The state and local market is different in several key ways. Here are six things to keep in mind.
The sales environment – and customer service needs – are not the same with state, local, and education agencies as they are in the federal market. SLED agencies should be treated as individual entities, each with its own unique purchasing requirements. In this commentary, we’ll look at some easy steps you can take to help your company to succeed in the SLED market.
First, it's important to know where and when you can sell. The differences between doing business in the federal market and the SLED market start right at the top, with registration requirements for doing business. For example, you can’t register in the state of Texas and be allowed to sell to each local entity. Some localities within Texas require you to register your business with the local registrar’s office. You may even need to sign up on their e-Procurement platform – as is the case with the city of El Paso. This applies to most cities.
Once you have navigated registering your business at the local level, you need to make sure you have signed up for each bid notification system. Again, this is not a “one-and-done” process. Cities, counties, and individual schools may use their own respective platforms. Be sure to check thoroughly.
It is important to know the fiscal year of your customers and prospects. Most states’ fiscal year runs from July 1 through June 30. There are a few states, however, that run on a biennial budget and others start in April and October. Knowing the fiscal year for your customers and prospects will help you plan when to discuss your project with them.
Here are some factors to take in account when entering the SLED market:
- Secure your certifications. It’s easy to forget, but one of the most important tasks is to maintain your Secretary of State Tax Certification for each entity with which you want to do business. A surprisingly large number of companies may not be prepared with that certification before selling to a government customer, because they’re focused more on the sales cycle than administrative compliance.
- Secure a good standing in the appropriate state. Take the time to visit the comptroller’s website to make sure your company’s “report card” is at least an overall grade of B, if not higher. Texas, for example, has a comptroller website where you can monitor your company’s grade. A low grade on customer service, for example, from a previous agency customer, can hinder your ability to secure a future contract.
- Be familiar with the procurement process. You’ll need to understand whether your customer must submit procurement requests to a board or through legislation. Often, the answer to that may depend on the size of the project.
- Have financing options for larger, multi-year deals. Use a financing office that has worked with the public sector, especially at the state and local level. It will save you a lot of time and pain as you plan internal budgets and expenditures to meet customer needs. This will help ensure you have enough funds to fulfill the contract.
- Be accessible. Your SLED customers expect you to have excellent customer service and support. When your SLED customer calls with an issue at 9 p.m., you should have someone available to help. Your SLED customer expects you to be available at a moment’s notice. That’s why many successful companies are often located only an hour or two away from their customers.
- Stay current on cybersecurity requirements. Each state’s cyber requirements are different. Many state, local, and education entities are beginning to create their own certification processes for security requirements. For example, Texas and Arizona each has adopted its own RAMP policies, based largely on FedRAMP and StateRAMP. These requirements not only vary by state but even by entity within the same state, i.e., state, local and higher education.
If you are an IT vendor selling directly to the SLED market, it’s important to understand what each entity considers as a requirement for RAMP certification. Resellers not selling at the enterprise level may not need to jump through all these security hoops. But selling at the enterprise-level technology requires checking with state, local, and higher education agencies to help ensure the technology complies with risk profiles for specific RAMP programs.
Selling into the SLED market is considerably different than federal sales. Companies just starting in this market may be surprised by the increased requirements involved in selling to SLED customers. By making sure you understand the basics, your organization will be poised for success as you build your pipeline.
Chauncey Kehoe is legal shared services manager for immixGroup, the public sector business of Arrow Electronics. immixGroup delivers mission-driven results through innovative technology solutions for public sector IT. Find out more about immixGroup’s SLED contract vehicles here.