4 Guidelines For Prospecting Into State And Local Governments
I’ve never enjoyed dealing with the DMV. With all the time I’ve had to spend over the years standing in line waiting for my number to be called, the amount of forms I’ve had to fill out and the outrageous fees I’ve had to pay, you might think I would want to spend as little time thinking about the DMV as possible. I suppose one might be surprised that not only have I been interacting with the DMV as often as possible in every state across the US, but asking them for their time and money. Just like any other organization, it’s in their best interest to reduce costs, save time, resources and reduce risks. Below are a few helpful hints I’ve found while prospecting into the DMV and other state and local government agencies.
Mapping the Organization
Due to tight budget constraints, a large trend for many government agencies is to consolidate resources into one central department. This department is often the Department of Administration or Department of Budget and Finance. The other departments typically act as customers to the State, County or City. It varies by state and there are a few exceptions, such as the Department of Education and Department of Health that like to keep their own autonomy due to concerns about compliance with HIPAA and FERPA laws. It’s important to find out what these relationships look like first, because you may have to ask one department for the end user prospective and the central department for buy in on the decision. It may take more time and energy to convince a centralized department, but if you do, it could mean implementation into many more agencies and a larger opportunity than you initially anticipated. Fortunately many agencies also have employee directories publically listed along with organizational charts.
Know the rules- RFPs
RFPs are a great way to learn about initiatives of a state or local government. You already know that your target has a project in place and that there is a budget allocated. However, they’re not a guarantee. Many state agencies follow strict guidelines or laws about procuring solutions, including number of solutions that need to be evaluated, least bid, and amount of budget dollars allocated before having to put out an RFP. If you see an RFP out, there may be a chance that your decision maker has an idea of what they are looking for already but have to meet certain legal criteria.
If there is no RFP out and a solution has to be procured through an RFP it could be a major deterrent for a prospect, even if there’s a need or a major pain point. If your company has a dedicated government specific segment, it may be beneficial to tell the prospect that, so they know that you understand the process and that you can help with some of the heavy lifting when working with an RFP or avoid going to one. Additionally, some agencies may act independently of a central state, county or city agency from an operational standpoint, but have the potential to procure off of an existing state contract. Ask your prospect if they have ever worked with other agencies to obtain something, or note an agency within their state that has.
What’s your preference?
Often many cities, counties and state government agencies will have a preferred vendors list that you need to be registered on before someone will be willing to talk to you about your products or services. This may be a standard rubber stamp reply to deter vendors from calling back repeatedly, or possibly a law that you do have to abide by. One tip is to do your research beforehand to see if this is an issue. Public agencies usually have a listing of which RFPs are out and a link to vendor registration. Next, consider what kind of company you’re calling with. If you are calling with a large company with a wide variety of product lines available, you may be able to bring up that you have an established relationship, past or present, through another product. Sometimes, if you find the right person with a high enough pain point you may get them to break protocol if there’s enough interest.
Budget and Timeline
On top of having a legal process that needs to be followed, most state and local agencies have tight budgets, which lead to longer sales cycles. Initiatives and budgets may be set anywhere from a year to three to five years in advance, and could change at any time due to a change in administration or legislation. Keep up with the health of the economy and trends in each state. One way to see if there’s growth and budget in a government agency is to look at what they’re hiring for. Positions posted will often have lengthy descriptions of what kinds of solutions are in place and the responsibilities needed. Another way is to look at a state’s technology or administrative plan to see what initiatives are upcoming within the current administration.
So the next time you’re standing in line at the DMV, be patient. Remember that it takes a lot behind the scenes to keep things running smoothly.