It’s important to know how to say “hello” to a public official. It sounds simple, but many sales reps fail this first step.

Government culture differs greatly from corporate culture. The two environments are so diverse that communication is commonly difficult. Companies may pay top dollar for outstanding sales representatives, but unless the person understands the government marketplace and the culture, success will be slow in coming. There are landmines to avoid and challenges to overcome, but the rewards of success are great—government contracts are large and lengthy in nature. It’s definitely worth the effort to learn to say “hello” correctly.

Public officials take longer to make decisions and they have little patience for small talk. They also tend to be risk averse, preferring to work with known and trusted individuals and companies. The trick for newcomers is to find a way to become a trusted advisor as quickly as possible, and that process starts with the very first meeting.

Here’s some advice from someone who has lived in both worlds. After more than a decade as a statewide office holder and almost two decades helping companies capture government business, I’ve seen it all. The first thing I tell clients is this: unless we get you comfortable quickly with government culture, we’re going to waste a lot of valuable time. No matter the size or type of company, the first thing our team wants to hear is their message. Here are the types of questions we ask:

  • What do you have to sell to a governmental entity?
  • Why is it needed?
  • What is the greatest value proposition you can offer?
  • Does it save money?
  • Do you have reference accounts?
  • How long have you been selling to government?
  • How successful have you been?

Once we get these questions answered, we are ready to begin. We work on messaging, a go-to-market strategy, and then we are ready to schedule meetings at the C-level of government. Because we’ve been doing this successfully for a long time, I’m often asked to provide tips or suggestions for quicker success. So, here goes—a little advice and my belief that following these tips will significantly increase your chances of capturing government business.

1. Make a commitment

The multi-trillion-dollar United States government marketplace is one of the most lucrative in the world, but competition is fierce. Only the wise survive, so make a commitment to learn everything you can about the culture, the people, and the process. Get help if you need it—and most do, either in the beginning or somewhere along the way.

2. Do your homework and ask for the meeting

Research the public officials you plan to meet, keeping in mind the following questions: What areas do they oversee? What size budget do they control? What are their immediate and critical concerns? Can you offer solutions to alleviate any of their current problems?  If so, they are going to be interested in talking to you.

Most public officials will meet with vendors if the request is crafted appropriately. The most common approach is to send a short email requesting a brief meeting to discuss an offering that holds some unique benefit—cost savings, consolidation options, efficiency, and so on. The note should explain benefits and request a 30 minute meeting. If there is no response, place a call.

Sales reps know how to ask for a meeting and it is no different when communicating with a public official. State the reason for the request and ask who to follow up with for scheduling purposes. Persistence will pay off as long as the requests are professionally communicated. It is very difficult for a public official not to honor a request for a 30 minute meeting. If the official, however, is totally unwilling to meet, ask for a meeting with one of his or her direct reports.

Once the meeting is obtained, be prepared to speak to the one solution that was mentioned in the meeting request. Make sure it is a solution or service that addresses some area of current concern. Consultative sales meetings are never welcome in the world of government. No public official will tolerate the question, “What keeps you up at night?”  Government is transparent and you’re expected to know their issues and their greatest concerns.

Experienced sales reps get meetings to discuss a specific offering. Later, there will be time for conversations about other offerings.

3. Keep it short

When requesting a meeting with a public official, asking for a short one is imperative. 20 to 30 minutes is a good target. If you are rejected, ask for a meeting with one of the official’s direct reports.

Public officials and public employees will agree to short meetings if the request is presented appropriately. After all, they are public servants and they work for taxpayers. If you have a legitimate justification for a meeting, you can secure one.

4. Don’t get discouraged

Government decision-makers are busy individuals, juggling multiple priorities and usually a crisis or two on any given day. Don’t get discouraged if your meeting is cut short.

And, don’t be surprised to find yourself in a meeting with a public official who is distracted. It happens occasionally. Prepare a well-structured message that focuses on two or three important points and save the rest for another meeting. Have a request ready as the meeting ends.

