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Marketing to State Government - A Model Business Strategy for Understanding and Influencing State Bid Specifications

Origination Date: March 26, 1996
Revision Date: April 23, 1998

Understanding State Bid Specifications

  1. Identify what you intend to sell to the state.

  2. Find out if the state already buys your type of product - are we really part of your market?

    Remember that our database systems are often quite primitive; a state purchasing office may not be able to give you the details you expect for all state agencies.

    Even the best information system may not track the product of your concern. We track the cost of many services, such as landscaping, but we probably do not record the materials used. Your specific product may be included in some broader category. If you are interested in marketing a plastic desk tray, we are more likely to have dollar amounts for office supplies.

  3. If the state does buy your type of product, then find out which agencies within state government buy the product.

    Depending on the state, there are often great differences in purchasing procedures among university systems, departments of transportation, and the rest of state procurement.

  4. Find out if your product is purchased through a formal contract - if so, there will be written specifications.

  5. Find out when the contract will be bid again. Your time to move is three months prior to the date the bid will be issued.

    You should be wondering if your product already meets specifications in current use, and you should ask if any specification changes are anticipated.

    Many states have formal procedures for evaluating and changing specifications.

    Many states convene vendor conferences prior to issuing a bid in order to listen to your concerns.

  6. Try to understand the laws, rules, procedures that influence your ability to bid, the bid process and method of award.

    Some states require advance bidder registration or certifications.

    Some states have price preferences for various social programs.

    Some states require that awards be made to the lowest bidder, while others, like Wisconsin, encourage life-cycle cost evaluation.

    Most states have a fairly quick, formal mechanism for appealing, or challenging the outcome of a bid. If you question the way an award was made, you should at least ask the responsible purchasing agent to explain your issue, even if you do not want to pursue a formal appeal.


Influencing State Bid Specifications

  1. If you want the state to change specifications, including the bid process or the method of award, start with the purchasing agent responsible for the contract in question.

    Double-check your facts to make sure that there has not been some simple misunderstanding.

  2. If you believe that a specification change is necessary in order for you (or your distributor) to bid for state business, make your argument based on comparisons between your product, the competition, and current bid specifications.

    Your strongest argument for change is if you can show that your product is in line with the competition, and that a bid specification needs to be changed in order to better match current market conditions.

    Base your comparison on standard market questions, such as: cost, quality, durability, performance, warranty, servicing, and delivery.

    If your argument depends on a different method of award, such as life-cycle costing, be prepared to prove the benefits to the overall competitive bid situation.

    Be prepared to prove your product performance claims with independent test lab results, if appropriate.

    Offer to sponsor pilot demonstration projects, if performance is completely unknown.

    Provide documentation from other satisfied government customers.

  3. In response to your argument, the state may take a variety of positive, negative or neutral positions.

    Bid specifications may be modified.

    Another bid category for the alternative product may be added.

    A separate bid may be issued.

    Purchasing agent may disagree.

    Purchasing agent may ask for more information.

    The state may be receptive, but lack the time to make the changes you desire.

  4. If you are satisfied with the changes made, be sure to follow through.

    Make sure that you (or your distributors) are on necessary bid lists, that you receive the bids, and that you understand how to respond.

  5. If you are not satisfied with results, now is the time to start working your way up the management hierarchy, if you are determined that you have a reasonable argument. On the other hand, you may wish to reconsider your original market decision, taking us back to the first item on this list!

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