Procurement in the Time of COVID: How Your Company Can Thrive
By Brandon Hembree & Brad Alexander
Aesop’s parable of the ant and the grasshopper is one of our favorite stories. The ant works hard in the withering heat all summer long building his house and laying up supplies for the Winter. The grasshopper thinks the ant is a fool and laughs and dances and plays the summer away. Come winter, the ant is warm and well fed, but the grasshopper is starving. For those of us that sell a product or service to government, we are in a similar summer season with few product offerings and an unusually short harvest season. The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically altered the purchasing habits and abilities of federal, state, and local government entities. CARES Act funds have been slowly spent. Many of us have had a period of unusual inactivity and do not know what to do with that down-time. Or, conversely, we are busier than we have ever been, coping with the crisis du jour, and wondering when we will have time to worry about future deal flow. Regardless, the efforts we are engaging in now and in the rest of the fall will lay the groundwork for government re-openings, improving revenue collections, and government procurement needs in the winter months to come.
Things are improving and things will continue to improve. If you work hard at the below, you will end up like the ant and not the grasshopper.
We all know that, in any sales activity, relationships matter. Relationships should be a priority and thrive in both good and bad times. Most of our procurement focused clients have been selling to government for years, and they understand this important relationship strategy – treat your buyers like the valued partners they are and not a sales quota. Simple check-ins, even to just say that you are thinking of them, can go a long way during these times of uncertainty. Invest in relationships even when a sale is not imminent.If, on the other hand, your business is an integral part of the COVID-19 response, either on the public health front or on stabilizing/raising revenues, the performance you put in during this crisis will set the tone for most of your relationship with the customer for the years to come. Simply put, humans are wired to vividly remember when you help them during a crisis. You do not have to be perfect, but you do have to be relentless in being a highly reliable and attentive partner as new challenges emerge.
Educating Future and Current Customers
There is no better time to educate future buyers than right now. Virtual technology platforms have become commonplace and a great way to provide digital learning opportunities to a broad spectrum of individuals. Companies with thoughtful strategies will provide opportunities for their buyers to have learning opportunities to grow professionally, while also educating participants on their products and services. Online training during this pandemic has not caught up with professional development needs, and you can fill the gap. One of our amazing partners, Dell Technologies, for the first time in their history will be holding their 2020 Dell Technologies World virtually and offering participation at no cost. These types of digital forums create the opportunity to educate buyers and build new relationships unlike anything experienced in the past. Importantly, the elimination of travel costs and conference fees resulting from COVID-19 allows many companies to offer access to public sector customers that would have previously been reserved for corporate clients. Take the opportunity and use it.For current customers, where you are serving a critical government need, the foremost thought on your client’s mind is whether or not the service or product you are providing will change and whether you will have the newest and best solution. Attention is on public sector leaders like never before and it is just as important to educate them about what is coming around the corner. They will value the help. More importantly, when the next thing does come around the corner, as it always does, your customer will be pre-disposed to look to you for help with it.
Selling to the New Normal
As society begins to go back to normal, government purchasing will increase in most sectors and slow in mission critical sectors. However, purchasing habits will be different. There is no doubt that there will be an increased emphasis on workforce transformation or work from home strategies. Many federal, state, and local government IT professionals are already beginning to lay the groundwork for a workforce that is increasingly home-based, as well as constituent facing platforms that are heavily digital and intuitive. Many of our clients, like Unisys, are on the forefront of these types of workforce transformation strategies. If you can pivot and speak to these types of needs, do so. Regardless of the type of product or service you offer, there will be a new normal and new needs. It is also important to remember that government in America generally moves slowly. Though when it does move, it is a massive shift. We fully expect to see federal funding, over the course of the next several years, shift toward building out the surveillance and response network that lacked necessary capacity for a comprehensive crisis management at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. This will, in turn, will likely result in new federal, state and local government spending in several categories. In summation, state and local government procurement decisions are significantly driven by where the federal government decides to put matching funds.
Based on our early research, here are some of the areas we anticipate seeing significant growth:
- Air handling and filtering improvements to improve “building health”
- Significant enhancements to the broadband network to enhance work from home capability in areas with slower service
- Public health testing and result reporting, with an emphasis on molecular testing and other tools that add precision to outbreak surveillance that remain significantly under-deployed
- Construction, FFE and MRR for outdated facilities that need to be reworked to allow for increased separation between workers
- Marketing tools that are proven to alter human behavior during public health emergencies
- Infrastructure for vaccine development and stockpiling of PPE, antivirals, and other response tools
- Accounting and consulting offerings that will help states keep track of inbound federal funds and the myriad compliance components that go with them
- Tools that enable remote working, from management consulting to desktop computers
- Distance learning tools and any education products or services that strengthen and increase the size of the public health workforce
- Potential increased utilization of shared back office service outsourcing as states recognize the utility of these services that can be offered anywhere
- Artificial intelligence solutions, like Chatbots, to perform data analytics that humans can no longer perform because of an increased demand on various systems