A strong relationship with a contracting authority is the basis of long-term, fruitful work for your organisation in the public sector. Building strong relationships, however, is never easy.
In the latest installment of the Public Sector Sales Podcast, we chatted with Gerry Brennan - Founder & CEO of workspace management software innovators Cloudbooking - to hear about his long history of building productive, lasting relationships with contracting authorities, and how you can develop them yourself.
We've condensed the key insights from our chat below, or you can access the full interview on our YouTube channel.
Skip ahead to read about:
💪 The importance of strong relationships when selling to the public sector
Gerry is clear from the outset: whether you're doing business with the public or private sector, "when things go wrong, you have to have a firm foundation to fix those issues".
A strong, reliable relationship between your organisation and the contracting authority you're doing - or planning on doing - business with is critical, both when bidding on and when fulfilling contractual work.
Having a relationship where you truly understand a contracting authority, argues Gerry, means you'll appreciate the concerns and issues unique to them; only then can you deploy a tailored and effective solution. Gerry warns against surface-level relationships with contracting authorities, in which you treat one authorities' problems as the same as the rest - this will only lead to misunderstandings and hindered work.
Maintaing a good relationship throughout the procurement process, moreover, means the contracting authority is more likely to offer testimonials and case-studies accrediting your work. These endorsements are critical to winning new business in the future.
❌ What do people get wrong when building public sector relationships?
Gerry cites the most classic mistake when building public sector relationships as this: assuming a one-size-fits-all approach will do the job.
This couldn't be further from the truth, argues Gerry. Every contracting authority, despite their similarities in terms of size or location, have very unique problems and their set of requirements.
This is why it's critical that you listen to the contracting authority, especially during the solution design phase. By understanding their specific needs, you can customise your offering to directly address their pain-points. In the case of SaaS businesses, only with this approach can you build truly embedded systems that authorities rely upon.
📈 How do you maintain and improve relationships with stakeholders?
One positive of building relationships with public sector organisations over private sector businesses, argues Gerry, is the higher likelihood of staff continuity in the former.
This makes maintaining public sector relationships easier - as you won't need to consistently build rapport and understanding with new stakeholders - and means you'll likely get more out of them: long-standing stakeholders are more likely to become evangelists for your solution, helping boost your organisation's presence and reputation, while also building a case for you when awarding future work.
The difficulties of breaking into the public sector
On the flip side, says Gerry, it's harder to gain access to these stakeholders in the first place. Doing your first deal with the public sector is hard: understandably, contracting authorities are wary of doing business with newcomers.
Gerry cautions that you should expect to be rejected for a lot of bids before securing your first. It's critical, instead, to ask why you were rejected in favour of another, and what you could've done better.
At the end of the day, argues Gerry, the public sector wants the private sector to do well, so they have a wider, more competent marketplace to choose from. More often than not, contracting authorities will be happy to provide feedback.
Once you do break through, however, this process becomes much easier. As Gerry argues, you can leverage your early clients to expand in the public sector. Cloudbooking have had a proven track record of harnessing existing public sector clients to build new relationships and find new prospects.
⏰ The importance of timing in public sector relationships
Strong public sector relationships aren't built over night: they need to be nurtured, often over a considerable period of time.
When's the right time to start building relationships in the public sector? For Gerry, the sooner, the better: the timing starts when you decide it's time you want to enter a certain sector.
Long before a stakeholder becomes a potential client, you need to understand "what makes them tick": go to events they attend, go to the same roadshows, attend webinars on topics they care about.
"It can be years in the making", says Gerry: "If the public sector is part of your strategy, you have to accept it will take you time" to understand your target, and build relationships with them; "winning them round" is a long-term process.
🏆 Top tips for bolstering your public sector relationships
Gerry parts with these final 3 tips for how to make the make stronger relationships in the public sector:
1. Get yourself onto G-Cloud
For tech suppliers, getting yourself onto a major, well-known technology provision framework - like G-Cloud - is a sure-fire way of making it easier to build immediate trust with new prospects, as public stakeholders will know you've been "pre-vetted" to join the framework.
2. Build solutions specifically for your target
A relationship with a contracting authority is much more likely to last if you've built a solution that is catered specifically to them. If they think your offering is generic and not suited to their individual needs, they can very easily look for alternatives elsewhere, rather than having a vested interest in keeping the relationship going.
3. Don't get presumptive
Don't make the mistake of thinking that just because you've landed one public sector client that the rest will be same: "what works for one organisation won't necessarily work for them all". Gerry is clear: you need to truly understand the organisations and stakeholders within them. With the latter especially, public sector workers tend to have been in their roles for a long time: you often won't get many opportunities to win them over and leave a good impression.
Gerry's advice should be well heeded: it's off the back of his and Cloudbooking's approach to building relationships in the public sector that they made it onto the Tussell Tech200, achieving over 120% growth in public sector revenue between FY 2019/20 and FY 2020/21.
To learn more about Cloudbooking and their innovative workplace management solutions, visit their website.
To level up your public sector selling skills, listen to more of the Public Sector Sales Podcast.
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