Top tips for selling into the public sector

We are delighted to welcome Paul Marriner, former Executive Director Government Shared Services at the Cabinet Office, to the Marketing in a Box blog. A key player in the Government’s efficiency drive, he has outlined his top tips for selling technology solutions to the UK Government.

"Some IT vendors look at the public sector and see a long and expensive procurement process. Pre-austerity this may have been true, but with a sea change in the country's finances I witnessed first-hand a changing attitude towards technology procurement in the sector.

Whitehall went beyond slashing costs and sought to modernise and restructure its operating model with initiatives like digital services, open data and shared services.

So what has this meant for technology providers? Well the landscape is changing beyond recognition. For the large, established providers there has been a wakeup call that the status quo has gone, and with it the seemingly endless budgets for long-term projects. They must adapt to survive. For new entrants there is genuine opportunity, the new initiatives brought to the table by the Cabinet Office need to be underpinned with innovative technologies provided by new suppliers.

So here are a few of my observations, the foundations I think technology vendors and service providers need to incorporate into their bid process to thrive in the public sector:

Engage – Talk to the procurement team that are making the decisions so that you understand their pain points and can deliver a fantastic response. Focus on doing more with less centred upon proven experience, innovation and flexibility. Be responsive, buying and project teams are often very busy working to tight budgets balancing multiple issues. Offering a quick and accurate response to questions will help you stand out.

Empathy – It is such a crowded market and senior civil servants have such little time. Whatever stage we were at in the buying process, it was the vendors that understand the sector and what we wanted to achieve that really stood out. It sounds simple but from browsing websites to meeting sales representatives I was looking for empathy and a dedication that matched the Cabinet Office's own ambitions.

Flexibility – The sector needs to constantly adapt to unknown challenges and even its own strategy on a yearly, weekly and daily basis. This means more use of cloud and shorter term/more flexible contracts – like Software as a Service. Suppliers need to expect change and be comfortable with the demands the public sector puts on technology and delivery models.

A rapid return on investment – This is driven by a short political cycle, an ambitious administration and increasing transparency of large-scale projects. I was part of a highly ambitious team that sought a return on investment inside of 12 months.

Clear evidence - Although it is more open to considering new suppliers, the public sector is still mindful of risk. Provide clear evidence of success, case studies and success stories add credence to claims made in RFI responses. Do not be fearful of including private sector case studies – the government is looking to other sectors for technologies that are transferable to the public sector. It will also benefit from working with suppliers that bring a more commercial outlook. Also all governments are interested in what has worked in other countries, so if you have had relevant success elsewhere showcase it.

Make use of the government's tools to make procurement easier like the "Contracts Finder" website and for technology in particular the G-Cloud procurement framework.

Ideas – If you are certain that an end result could be improved with a new approach or a different technology then outline your ideas to a procurement team. Buyers will redefine the parameters of an existing procurement remit if there are clear benefits in doing so.

Qualify – make sure you thoroughly research each opportunity and stick to bids that are aligned to your skills and the features of your technology.

Tenacity – Yes times are changing but the procurement process is still fair and thorough, stick with it. If you are facing unnecessary barriers then be frank with the procurement team.

Learn - If you win or lose a contract make sure that you have a thorough debrief from the procurement team so that you can continually refine your approach.

There is certainly opportunity for existing and new vendors; I hope the tips from my experience at the Cabinet Office are of value. However the most important point that I would like leave you with is that if you are guided by the approach of helping the public sector do more with less you will always stimulate interest."

About the author

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Paul Marriner

As the former Executive Director Government Shared Services, Paul Marriner was responsible for masterminding the Government's Next Generation Shared Services (NGSS). The Cabinet Office expects NGSS to improve back-office performance levels and make savings of between £400 million to £600 million per annum.

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