5. Get to the point

Let the person know immediately why you asked for the meeting and what problem you can solve. Be respectful of whatever time allotment you were given. Demonstrate your knowledge of and experience in government contracting by sharing examples of other public-sector projects you’ve managed.

6. Avoid “death by PowerPoint”

Public officials absolutely hate PowerPoint presentations. Don’t do it!  If you must use slides, assemble no more than five and distribute these in a booklet.

7. Don’t waste your money

Most public officials will not peruse media packets or spend time looking at promotional materials. The best “leave-behind” is a one-pager that sums up your presentation. Make it simple enough that a staff member who was not in the meeting could understand it. Describe your offering or request concisely. Provide a bit of financial data and list your contact information.

8. Determine next steps and follow through

Once you’ve stated what you offer and why it would be beneficial, ask about a follow-up after the meeting. Don’t leave without knowing the answer to this question.

After the meeting, make sure to promptly provide any and all information you may have promised. Then, send a note or make a call to ensure that everything was received and nothing else is needed. Ask for another meeting.

9. Identify other stakeholders and repeat the process

There are always other stakeholders. Determine who they are and start the communication process all over again. Building bridges with them is your next step.

10. Reap the rewards

Start small. Be patient. Do your homework and make the most of every meeting. Cultivate relationships and build credibility. Stay in touch, and be persistent.

The government marketplace is large and lucrative, and this trillion-dollar marketplace grows even larger each year. One contract, executed well, is almost guaranteed to lead to other long-term contracts. Word spreads quickly when contractors perform well.

Good luck, and remember that public officials are always delighted to find outstanding private-sector partners.

Do you have experience as a business owner working with public officials? Add your tips in the comments below. 

governmentbusiness

It’s important to know how to say “hello” to a public official. It sounds simple, but many sales reps fail this first step.

Government culture differs greatly from corporate culture. The two environments are so diverse that communication is commonly difficult. Companies may pay top dollar for outstanding sales representatives, but unless the person understands the government marketplace and the culture, success will be slow in coming. There are landmines to avoid and challenges to overcome, but the rewards of success are great—government contracts are large and lengthy in nature. It’s definitely worth the effort to learn to say “hello” correctly.

Public officials take longer to make decisions and they have little patience for small talk. They also tend to be risk averse, preferring to work with known and trusted individuals and companies. The trick for newcomers is to find a way to become a trusted advisor as quickly as possible, and that process starts with the very first meeting.

Here’s some advice from someone who has lived in both worlds. After more than a decade as a statewide office holder and almost two decades helping companies capture government business, I’ve seen it all. The first thing I tell clients is this: unless we get you comfortable quickly with government culture, we’re going to waste a lot of valuable time. No matter the size or type of company, the first thing our team wants to hear is their message. Here are the types of questions we ask:

  • What do you have to sell to a governmental entity?
  • Why is it needed?
  • What is the greatest value proposition you can offer?
  • Does it save money?
  • Do you have reference accounts?
  • How long have you been selling to government?
  • How successful have you been?

Once we get these questions answered, we are ready to begin. We work on messaging, a go-to-market strategy, and then we are ready to schedule meetings at the C-level of government. Because we’ve been doing this successfully for a long time, I’m often asked to provide tips or suggestions for quicker success. So, here goes—a little advice and my belief that following these tips will significantly increase your chances of capturing government business.

1. Make a commitment

The multi-trillion-dollar United States government marketplace is one of the most lucrative in the world, but competition is fierce. Only the wise survive, so make a commitment to learn everything you can about the culture, the people, and the process. Get help if you need it—and most do, either in the beginning or somewhere along the way.

2. Do your homework and ask for the meeting

Research the public officials you plan to meet, keeping in mind the following questions: What areas do they oversee? What size budget do they control? What are their immediate and critical concerns? Can you offer solutions to alleviate any of their current problems?  If so, they are going to be interested in talking to you.

