When I was 23 I decided I wanted to move into sales and was told, to be in sales in the B2B world, you needed to be at least 27. So I resigned from my role as a graduate at a large computer manufacturer and went to work for a small software house. A risky decision, back then. What if I was rubbish in sales?
One of the compromises I had to make if I was to fulfil my dream of working in sales was going to mean I needed to sell in the Public Sector: Local Government, Central Government and Defence. Federal I think it’s called in the US. An area which wasn’t deemed as fashionable, but this was what I wanted to do, so I was prepared to make that sacrifice.
I digress but my first meeting was at a Northern Welsh Local Authority where the meeting took place in Welsh (as this is the first language there) every now and then they would ask me a question, in English.
I soon got to understand EU Procurement Rules you needed to follow and also how to get them to work for you. I learned how to complete ITTs (invitation to tender), RFPs (request for proposals), RFIs (request for information), BaFO (Best and Final Offer), etc, etc. This was all pre-internet and pre-email.
In the pre-internet day’s you would need to submit paper copies. All bound. I remember working through the night, mending the photocopier as we went. While I look back with fondness, it was hard work. We used to joke that the company that submitted the heaviest copies won.
You also got used to meeting deadlines, if you didn’t deliver a tender on time you were disqualified. I recall working on a tender only for the person delivering it getting stuck in traffic, the bid was delivered late. We were disqualified.
There are also rules of engagement which you need to follow.
- Accounts would be friendly and open with you until the tender came out and then the “shutters would come down”. Tenders processes were (are) run in supplier isolation. Suppliers always sort to find ways to influence the process, one way to provide the ITT questions for the customer to use. Hopefully that would reduce your time in completing the tender and maybe you could influence with your USPs.
- The tender process was always at the start of the buying process.
I was in Public Sector for 5 years, where upon I was able to “break free” and I’ve sold in pretty much all verticals since, apart from Financial services.
The last two years at my previous company I returned to Public Sector and was informed that the same transformation that had taken place in the private sector with buyers researching on-line had taken place in the public sector too.
At this company we were undergoing a sales transformation moving from On-Premise supplier to Cloud. This involved changing the way we presented, how we told stories and using social. The Public Sector team I took over gave the usual push back every sales person gives when they are looking for excuses not to do something.
- My customers are not on social – in fact in all of our research found they are. Maybe 30% less than the commercial sector but 60% of the customers are. Plus if the supplier starts taking a pro-active stance of building a network this can be upped to 100%. Why is this good? If you have to engage with 5, 6, or 10 people as part of a procurement then social and nurturing of your pipeline on social gives you scale. Social and using a platform like LinkedIn enables you to work across a territory at scale.
- Procurement processes are not social. In a previous blog we shared how people are using social to influence procurements and stay connected with accounts, even when the “shutters come down”. Read the article here https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/how-use-social-selling-influence-your-current-pipeline-hughes/
- Our clients don’t use social. In all the research we undertook we found that people in Public Sector organisations used social to undertake their research at the start of the buying process. No different from consumers and in the commercial space. In fact to make sure they are auditable around process, they always research to make sure they have companies of all shapes and sizes. Suppliers must be visible during the research phase, suppliers also have the opportunity to direct the requirements gathering process and “shout out” the competition.
- In a previous blog we talked about how the buying process had flipped in the Public Sector from an early ITT to proposals at the end of the buying process to justify a decision. Read that article here https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/have-we-seen-death-rfp-timothy-tim-hughes/
- Social can also be used by a supplier for general PR. For example, sharing a photo of a team session so people can see your commitment to the market. Pre-social there was no way that this was possible, or only 1 to 1. Now companies can put out “market statements” at scale across your network.
- Speeding up people coming out to bid or procurements. While this isn’t always easy, just like in the commercial world if customers and prospects see certain “desire building” aspects on-line this can influence that they want it and will drive certain aspects through. You should still find that with the good use of social and content sales people get inbound.
- On the point above, with the clever use of social and content suppliers should get a greater share of year end budget as you will be front and central to a clients mind versus a supplier not on social.
- As part of the sales transformation we went through we took the market position from “legacy on-premise” supplier to cloud based “disrupter” and social was used to build relationships with non-customers. In fact, competitor accounts. We knew when any renewals would go out to tender and we had strategically built the relationships on social. Then used targeted content so we were front and central to the renewals.
- Defence are particularly big in social. In fact, the first, the first brigade that is deployed in any active engagement today is the Army social team.
All of the above aspects are nothing new, social Selling ROI has been proven now for over 3 years. Suppliers have actively using social in Public Sector in the last two years. Public Sector selling organisations that are not social today are leaving money on the table.
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