Newport Board Group, an Advisory Firm Serving the Middle Market, Issues Five Tips on Selling Services to the Government

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Even Middle Market Companies Can Get Into Government Sales

Don’t believe it when you hear that only big corporations, industry groups, and labor unions can access and influence policy-makers.

Although middle market companies account for over half of U.S. jobs and a third of tax receipts, issues that are critically important to them are often overlooked when government sets policies that affect business. Large corporations have bands of attorneys and lobbyists monitoring proposed legislation and changing tax and regulatory policies. Smaller companies, which often suffer the unintended impact of regulation and other government policies, need a similar voice.

Don’t believe it when you hear that only big corporations, industry groups, and labor unions can access and influence policy-makers. The rise of social media has changed the landscape of public and government relations drastically, enabling businesspeople to amplify their influence.

It is important for entrepreneurs to communicate -- whether individually or in trade association and other groups -- with federal, state, and local policy-makers. The goal should be to educate them on your business and its customers and the challenges you face, positioning yourself as a source of insight on business issues and job creation.

The benefits of having a voice with elected officials and raising your profile with policy-makers can also enhance a company’s profile in its industry—and your bottom line. Networking with other companies that share the same concerns is a great way to meet potential customers, suppliers, marketing channels, even alliance and merger partners.

1. Prepare Talking Points
Before meeting with a public official, prepare talking points describing the role of your business in the community. Ultimately, public officials want to hear about impact on their constituents, especially as it affects their main priority: getting reelected.

2. Build Relationships with Policy Makers
The core messages should be consistent and complementary with the company’s broader marketing and communication themes. But you must relate them to the policy-maker's interests: legislative policy-makers typically align with the interests of those that put and keep them in office. Make certain you know in advance the policy-maker’s positions and public statements on the issues you plan to discuss with them.

While legislatures have the power to make laws and appropriate money, regulatory agencies have the power to impact your business even more. They write and enforce rules and hold violating businesses and individuals accountable. Economic or scientific data or other quantitative information is what is compelling to regulators.

It is not necessary to have a specific request or issue to address. In fact, it is best to cultivate relationships that you can call on in the future, rather than meeting only when you have an agenda to advance. Once you have established rapport, use social media and email communication to keep your business and its issues front of mind. Another source of potential opportunities are companies such as BidSync, a web resource for requests for proposals for government goods and services. It is free for the basic notification service with additional costs to access specific proposal requests.

3. Communicate Threats to Your Business
For middle market companies, the issues of utmost concern include: tax and immigration reforms, fiscal policy, health care legislation, and industry regulation. But don't stop there. Don’t hesitate to point out that your investment and hiring decisions are heavily influenced by government policies. Moreover, as state and local economic development incentives shift toward mid-sized companies, be wary that government subsidies reducing tax obligations and operating costs could be awarded to your competitors instead of you. Building relationships for the future is the best way to know about and mitigate these risks.

4. Invest the Time
To enhance the climate for your business, take the time to develop a public relations program to monitor and speak out on issues that affect your business and to educate public officials on the (often unintended) consequences of legislation and regulation. A well designed PR initiative can also help create market opportunities and protect your customers. It improves your chances to be seen as an innovator and thought leader in your industry and geographical area.

5. Be visible, individually or in concert with your industry peers, to policy-makers and opinion influencers. Join industry organizations and interact with counterparts in the federal and state governments. You will find that the investment pays off in ways that may be hard to anticipate but can tangibly improve your bottom line.

Federal and state governments represent a huge opportunity for middle market companies. Together with the regulatory mandate to solicit bids from smaller companies, the middle market company is in a great position to access the government supply chain.

Michael Evans is the National Managing Partner of the Newport Board Group.

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