“… And that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from this earth,” said Abraham Lincoln in his 1863 Gettysburg address amid the chaos of the American Civil War. It was a recurring theme for Lincoln as those famous words echo a similar speech he made in 1861 to the House of Congress where he stated “a democracy — a government of the people, by the same people.”
“By the people” are the keywords for us to remember. For all of government’s rules, process and policy, decisions are still made by human beings including decisions to purchase goods and services. Not those ministers, staffers and operatives at the top of the chain, but by those within the machinery of government — the bureaucrats — who keep it all ticking over.
Governments in Australia spend billions of dollars each year on goods and services from infrastructure and construction through to workforce strategy and training as well as cleaning, customer service, communications and advertising. Keeping all of this moving requires people like us — the thousands of employers representing small, medium, large and multinational businesses — and we’re all in the mix vying for government contracts.
So where do we start? Government has a lot of rules around how they purchase services and I will talk more about these in the next article in this series.
For now, we will focus on finding and building relationships with the right people in the bureaucracy — the people who need our products and services and those who make the purchasing decisions. This is not to circumvent the process nor to gain unfair advantage. It is about making sure the Government knows you are a high-quality service provider who delivers results; as well as educating yourself about how your target agency approaches procurement.
How do you find the right person? With over two million public servants across all levels of government in Australia, this can be challenging. Our federal system is complicated with three levels of government each with their own myriad departments, agencies, statutory authorities, commissions and government business enterprises (GBEs). I will spare you the details of administrative arrangements orders and ministerial mandates and we’ll start with the internet.
Each level of government has an online directory with information and contact details for all their departments and agencies. Some listings will also include contact information for senior executives.
The federal example — www.directory.gov.au — allows you to search by ‘portfolio’: the broad area for which a government department, and any associated agencies, are responsible. For example, agriculture, health, defence, education, social services and so on.
Having an initial understanding of what portfolio is relevant to you allows you to target the agencies within the portfolio relevant to your business. Once you have found the right target (or contact), it’s a simple matter of calling the switch, ask for the head of corporate services’ email address and send them your “elevator pitch” — and include some visuals.
At this point, it is important to be patient because you may not get a response for a fortnight. If you do receive a positive response, lock-in a call or meeting. Your initial contact may also provide you with an introduction to others within the organisation who use external suppliers.
You should pitch to them too.
For your meeting, do your research. Understand the context in which the department is operating and use the opportunity to learn as much about them as you want them to know about you.
Demonstrate the high quality and reliability of your business and how your products and services are the best “value for money”.
Given the rules governing public sector spending, be very open about your purpose in asking for the meeting and manage their perceptions of you and your business. Understanding the constraints under which your potential customer operates will help you build a productive relationship.
Whatever the outcome of the meeting you will no longer be an unknown entity. This is valuable for any subsequent procurement process and will keep you front of mind for any short-notice, quick turnaround opportunities that arise.
Be strategic in your approach. Do your research and contact as many relevant people as your resources allow. Remember, patience is key — all this takes time, so while you are waiting, line up some more meetings.