Most public officials will meet with vendors if the request is crafted appropriately. The most common approach is to send a short email requesting a brief meeting to discuss an offering that holds some unique benefit—cost savings, consolidation options, efficiency, and so on. The note should explain benefits and request a 30 minute meeting. If there is no response, place a call.

Sales reps know how to ask for a meeting and it is no different when communicating with a public official. State the reason for the request and ask who to follow up with for scheduling purposes. Persistence will pay off as long as the requests are professionally communicated. It is very difficult for a public official not to honor a request for a 30 minute meeting. If the official, however, is totally unwilling to meet, ask for a meeting with one of his or her direct reports.

Once the meeting is obtained, be prepared to speak to the one solution that was mentioned in the meeting request. Make sure it is a solution or service that addresses some area of current concern. Consultative sales meetings are never welcome in the world of government. No public official will tolerate the question, “What keeps you up at night?”  Government is transparent and you’re expected to know their issues and their greatest concerns.

Experienced sales reps get meetings to discuss a specific offering. Later, there will be time for conversations about other offerings.

3. Keep it short

When requesting a meeting with a public official, asking for a short one is imperative. 20 to 30 minutes is a good target. If you are rejected, ask for a meeting with one of the official’s direct reports.

Public officials and public employees will agree to short meetings if the request is presented appropriately. After all, they are public servants and they work for taxpayers. If you have a legitimate justification for a meeting, you can secure one.

4. Don’t get discouraged

Government decision-makers are busy individuals, juggling multiple priorities and usually a crisis or two on any given day. Don’t get discouraged if your meeting is cut short.

And, don’t be surprised to find yourself in a meeting with a public official who is distracted. It happens occasionally. Prepare a well-structured message that focuses on two or three important points and save the rest for another meeting. Have a request ready as the meeting ends.

5. Get to the point

Let the person know immediately why you asked for the meeting and what problem you can solve. Be respectful of whatever time allotment you were given. Demonstrate your knowledge of and experience in government contracting by sharing examples of other public-sector projects you’ve managed.

6. Avoid “death by PowerPoint”

Public officials absolutely hate PowerPoint presentations. Don’t do it!  If you must use slides, assemble no more than five and distribute these in a booklet.

7. Don’t waste your money

Most public officials will not peruse media packets or spend time looking at promotional materials. The best “leave-behind” is a one-pager that sums up your presentation. Make it simple enough that a staff member who was not in the meeting could understand it. Describe your offering or request concisely. Provide a bit of financial data and list your contact information.

8. Determine next steps and follow through

Once you’ve stated what you offer and why it would be beneficial, ask about a follow-up after the meeting. Don’t leave without knowing the answer to this question.

After the meeting, make sure to promptly provide any and all information you may have promised. Then, send a note or make a call to ensure that everything was received and nothing else is needed. Ask for another meeting.

9. Identify other stakeholders and repeat the process

There are always other stakeholders. Determine who they are and start the communication process all over again. Building bridges with them is your next step.

10. Reap the rewards

Start small. Be patient. Do your homework and make the most of every meeting. Cultivate relationships and build credibility. Stay in touch, and be persistent.

The government marketplace is large and lucrative, and this trillion-dollar marketplace grows even larger each year. One contract, executed well, is almost guaranteed to lead to other long-term contracts. Word spreads quickly when contractors perform well.

Good luck, and remember that public officials are always delighted to find outstanding private-sector partners.

Do you have experience as a business owner working with public officials? Add your tips in the comments below. 

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Mary Scott Nabers
Mary Scott Nabers

Mary Scott Nabers is President/CEO of Strategic Partnerships, Inc. (SPI), a unique public affairs firm that specializes in procurement consulting , market research, government affairs, and public-private partnerships (P3s). She is active on the professional speaking circuit, is a keynote speaker at both business conferences and government executives conferences, and the author of Collaboration Nation – How Public-Private Ventures Are Revolutionizing the Business of Government.