Editor's note: Ask Joe will be a recurring series where Joseph Morris, vice president of research for e.Republic, answers commonly asked questions from those working in the government technology market. The conversation has been edited for length and cohesion.
This is the second part of a conversation with Joe about government contracts. Read part one here.
So once you are on a contract and you’re in partnership or you’re holding it direct, or whatever the setup for it is, how do you proceed from there?
One of the things you see, sometimes people get a contract, like a vendor gets a contract and it’s kind of like, "Oh, I can kick my feet up. I don’t have to go out there and sell because I’m on contract so things are just going to start coming in, rolling in." And sometimes it can happen that way, right? Procurement officials are again buying a laptop or buying storage, and they go and they see that they have a contract, OK, that one meets our needs, check, OK we’re going to buy it. So orders do come in that way.
But what you really need to do, if you have a contract, is understand all that you have is a hunting license. That’s it. So just because you have a hunting license as a hunter doesn’t mean you got anything.
So you’ve got to get out there and hunt. And what that means is you have to still walk those halls. You have to generate demand for that contract. You still need to understand those agencies, those departments, and what their needs are for your thing and then always make sure that they’re aware that you have that contract. I don’t care if it’s a state contract, if it’s a city contract, if it’s a cooperative contract with a NASPO [National Association of State Procurement Officers] or WSCA [Western States Contracting Alliance], you also need to promote that you have the contract. Those government agencies and leaders need to know that this contract exists, here’s what covers it, here’s what it can do. And that’s why when someone wins a contract you’ll see advertising in Gov Tech saying, "So-and-so got, is on the WSCA contract, contract number 1234. We’re authorized to sell in these states."
So how common is it that if there’s a contract for an enterprise, that you go in and this department head over here doesn’t know about the contract?
I mean, it can happen, especially if the contract’s relatively new, right, because contract things are happening all the time. There’s not a set period, they don’t all expire in the same day or the same month. It varies by type. And it’s not uncommon for there to be multiple contracts. So again let’s use storage. It’s very possible there’s going to be a contract that has Dell storage on it, there’s going to be a contract that has Vion storage on it … go down the list. So which contract are you going to pick if you’re on the other side? Well if I’m not generating demand, if you have four options, I want to make sure you pick mine.
And this is perhaps a little bit of a broad question — who are you looking for when you want to generate demand, when you’re walking down the halls?
I don’t think it’s any different than what you do for a non-contract. You want to understand what projects are going on in particular departments, you want to understand the decision-makers that you sell to, who’s influencing your procurements, and work those. The procurement officials are vastly important too, because those are the ones that have the grids. They’re checking off the boxes saying, what do we procure? You want them to be aware too that you’re on contract, and here’s the unique value that you bring.
As for the idea of looking for contracts that are set to expire — what do you do to prepare when you see something like that?
You’re not waiting until the expiration date. You’re way too late.
Contracts will have an expiration date, and they’ll also have something called optional renewals. Now those optional renewals … kick in if the contract’s about to expire. So it’s like, we’re going to kick in a one-year optional renewal. Instead of expiring in 2016, now it’ll expire in 2017. And so you can see them here, like there’s sometimes multiple one-year periods. So three one-years. Because the state never really wants to go without a contract, unless they don’t care, unless that technology’s no longer useful. But generally they don’t want to go without a contract in place.
That procurement’s not going to be done right at the end. It’s going to predate that expiration date, maybe 12 months, six months, it’s going to be in front of it. So you need to be thinking ahead of that. If you’re waiting until … the exact last day and you’re going to go meet with the procurement officer or the CIO, you’ve missed the boat.
You know, you can pull the existing contract. What were the terms and conditions? What [was] the pricing? All that stuff’s there. So you can begin to look at it and understand where you need to be, how you need to position yourself. And then you look at the upcoming procurement and see what’s changed. What are the new parameters, [what’s] the new pricing? But at least all the historical data is accessible.