With 120,000 contracts a year, from 6,500 buying organisations through 50 portals, winning public sector work is challenging. Sandy Boxall, a sales director at BAE Systems, has created the answer – Contract Finder Pro.

Thomas Jefferson once said that “with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times”. Check out the quote on the fourth panel of the Jefferson Memorial if you find yourself in Washington, DC – it remains just as relevant today.

After all, the challenges that adorn today’s landscape are a testament to systems, countries and peoples in flux. But one thing that stays constant is the unrelenting pressure on policymakers to solve these problems, meet rising citizen expectations and deliver value for money.

No wonder the UK’s public sector plays such a crucial role in all our lives. But its vast size – some 5.9 million people now work for the state – also brings opportunity.

Time to go public

Did you know that the government issues around 120,000 contracts a year on open frameworks? These orders are worth over £200 billion and range from clothing to nuclear R&D, office supplies to hospitals. Legal services saw tenders issued to the value of £9.2 billion while there were more than 11,500 ‘consultancy’ contracts placed in the last 12 months alone.

But it’s not just the raw numbers which makes selling into government so attractive. Its budgets are committed for the future, sometimes for years, and it cannot go bankrupt. It’s also important to remember that a large chunk of government spending is non-discretionary – it is going to happen. And irrespective of the political party in power, government departments never want money left over at the end of the financial year – civil servants will always try to ensure that they spend their allocations for fear of losing it next year.

So even though we are rarely far from doom and gloom headlines about tight government finances, it’s clear that there are some potentially lucrative chinks of light out there. Unfortunately, turning these opportunities into new business is far from straightforward.

The public sector’s sheer complexity is a case in point. There is no single entry point, no one central buyer. On the contrary, business development teams have to navigate a maze of more than 6,500 buying organisations and 50 different potential portals to buy through. Throw in thousands of buying frameworks and myriad procurement rules and paperwork to comply with and you can see why many businesses prefer to grow their business elsewhere.

And yet that would be a mistake.

I passionately believe that the public sector is a great market – one that serves a moral purpose while also offering a potentially steady income to those organisations who sell to it. After all, it doesn’t matter what your political stripe is, whether you believe in big government or small government, we’ve all got a stake in ensuring it works as effectively as possible. And suppliers can play a crucial role in turning this goal into reality.

But they have to approach it in the right way.

Charting your course – go step by step

A good starting point is to research the market and the target customers. It’s important to identify who they are currently using and understand how your offering can beat them. But this requires deploying the right strategy. This is a hyper-competitive market and there will be many bidders – ‘having a bit of a punt’ rarely works.

The next step is to invest in your target customers. Now is not the time to lapse into poor customer service. Instead, be friendly, engaged and supportive. Learn what they need and be patient. Listen to their needs and tailor your service (and price point) accordingly.

Next, you should make sure your compliance material is right. Policymakers do like their paperwork, and this can increase depending on which customer you’re working with. Believe me, this is one area you don’t want to be leaving to the last minute.

And finally, it all comes down to selecting the right tender to bid for. Be patient and pounce on the one you want – and then bid to win. For the crucial first contract, be willing to accept low margins in return for gaining a crucial customer foothold. Once you’ve built a close relationship with the customer and have become trusted, you can start to make higher margins.

Introducing Contract Finder Pro 

As a sales director selling into the UK public sector, I recognised that across all the portals and vehicles the government was issuing information, we were definitely missing something. It didn’t have to be so difficult, so confusing.

And so, with some colleagues, we launched Contract Finder Pro, a one-stop-shop for identifying public sector contract opportunities and the latest tenders, delivering tailored public sector market analysis. Our advanced technology means no more sifting through thousands of irrelevant opportunities, no more missing out on the opportunities that could transform your business.

The timing of our launch was prescient. While who you know is still important in any procurement, the process is becoming ever more digital, with more tenders moving online and industry open days and other one-to-one interactions becoming an ever more digital experience.

This means that organisations need to industrialise their business-winning processes. This will enable them to reap digital dividends, such as using technology to streamline procedures and increase their own efficiency, and in the process save their precious time to do the things that cannot be streamlined – such as the human interaction that can often secure the golden nugget of information that secures the win.

First launched in 2019, we have since learned that it was even more complex than we expected, with yet more portals and data streams to navigate. We have also learned there is more you can do with the data once you have it. So now, using AI, we offer the tools with which users can analyse the buying organisations (all 6,500 of them!) and see which suppliers are doing best and at what.

The UK public sector desperately wants and needs the best possible suppliers and support. But unfortunately, they’ve made it too complicated. But that’s where Contract Finder Pro helps. We will continue to help streamline systems and processes, while also campaigning for the public sector to make improvements itself.

Come join us!

Sandy Boxall has been selling technology and services to governments for over 20 years, working with PA Consulting, Detica and BAE Systems. He has a keen interest in procurement reform and how technology can transform the purchase and delivery of public sector services and advocates for improvements to both. Visit www.contractfinderpro.com

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