If you’re looking for new markets and have stumbled upon the public sector option – do not be misled into thinking it will be exactly the same as selling to a private sector client.

The private sector purchaser can largely suit themselves when it comes to what they buy, who they buy from and how much they pay.  But the public sector purchaser has a lot of different factors to take into consideration, not least that they are spending public money and have to comply with set processes and legislation.

There might be some circumstances where your experience of selling to public v’s private sector is quite similar.  Mr public sector can be much more flexible when it comes to buying small ticket items, even though he will still be required to demonstrate openness and transparency for low-value contracts.

I think the trick is to make a point of knowing your buyer whoever you are supplying to.  If you think about it in terms of buying a birthday or anniversary gift: the better you know the person the easier it is to give them something they really want!

So how do you get to know your public sector buyer when they sometimes seem to want to close themselves off from salespeople?

Well, the first thing to remember is that you will come across public sector bodies behaving in different ways, and engaging with you in different ways.  It is becoming more common to indulge in sensible dialogue with suppliers than it was 10 years ago, but again this quite often depends on the industry sector you are operating in and the kind of contracting authority you are looking to work with.

Showing that you have an awareness of the procurement processes that must be adhered to will probably earn you brownie points for a start.  Empathy might be a key sales skill but it is very difficult to empathise with the potential customer if you don’t fully understand where they are coming from.  Trying to ask the buyer hundreds of questions regarding an OJEU contract, or trying to schmooze with them when tenders are in the process of being invited is likely to get you nowhere because they are conducting a formal process where they must treat all participants equally.

It also pays to understand each authorities’ priorities as well as the wider government agenda of the day.  Local government in Lerwick is likely to have quite a different set of concerns to one in London, for example, so think about all the issues facing your client and not simply how to get your product or service in there.  Scour their websites, head to meet the buyer events, pick up the phone and start to make some contact.  It might not result in a £2m contract overnight but it will help you to build a better picture of who your buyer is so you can build this back into your bids or proposals.

Please leave your comments if you have anything to add or any questions to ask.