RELATIONSHIP MANAGEMENT: Basic Precepts for Dealing with Government

Public Sector Perspectives 

Relationship Management:
Basic Precepts for Dealing with Government

Over my many years of public service I literally have met with thousands of vendors.  As expected, all were promoting their product or service. Clearly, some were more effective than others.  Being a student of human dynamics I made mental notes about the approaches and techniques that captured my interest or sustained a long term, positive relationship.  These mental notes have been distilled into the following ten (10) basic precepts for effectively dealing with government:
  1. CREDIBILITY COUNTS. Specifically credibility means honesty, respect, trust, consistency and fairness.  Government is particularly sensitive to gaining and retaining a credible relationship as a condition of doing business.  If they lose respect for you or your company there is little chance your proposals will receive an un-bias evaluation.
  2. FOCUS ON RESULTS, NOT PROCESS.  Prior to each client meeting, document what result you are seeking and how you will guide the discussion to ensure the result is achieved.  In advance, ensure you learn as much as possible about the organization, people and projects through sources like a government web site, lobbyist or other knowledgeable source. A well prepared account representative instills a feeling of work ethic and commitment that can set vendors apart. At the conclusion of the meeting quickly summarize any agreements, define next steps and keep your commitments.
  3. LISTEN MORE, TALK LESS.  When meeting with senior government officials use it as an opportunity to gather strategic business intelligence (priorities, likes, dislikes) that can be used to submit subsequent proposals.  Listening also denotes a sense of respect; that is, you must think what they are saying is important because you are listening. Therefore, be strategic. Do not dominate the agenda.  Rather, impart critical pieces of information throughout the discussion that capture the interest of the government official and lure them into a deeper conversation about how your product or service can solve an identified problem or meet a stated objective.  Citing specific examples of success for similar projects in the public sector can be an effective way of capturing interest.
  4. BE COLLABORATIVE. Treat government staff as partners and peers, not subordinates.  Welcome their input. Gain their confidence.  This is a window into their thoughts and plans.  Communication and respect is critical.  Like it or not, it is all about relationships.
  5. LOOK FOR OPPORTUNITIES TO RECOGNIZE GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES FOR A JOB WELL DONE.  These are the folks who will be making decisions about who they will be working with next.  Your expression of recognition and appreciation for an achievement could make the difference in a close procurement (Pavlov’s Dog Theory: The sound of your name invokes a picture of their next award ceremony). Subsequent to the recognition ask if they will agree to tell “their” success story to others pursuing similar projects. They can be your best marketing tool.
  6. DOCUMENT YOUR BEST PRACTICES.  Government is risk adverse.  Therefore, there is safety in numbers.  Take time to properly and objectively document your successes (best practices).  If possible have independent evaluators like the Gartner Group or Meta capture the metrics.  These success stories with documented metrics can be an excellent source of information for those trying to solve similar problems. In addition, prior successes can provide a level of comfort to senior officials and the needed political cover if the project fails. Using other public service officials who have succeeded to tell your story further adds to its credibility.
  7. SEEK WAYS TO LOWER RISK.  Government is evolutionary, not revolutionary. Expect reluctance and resistance to change. Seek ways to lower risk.  For complex projects or new areas, propose a pilot, or proof of concept vs. a “Big-Bang”.  Then make sure the pilot is wildly successful.  Use the success to justify either a Big Bang implementation, or the next iteration.
  8. BE FLEXIBLE AND PATIENT, BUT PERSISTENT.  Accept the fact that government is rigid and lumbering.  In response, vendors need to be flexible and patient, but diplomatically persistent.  Everything is possible with the right mix of flexibility, finesse and tenacity.
  9. FAMILIARITY AND CONSISTENCY ADDS VALUE.  Ensure those vendor representatives front-facing to the public sector customer are well known and respected. Seeing the same faces can be reassuring to your public sector partners. Having regular dialogue with your customers is essential to maintaining a good relationship. Allow sufficient time and opportunity for the customer to be critical of your support.   This allows you time to repair any mistakes and prove your commitment to the customer.
  10. ALWAYS MAINTAIN A POSITIVE APPROACH.  When it happens, accept defeat in a positive and professional way.  Respond that you are very disappointed; however, you accept their decision.  Try to use this positive approach to gain better business intelligence why your proposal was not the best.  Keep a log of such information so that future proposals can benefit from this insight.  Only protest procurements if there has been a major breach of procurement policies or laws.  Otherwise, you will be viewed as a roadblock to progress and not a potential partner.
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