How do I pitch to the public sector?

My training and consultancy business has traditionally served private companies, but I think some of our services would be perfect for the public sector, and I’m very keen to diversify. What are the main things I need to consider when pitching for public work, and how will the ongoing business relationship differ from the one I have with private customers?

A. Stephen Clarke writes:

The public sector is vast, so first establish which markets are the most profitable for you to tap into. Identify a particular market need that your consultancy addresses rather than spreading yourself thinly across the range. Once you have tested the water, look for opportunities to move into other areas. Consider the following when pitching to the public sector:

Purchasing decisions: These take far longer to make in the public sector as taxpayers’ money is involved and there are more stakeholders to convince. You will have to pitch to more people than you may be used to.

Tendering process: When pitching, you will compete against a number of companies. Public sector organisations are legally required to put their business out to tender if it exceeds a certain value. This can take several months and involves the following:

… You will be invited to provide a written tender, which becomes a public document, opening the business to greater competition. As each tender is different, you will need to dedicate a substantial amount of time to each one

… If you’re short-listed, you’ll be invited in to discuss your tender

… You’ll be re-interviewed by different departments

… If successful, you will then be awarded the contract 

Accreditations: The public sector looks favourably on companies that are members of trade associations or have accreditations, such as ISO standards and British Standards.

Before you gain public sector business, relationship building with prospects will be slower than in the private sector, due to the longer length of the process, and there will be many more people involved.

If you win the business, you will find that you will continue dealing with far fewer people on an ongoing basis than those you pitched to. What’s more, the dynamics of the business relationship tend to differ between the sectors. For example, it is customary to hold lunch meetings with private sector clients, whereas meetings with public sector organisations tend to take place in an office setting.

Stephen Clarke founded telecommunications-based business Truancy Call Ltd in 2000. It is the leading provider of automated parent notification systems for schools in the UK.


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