The Similarities and Differences Between Commercial and Government Sales

Most people outside Washington, D.C., view the federal market as strange and unique. The truth is, it is and it isn't.

On the sales side, the federal market is identical to the commercial market.  A sales person must convince an end user (not a procurement person or buyer) that his/her solution is the answer to their prayer. This is where newcomers to the market go astray. They think that the market is an open competitive environment where everyone has an equal chance and that all you need to do is to respond to the government bids. The federal marketplace is competitive in the same sense as the commercial market: The salesperson with the most convincing sales pitch who gets there first usually wins the business.

In our seminars we say: "It is an open market and it is fair; you each have an equal opportunity to make a sales call."

The federal market is fraught with red tape and unique requirements, but these are mostly administrative and can be dealt with by an experienced contracts person.

The aspect of the federal market that is very different from commercial sales is that you need a way to close a sale. An end user just can't say "Yes, I'll take your product (or service)."

You need a closing vehicle because of public procurement law and the bigger the deal the more difficult it is to close.

Closing vehicles include:

Credit cards (small purchase)

Purchase orders (usually three informal quotes are obtained)

Multiple Award Schedule (MAS) contracts that you have won through a bureaucratic Snake dance (more on that later)

Public bids (the most lengthy, costly, and bureaucratic of all)

GSA schedules

GSA schedules are the best closing mechanisms for small-to medium-sized businesses that cannot afford to hold many Multiple Award Schedule contracts. GSA schedules establish "pre-approved" government prices for your products and services and they are quick and easy for any federal agency to use.

But a word of caution: You still need to sell the end user just as you do in the commercial sector.

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