With the UK public sector’s annual spend of £350bn on things ranging from app development to zoo facilities management, all organisations should be bidding for these opportunities. It can seem intimidating if you have no experience, but there are ways you can position yourself early for success. As the points below demonstrate, if you wait until a tender is released to engage, you might be too late.
Staying up to date with public sector trends
There is a misconception that the public sector is static, with minimal changes. The reality is that the public sector is continually changing, and over the past few years the pace of change has begun to increase. The rate of change in government departments has a huge impact on what the public sector is procuring and the size of the budgets available. We know that sustainability and achieving net zero is becoming increasingly more urgent, along with the government’s own aims including the Levelling Up Agenda and digital transformation. In the first months of 2023, the government has:
- Disbanded the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS)
- Formed four new departments:
- Department for Energy Security and Net Zero
- Department for Science, Innovation and Technology
- Department for Business and Trade
- Department for Culture, Media and Sport
These changes signal the government’s priorities and provide insight into where upcoming opportunities for procurement will be. To achieve their ambitious goals, these departments will need to spend money, so sign up to relevant communication channels so that you know what their plans are. This could mean signing up to relevant government and industry newsletters, following them on social media, and connecting with key people on LinkedIn. Build time into your working week to review newspapers and government press releases to ensure that you keep on top of relevant updates.
Engaging with key decision makers
Another common misconception is that you cannot engage directly with buyers. While this is true during a formal tender process, you can and should engage with them outside of this process. Early engagement is essential so that public sector buyers know what is available in the market, and they can use this to inform and shape their tender process. If you have an innovative product or service that would benefit the public sector, after the tender is released is too late to tell them about it.
You will need to identify the buyer’s most relevant decision makers early to get on their radar. Spend some time on LinkedIn, bearing in mind that new public sector priorities mean that there will be a lot of new job titles appearing, and some may be more relevant than others. In the past few years there have been more job roles involving words such as ‘transformation’, ‘digital’, ‘environmental’, and ‘growth’. Be focused on who you want to connect with, for example, heads of IT services in education, or procurement teams in your three closest local authorities. Connect with people in relevant departments of the public sector and engage in a meaningful way; follow their posts and ask questions to improve your understanding of their pain points. You can also attend ‘Meet the Buyer’ events where you will be able to connect with multiple public sector buyers and hear what their upcoming spending priorities will be.
Understanding these pain points will be key to improving your public sector relationships. Once you have researched your target area and engaged with stakeholders, you will be able to demonstrate that you understand the sector and its niche difficulties. This can be in a broad way, i.e. the differences between the public and private sector, and in a more focused way, i.e. the specific problems that a particular sector/job role within the public sector might face. Sharing your understanding, for example through conversations with stakeholders or posts on LinkedIn, will give buyers confidence in your proposition.
Putting your insights into action
If you have been staying up to date with relevant government and industry news, connecting with stakeholders on LinkedIn and at events, you need to make sure that you use this valuable information in a way that can win you bids. This is where you need to be really targeted and get your product or service in front of people who you know, through your research and relationship building, will need to buy what you have to offer.
For example, the NHS workforce plan calls for medical school places to double by 2030, and six new medical schools could be needed to meet the associated demand for places. If you provide medical supplies or PPE, then even though the target is 7 years away now is the time to be proactively moving into a position where you will win contracts to supply the increased medical demand. You should be:
- Following all universities with a medical school to track whether they indicate plans for expansion
- Following university job pages to see if they advertise roles that would be needed to set up or expand a medical school
- Signing up to university procurement portals to monitor whether they are tendering for new medical school buildings
- Attending university ‘Meet the Buyer’ events
- Building relationships with relevant people in the higher education sector
- Sharing posts and thought leadership that demonstrate your understanding of medical school pain points and how your particular medical supplies solve the problems
All of this will position you so that when they do need to tender for medical supplies, they will think of your organisation and will want to ensure that you are included.