Understanding The Federal Buying Cycle

The key to success in Business-to-Government (B2G) sales is understanding your:

  1. Federal customer
  2. How your product addresses their unique needs
  3. The Federal buying cycle your customer follows

The last point is really what differentiates the Commercial Enterprise Market from the Federal Market when it comes to sales. The Federal Market, and ultimately the buying cycles Federal customers follow, have many quirks and these quirks can make or break a sales rep. Below, we outline the 8 general steps in the Federal Buying Cycle and how you can prepare for them when building out your sales strategy.

Finally, when it comes to a Federal Sale there are a few regulations that you need to be aware of:

  1. FAR: This stands for Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) and it provides a set of rules and regulations that agencies need to follow when acquiring goods and services. You should be familiar with the regulations that may relate to your solutions so that you can effectively discuss this in your sales process.
  2. Ethics Rules: This is where the Government outlines their gifting policies and again you should be familiar with the parameters so that you don’t cross any lines before, during or after your sales process. While you may be able to treat your customer to a nice dinner after a meeting in the commercial world, this certainly doesn’t fly in Federal sales.
  3. Business Registrations: In order to sell to the Federal Government, you need to have the proper registrations of your business. These include CAGE Codes, NAICS Codes, FSC Codes and more. This article breaks down each of the registrations you may need.

8 Steps In The Federal Buying Cycle

1. Needs, Requirements & Pains

This step is fairly similar across all markets, you simply need to understand your customer. As a customer yourself at various points in your life, you understand that your need for a product or service can stem from a number of sources:

  • New regulations
  • New capabilities
  • New threats
  • Desire for an update or change

If you have developed the relationship properly, you become aware of these needs in conversation with the customer and you can help them make sense of their different solutions, pricing elements, technical requirements, etc. Otherwise, your customer does all of this research internally and then issues an RFI to further develop their understanding.

2. Technical Presentations, Demonstrations, Proof of Concept

No matter your role in developing or gaining access to the technical requirements, the next step is to develop a technical presentation, demonstration and proof of concept. To do this you need to:

  • Completely understand the customer requirements prior to any meeting
  • Tailor your meetings (presentation & demonstration) to those requirements
  • Actively listen to the customer at meetings and adapt your discussions
  • Keep your proof of concept to a minimal timeframe
  • Ensure you have a proof of concept success criteria document to go over with the customer
  • Be prepared to sign a “Non-commitment” letter

3. Statement of Work

Now if you weren’t able to influence the requirements planning in step 1, don’t be discouraged. You can know influence the requirements at a more concrete level. After you have developed your understanding of your customer’s needs and presented your solution, you should have an opportunity to assist the customer in developing the Statement Of Work (SOW) or Performance Work Statement (PWS) that will be submitted to the Contracting Officer. This is a key opportunity to ensure your solution is viewed as the best solution and you can help influence the opportunity through the remainder of the buying process. You do this by ensuring you include technical capabilities only your product can attain so competition is minimal. While this can still be protested through the Contracting Officer (KO), you are managing expectations to align with the solutions only you can provide successfully.


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4. Preliminary Quotes

Now that the customer has a detailed understanding of the work and the solution requirements they need, it is time for the customer to request preliminary quotes. Again, this is an opportunity to work with your customer so that you have the best chance of winning the business. During this stage you should:

  • Work with the customer to understand how they can purchase new capabilities, specifically which contract vehicle do they use?
  • If you don’t have access to a specific vehicle they intend to use, align your procurement strategy with a Federal reseller that holds that specific contract vehicle. Again this is not always a guarantee they will use this specific vehicle, the KO may go in the direction of a small business set aside or open source selection. The key is to understand as much as possible and prepare to respond in the appropriate manner.
  • If you need to use a federal reseller, make sure you already have a signed reseller agreement.
  • If your solution needs to hold specific certifications, ensure that you have all the appropriate certifications.
  • When the customer begins accepting quotes, the federal reseller should provide the preliminary quote for funding requirement.

5. Funding

Before a formal acquisition process can begin, the KO needs to obtain funding. The preliminary quotes are used to secure the funds needed for the project. Unfortunately, many customers are not involved in the funding process once all of the documents are sent over to the KO. While the customer often understands the requirements and nuances of the project, they often cannot plead their case for funds. Rather all of the documentation provided needs to be able to do the talking. This is why it is key to offer clear requirements and solutions during the planning phase so that the need and, specifically, the solution you offer are best conveyed.

6. Acquisition

Once the requirements are developed in the SOW and funding is secured, the formal acquisition process begins. The Contracting Officer has many procurement methods at their disposal

  • Formal Request for Proposal
  • Request for Quote from three separate companies
  • Request for Quote from a Small Business set aside
  • Your product or equivalent (as described in the FARS)

The KO also dictates the timing of response from companies and award dates and the specific contract vehicle used, such as:

  • Blanket Purchase Agreement (BPA)
  • General Services Administration (GSA) Multiple Award Schedule (MAS)
  • Government-Wide Acquisition Contract (GWAC)
  • Indefinite Delivery / Indefinite Quantity contract (IDIQ)

This is often the submit and see step of the buying cycle for you. Customers are not always involved in the funding and procurement process. Additionally, you may not even be able to speak with your customer for updates during the period that proposals are being accepted and reviewed by the KO.

7. Award

Once you know that you will be awarded the opportunity, this is the time to use the relationship you or your Federal reseller has built. If the Federal reseller has a good relationship with the KO, request that they:

  • Check in on the timing of award
  • Track the progress of the award
  • Ask who is going to be assigned the procurement
  • Ask how the acquisition and award will take place

The answerers to these questions can help you accurately forecast the opportunity to your company and prepare for a win.

8. Purchase Order

It is important that you work with your Federal reseller to obtain a purchase order as quickly as possible so you can begin to fulfill the request.


Do You Need Help Understanding The Federal Buying Cycle?

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