Several state and local governments are starting to firm up their budget plans for the next year (and in some cases, the next three years), giving us clarity into the opportunities that may emerge for the private sector to partner with the public sector in the near term.
Despite broad spending cuts, there is still going to be demand for nearly every type of good, service and system on the market today. Construction projects are going to resume, possibly even pick up. Technology modernization efforts are going to remain a top priority. And office supplies are still going to be needed in some volume as in-person services slowly resume.
In fact, demand could very well exceed supply – and even budgets – in many categories as we move into 2021. The COVID-19 pandemic is not over, and it’s still bearing down on resources. With state and local coffers being depleted more quickly than usual and revenue slowing from almost every source, agency leaders (and their procurement teams) are looking for creative ways to fund and execute projects.
That’s where you come in.
If you noticed in the first paragraph, we said there will be opportunities to “partner” – not “sell.” That’s because state and local agencies, along with non-profits, schools and other publicly-funded organizations, are looking for more than a transactional relationship right now.
On paper, you’ll still be referred to as the vendor and they’ll still be the customer. But, in reality, government agencies want to know that the companies they choose to work with can be trusted to prioritize public interests as we begin to slowly recover from the initial impacts of this crisis and navigate any new ones that may emerge.
When you submit a bid or proposal – or even when you just pick up the phone to “pitch” your offerings to a procurement official – they want to hear how you will help them do more with less. How will you think outside the box to find solutions when the normal service delivery or project execution model can’t be applied due to social distancing or resource restrictions? Will you proactively recommend an alternative solution that may save them money in the long term (even if it means less revenue for you in the short term)? Are you committed to ensuring their satisfaction at any cost? Will you go above and beyond to ensure on-time delivery, even if that means you have to work a miracle within your supply chain?
Agencies have a heavy lift right now as they try to simultaneously adapt and sustain operations. They also have a lot at stake. Procurement teams aren’t just sourcing goods and services for the benefit of agency operations; they’re securing the things needed to improve and preserve the well-being of entire communities. If you say that you can deliver 100lbs of fresh produce to a local school district by 6am Monday morning and you don’t show up until noon, there are hundreds of kids that missed out on a nutritious meal. Late PPE deliveries mean that healthcare workers, first responders and others on the front lines may not be fully protected as they’re putting their lives on the line to protect yours. And completing a utility infrastructure repair even a day past the target date prolongs power, water or gas service disruptions for residents and businesses. That’s why agencies are weighing performance records as much as price right now, if not more so. Both goods and service delivery issues can quickly drive “low unit costs” above budgeted amounts.
We’ve yet to reach a point of stability in the COVID-19 pandemic, so a goods order placed today may need to be doubled (or cancelled) tomorrow. Cleaning services that were scheduled for once a week might need to take place daily – or multiple times daily – in schools and public buildings. And infrastructure projects that weren’t slated to start until next year might need to start next month now. Private sector “partners” that prove to be flexible and understanding will be favored by the public sector, whether they’ve been the first-choice vendor for a decade or this is the first time they’ve conducted business with any government agency.
At the same time, government agencies are only going to be able to accomplish their goals and make ends meet if they’re able to stretch each dollar further than they have before. So, when you come across a bid opportunity that’s “perfect” for your business, be sure you fully understand the customer’s expectations. Make sure you can deliver the requested product, solution or service on time and, if possible, under budget. If there’s any inkling that you could run into an issue, or if you think their ask is unrealistic of anyone right now given supply chain challenges or gross market demand, pick up the phone and tell them. They will appreciate the honesty. Just be prepared with an alternative solution. Show them that you can be the type of partner they need right now: someone who understands their challenges and wants to collaborate to help them meet their goals.