise.
All of the collateral material used by your BD staff has to be geared to the public sector. What you did for a for-profit company may have a bearing on the needs of the client, but unless your material directly addresses their needs and requirements as a government agency, the likelihood of you winning business is radically reduced.
Bob Lohfeld of Lohfeld Consulting put it this way: “You need a well-thought-out strategy to differentiate your offering from others and a well-defined value proposition that addresses the government’s needs. Commercial selling jargon like ‘increase your profits’ will fall on deaf ears with the government buyer whereas ‘improve service to the citizen’ may be just what the government wants to hear.”
It is often easier to start off as a sub-contractor to a larger firm, after establishing your area of expertise with both the government customer and the contractor. While the terms and conditions (including the hourly pay) may not be great, this will help you establish your “past performance” in the public sector. If the government customer likes your work, it is much easier to find more.
This is not a “quick turnaround” arena. Be prepared to devote time and resources if you are serious about pursuing professional services business.