by Steve Charles, Co-founder and Executive Vice President
Your customers need your help. Not just your products and the requirements those will fulfill, but your personal help to get fully justified purchase requests to contracting shops who can issue the order before the end of the fiscal year.
I spoke on a panel discussion last week put on by the Digital Government Institute. The conference was called 930Gov ⎯ a reference to Sept. 30, the end of the federal fiscal, now five weeks away. During typical years, the feds spend about a third of the budget in the last quarter. While sales for complex deals and engagements are off, sales for easy to buy commercial items are likely to stay strong.
This year’s weird budget situation forced caution on all government buyers, so as we head into the last month, they are making sure they obligate all the funds they legitimately have to spend. Program managers are looking for “gap-fillers” as they strive to end the year with a zero-balance in their many accounts.
One of my federal co-panelists noted that many customers using governmentwide acquisition contracts need help in preparing their procurement packages so contractual obligations can actually occur. Michelle Street, an NIH procurement analyst with the CIO-SP3, SIO-SP3 Small Business, and ECS III GWACs, noted that some requirements come through with a plea for a contracting officer to get the buy done.
We at immixGroup also hear this. I find it surprising that government buyers are asking sellers to help them find a contracting shop, but they do. I’m not sure if this is because their shop is simply too busy, or if their purchase request was rejected because it lacked a market survey, clear requirements, a brand name justification, or an independent government cost estimate.
So to secure year-end sales and increase your odds of making your numbers, ask questions to make sure the program and tech people you’re dealing with have done what they need to do to make their purchase requests actionable by a contracting officer. In fact, your knowledge of all the items required and the length of time they take is especially crucial at year-end.
A couple years ago, the Army published this year-end close-out guidance including their [procurement data package] requirements and summarized it in 2011 with the Army’s Procurement Administrative Lead Time, or PALT memo, both of which provide a clear recitation of what it takes to get a procurement over the line. Or, if you prefer, check out the Navy’s Fiscal Year Close-out and Start-up Guidance.
Obviously your government customers don’t have 90 or 180 days to do year-end buys at this late date. Some steps must be completed in parallel. Others can be compressed. Many of the GWACs, including those operated by the NIH and NASA, have online environments in which an agency with a requirement can complete market research and other steps very quickly by leveraging the small group of contractors that hold that particular contract turning an RFI into an RFQ, and a Quote into an Order in a matter of days. This can buy you and your customer more time to get both funding approval and the procurement done before time runs out.
Mary Davie, an executive in GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service, also pointed out in the panel discussion that GSA’s and other agencies’ Blanket Purchasing Agreements offer ways to buy services quickly. She named managed print, satellite and ground-based wireless, and telecom expense management, all of which can be purchased in days if the preliminary work has been done properly.
In short, there is time left for significant sales. But sales people will need to be fast on their feet, shifting from product emphasis to counseling customers on how to get purchase requests routed through the fund certifying official and on to a procurement path with a contracting shop that can execute.
If your team is hazy on any of this process, get them tuned up for next year with one of our Selling IT to the Federal Government classes. In the meantime, here’s to a busy September!