How Client Relationship Management (CRM) is Different for Government Contracting
Spend Matters welcomes this guest post from Public Spend Forum, a sister site.
If you are used to private-sector sales, there are many differences to acquaint yourself with when transitioning to selling to government agencies, and the learning curve can be time consuming.
Some of the successful sales and marketing tactics used in the commercial market do not work as well in government contracting. In fact, even the term “sales” is replaced with “capture management.” If you plan to transition and succeed in government contracting, it’s important that your client relationship management system (CRM) is set up to accommodate these differences to capture the business processes and data elements needed for government capture management.
Prepare for the Long Haul
The sales cycle in government contracting is much longer and can easily take six to 12 month, or years for larger programs. Be sure your CRM allows the sales team to stay engaged and reflects all the dates and stages in the capture management process, including:
- Pre-solicitation — interest decision and opportunity assessment
- Bidding — requests for information and requests for proposals
- Post-proposal activities — oral presentations as well as best-and-final offers (BAFO)
Proposals Take More Time, Money
Government solicitations are complicated and detailed. You’re often required to answer dozens if not hundreds of detailed questions, in addition to providing extensive information on the services and products to be purchased.
Be sure to set up your CRM to track the full proposal process and provide a shared proposal calendar. The level of tracking that’s needed will be determined by the size of the opportunity and complexity of the proposal effort. Use your CRM to leverage and track government contract vehicles that have already been awarded, like the General Services Administration (GSA) and multiple awards schedules (MAS).
Government Purchasing Information is Public
There’s a distinct advantage to the publicly published government awards, as it allows you the ability to thoroughly research the opportunity. Unlike the private sector, all information is easily searched and transparent. You’ll want to ensure you track all of your research, even link to relevant news stories about the agency, your competitors and the contract.
Collaboration is an Important Tactic
While it’s possible to win bids alone, many contracts are won from multiple contracts combining forces to expand on their deliveries and capabilities.
You should choose partners wisely to assure they have the same drive and follow-through as you. It’s also helpful to work with another contractor who already has experience working with the agency you are pitching to.
You may also want to subcontract to a smaller business who can execute smaller deliverables from the contract. You’ll want to ensure your CRM can track everyone’s roles and responsibilities clearly and allows for securely upload and share information with outside contractors.
Decision-Making Chain is Different with Government Contracting
If you are used to commercial sales, you expect the primary contact during the pitching process to have a role and authority in decision making. This process is much different in government contracting. The decision is typically made by a separate procurement department, while your pitch is going to the department that identifies the need for services or products. To succeed in this sector, your CRM should be tracking interactions with both the identifying team and procurement team separately. You may also want to connect with key agency influencers by creating a separate mailing list for each role so you may customize your messaging to the needs of each individual participating in the decision-making process.
Qualifying an Opportunity
In the world of government procurement, established relationships play a big role in who can win a bid. Often, if you’re finding out about an opportunity after the solicitation has been released, you may be too late.
To help with this, you should have your CRM tracking your relationships and conversations with the procurement officials, then analyze and even score these relationships to rate the chance of success and inform you on the bid/ no bid decision. This scoring system can assign numerical value to variables such as customer relationships, contract vehicle, and past performance.
Set-Aside Program Tracking
Because some contracts require a certain percentage of funds to go to companies with specific characteristic like small businesses, women owned businesses, or minority owned businesses, this will impact the competition and eligibility for the contract. If you are not certified or eligible for any of the set-aside programs, you may want to consider teaming up with a contractor who is to increase your chances at certain contracts. You’ll want to tag any applicable set-aside programs for these contracts in your CRM.
There are laws prohibiting how you market to government clients, for example a contractor cannot provide gifts, treat them to expensive meals, or take them on a golf outing. You can use your CRM system to track which marketing tactics are allowed. You’ll also want to track every contract and contact to use your previous successes as references for future bids. You can also incorporate your CRM into newsletter email campaigns, updating previous contacts on your newest services or share recent wins and successes.
You’ll want a CRM that is capable with integrating with other systems from accounting and timesheets to inventory or enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. For example, you may want to capture effort authorization to trigger a new code in your accounting software to track proposal costs, or an order can trigger your ERP. This will streamline your workflow and provide more in-depth data to analyze and determine which strategies work best or team member excels most.
To succeed in this complicated, nuanced sector, using the proper CRM and tailoring it to meet the needs of government contracting can greatly improve your chances to win new contracts and grow your business.