Government customers (whether city, state or federal) tend to be bureaucratic, following the rules, putting in their time and not rocking the boat, so they can make it to retirement.
To succeed with these customers, you must sell to at least three different organizations: (1) the one that will take delivery (usually the user who writes the requirements); (2) the one that will procure the product (usually a contracts organization that adds boilerplate legalease to the requirements to make the procurement document); and (3) the organization that will fund this initiative (usually a finance organization charged with tracking the approved budget).
If you don't determine the key individuals in each organization and successfully sell your product to all three, your chances of succeeding are very slim.
Even though winning is the goal, when you lose you must take the time to find out why. Most organizations will hold a post-award briefing for your company giving you the official reasons your proposal lost. However, take the time to visit with the key people with whom you have been working to garner their assessment as well.
In my three decades of selling to government agencies, I won the majority of programs that I pursued, but I also compiled a list detailing the primary reasons for losing. If you pursue competitive contracts with government organizations, keep a copy of this list as a guideline of what not to do:
CHASING PROGRAMS WITH NO AUTHORIZED FUNDING. If there is no funding available, an RFP (Request for Proposal) or RFT (Request for Tender) will never be issued, no matter how much the program staff may want it. If an agency talks to you about a program, find out if it's real before you waste a lot of time and energy, only to find out it was just a gleam in someone’s eye.
WAITING TO ACTIVELY WORK THE PROGRAM UNTIL YOU RECEIVE THE RFP or RFT. If you wait until this moment to start your pursuit, you are far behind most of the competition, because they already know most of the unwritten requirements as a result of their past dialogue with the customer.
BELIEVING THE GOVERNMENT CUSTOMER CAN ALWAYS AFFORD YOUR PRICE. Government agencies are not a bottomless pit of money. Try to learn what the probable funding is for your program; then make an offer that the government can afford.
ADDING EXTRA BELLS AND WHISTLES TO YOUR PROPOSED PRODUCT. There is no real value in offering more than the specifications require and pricing your proposal out of the running in the process. Your proposal will be evaluated only on the basis of the RFP or RFT requirements and not on your extras.
UNDERESTIMATING YOUR TRUE COSTS. Determine what the government customer expects from you in terms of compliance and reporting paperwork if you win. Then build these costs into your proposal. If the cost of your proposal is too low, you may be disqualified for obvious pricing oversights.
FAILURE TO RESPOND TO ALL ITEMS REQUESTED. When preparing a bid, make sure your proposal is responsive to all the requirements, so it won't be judged non-compliant and thrown out.
SUBMITTING YOUR PROPOSAL LATE. Allow plenty of time. You may be granted an extension when you first receive the RFP or RFT but don't expect one at the last minute. No matter how good your proposal is, if it is one minute late (even if it's not your fault), it won't be considered.
FAILURE TO UNDERSTAND THE CUSTOMER'S MOST IMPORTANT PRIORITIES. These may be unwritten, but if you have been working with the customer in advance, you should have a good idea what they are.
FAILURE TO WORK WITH THE REAL DECISION-MAKERS. Make sure you are dealing with the true decision-makers, and not just lower-lever managers on an ego trip.
If you can avoid these pitfalls and develop a winning strategy, you should have a strong chance of coming out on top.