As a government affairs consultant representing clients before local governments for over a decade, I’ve learned quite a few practical lessons for success. One critical lesson is that companies must carefully craft its strategy when articulating a value proposition. In this article, I focus on strategy related to winning over local government staff, and how to utilize a government affairs professional to optimize the strategy. When selling solutions to local governments, companies tend to fall into one of two categories: (1) selling a solution staff is sold on, (2) selling a solution that staff needs to be sold on. The strategies for these categories are radically different.
In the first category, the company is generally selling a commodity or service well-known to the government staff, and usually in circumstances where demand for the solution is known. In such cases, the value proposition is primarily focused on distinguishing your company, and your company’s particular product or service from the competition. The value is revealed in the form of better price, and/or an inherently better product or service as measured by some metrics. The problem here is that many companies provide “canned” marketing information, without knowing what matters most to staff or what the competition is saying. That’s where a government affairs consultant adds real value: by gathering intelligence so that the company can pitch its strategic advantages in an accurate, meaningful way that accounts for the competition and satisfies staff’s interests. Only when you’ve accomplished that are you likely to receive staff recommendation or, in the case of a bid process, benefit from the staff setting criteria that favors your offering.
In the second category, the company is working to convince staff of the value of its proposed solution, often a new solution not well-known to staff. Here, the challenge is that the solution must meet a pain point for staff, or staff is unlikely to get engaged in a way that results in a transaction. The value of a government affairs consultant here is in obtaining information about potential pain points before meeting with government staff. In some cases — certainly relevant now as a result of Covid-19, staff may be more open to ideas that produce revenue or cost savings. In other cases, staff may be most receptive to pitches that solve problems that are being raised by elected members of a city council. Knowing this landscape at a detailed level before the pitch is critical to a successful framing of the value proposition with staff. Far too often good ideas simply miss the mark because the sales pitch doesn’t match the particular concerns of staff at that point in time.
A thoughtful strategy, whether focusing on distinguishing your offering from the competition or bringing an innovative offering to the table, must start by gathering good intelligence. If you are working with a government affairs professional, be sure to gain value by asking him or her to provide the sort of intel described above before you sit down with staff to make your pitch.