IT’S NOT UNUSUAL for channel pros to focus time and energy in pursuit of new clients. Yet they may be overlooking one area: selling IT products and services to government agencies. “It can be difficult to get your foot in the door. But, once you succeed in landing local, state, or federal agencies as clients, they can be a steady source of revenues,” observes Amy Kardel, current chairwoman of the CompTIA board of directors and president and co-founder of Clever Ducks, a San Luis Obispo, Calif., IT services provider.
To be sure, government agencies rely heavily on IT resellers and services firms to deliver the technology and expertise they require. Says Belinda Guadarrama, CEO of GC Micro, a Petaluma, Calif., IT services provider: “The U.S. federal government is one of the largest purchasers of goods and services in the world.” Meanwhile, state and local agencies represent lucrative opportunities for channel pros, Kardel points out.
One of the advantages of working with government agencies is they often deliver a steady stream of projects, Kardel says. “If you perform well, they will use your services regularly.” At a local level, this can include everything from cities and counties to community colleges and service districts. However, getting a foot in the door “can require a fair amount of determination, particularly if you’re a services provider rather than a basic VAR,” she adds. “They have to believe that you can deliver value.”
Kardel says it took Clever Ducks several years to firmly establish itself with local and state agencies in central California. She believes channel pros should focus on some key areas. One is learning how to respond to requests for proposals (RFPs) effectively. This means understanding which RFPs a channel pro is best equipped to address and focusing attention and energy on these. It’s also critical to ensure that an RFP precisely addresses government requirements. Finally, “It’s important to have good references, even if they are not government agencies,” she says.
Working with the federal government presents an array of opportunities and challenges as well, Guadarrama says. Not only do many federal agencies have large IT procurement budgets and an ongoing need for products and services, but they produce a great deal of publicly available information about their needs and spending in various areas. “This information can help channel pros target the agencies that have higher IT budgets and a need for specific IT resources,” she explains.
Those targeting the federal government should recognize that the road can be bumpy, though. Landing business may take time — purchase cycles often extend to upwards of 18 months. Plus, “The pay cycle can be long,” Guadarrama says. Making matters worse, if a services provider submits an invoice missing any details or varying from a required format, payments can be delayed. Finally, there are constantly changing rules and regulations, and possibly penalties, for companies that to do not fully comply with requirements.
How can channels pros boost the odds of landing government projects? At the federal level, Guadarrama recommends identifying the point person at an agency. “Each has a small business liaison contact [who] can help explain the agency’s procurement process,” she points out. Beyond that, “It is all about how strongly you market your company and your capabilities,” she explains. She also believes it’s wise to participate in professional organizations, such as GovEvolve, that help businesses stay informed about federal procurement and other issues.
Kardel says a key to success is understanding that different constituencies and stakeholders exist within an agency, including some who were appointed and others who were elected. Ensure that all are adequately informed about the project in a way that’s relevant to them. Marketing efforts may also extend across different constituencies. However, once a channel pro works with government, it’s wise to use references to further build a client portfolio. “Success with other government agencies has cache and it’s something to build upon,” she says.
SAMUEL GREENGARD specializes in business and technology writing.
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