Selling to the SLED market: building local relationships

Sell to the SLED Market - Build Local Relationships - City Hall

How to differentiate yourself when selling to the SLED market

In our How to sell to the SLED market post, we talked about the government RFP procurement process and shared some tips about winning bids for RFPs issued by state, local, and education public entities.

In this post we dig deeper into some strategies you can use to make yourself more likely to compete strongly in government RFPs.

These strategies work. We’ve seen these strategies for winning government RFPs work again and again at a variety of companies we’ve helped find and win SLED contracts.

A lot of these strategies are probably going to be familiar to you, even if you’ve never won a government contract before. They’re universal principles of good sales. And when you’re selling to the SLED market, they are indispensable.

Strategic networking with local councils

Building relationships with key decision-makers within government entities is going to help you better understand them. You’ll have a deeper understanding of their needs and of the way they prefer to do business. They will also better understand your capabilities and what it might be like to do business with you. The government officials in charge of the SLED RFPs will also get a chance to reassure themselves of your character and the values of your company. They will build trust in your transparency, ethics, and learn about your compliance with all ethical standards of business practice.

Some engineering companies will send their relationship managers into council meetings regularly to keep a “pulse” on what activities and initiatives are going on in government. In fact, they will monitor agendas, minutes and videos, to see if there are any relevant topics that would be of interest to them.

Sometimes, they will just spend the day in “city hall” and just invite contacts for coffee or lunch, to build the relationships and also continuously be “top of mind” for the state or municipal officials.

Getting involved with the local community

Once you’ve decided which communities you can best serve, you can raise your profile in those areas by participating in local industry events, conferences, and networking opportunities. This can include activities such as:

  • Actively participating in local community initiatives and supporting government programs.
  • Showcasing a commitment to social responsibility and community development.
  • Providing informative content to educate SLED officials about industry trends and innovative solutions.
  • Hosting workshops or seminars to showcase expertise and solutions.
  • Understanding and adhering to procurement governance policies and guidelines
  • and more.

However, during the RFP process there will be a period during which suppliers are not allowed to contact city officials and access to information in either direction may be limited.

Networking is essential and expensive

Some companies spend tens of thousands of dollars per year on an entertainment budget for building a relationship with a single department at a single council.

You can see that this could get very expensive very quickly. In most cases it means having to guess where to spend your time because you can’t be at every council meeting in every district talking to every single official.

Can RFP databases help?

One common tool to help keep track of where government contracting opportunities are arising is RFP databases. Because government RFPs are by definition public, there are a lot of tools that let you search for SLED RFPs that are in an area that you can serve.

The problem there is that by the time you find out about the RFP, so have all your competitors.

What do you do if you are ambitious about building government business but don’t have the sales team capacity or budget to be all the places you want to be?

Our clients use Ontopical to find out where new opportunities to sell to SLED markets are arising, often months before the opportunity becomes issued as an RFP. Our clients then focus their relationship building efforts where the opportunities will arise in the future.

If you serve a very small geographic area and have the staff to build relationships and stay on top of the issues being discussed in council, that can give you an edge.

But if you serve a larger area encompassing many local councils and state legislatures and other government departments, it’s more cost effective to let the technology track the majority of conversations and alert you to where the opportunities are. 

That way you can focus your resources more efficiently and build the relationships you need to win the deal long before your competitors even know about it.

Contact us anytime to see it in action for yourself.

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