Procurement Lobbying

There are two main types of lobbying, the exact legal definitions of which vary from state to state. The first type of lobbying is direct lobbying. In general terms, direct lobbying involves a person or entity attempting to influence legislation in a way that favors the client. Direct lobbyists typically interact with legislators or government employees involved in creating legislation.

The other main type of lobbying is known as grassroots lobbying. Grassroots lobbying focuses on influencing public opinion in favor of  or opposition to particular legislation. This type of lobbying also encourages members of the public to take action themselves in a variety of ways, such as by contacting their elected officials or signing petitions.

Often ignored by the vendor community is Procurement lobbying. This is of particular importance as federal, state, and local governments purchase trillions of dollars in goods and services.

Procurement lobbying involves appreciating:

  • all procurement lobbying laws in the 50 states, the federal government, and more than 230 municipal jurisdictions, along with common-language descriptions of these same ordinances and statutes.
  • advisory opinions interpreting lobbying laws
  • pay-to-play laws on every government level
  • full descriptions of registration and reporting requirements
  • jurisdictions requiring registration as a lobbyist for procurement activities
  • contingent lobbying prohibitions by jurisdiction
  • summaries of gift laws;

and pre-RFP pursuit, meaning shaping upcoming procurements in conformity with the above points.

It can be difficult to find the right person to talk to in Government Agencies and companies. That’s a major reason why people don’t do pre-RFP pursuit. It’s also why many companies are in perpetual sales mode.

Before you can influence the RFP or gain pre-RFP customer insight, you have to make contact with the right people at the customer. Here are some ways to do that:

  1. Past contracts. Sometimes the best source of data about future purchases starts by identifying who the buyers were for similar purchases in the past. So start with mining the data and looking up past contracts through online databases. The points of contact may not always be up to date, but it’s a good place to start.
  2. Associations. What associations might the customer belong to? Do they publish their membership or attendee lists? Do they hold meetings where you might meet face to face? Do they publish presentations or documents that might mention names?
  3. Councils, standards setting organizations, and committees. Are there any other organizations the customer might participate in? In addition to their membership list, do they publish minutes or other documents that might provide insight or contacts?
  4. LinkedIn profiles. Can you find your points of contact on LinkedIn? If you do, can you find their co-workers and business partners? In addition to searching by demographics, you can also search by acronyms, technical terminology, program names, functional terminology, etc.
  5. LinkedIn groups. Look up what groups on LinkedIn your customers have joined. If they post, see what you can learn. If they read, you have an opportunity to put words in front of them. Just simply knowing what groups they are in can provide insight. If you can’t find your customers’ profiles on LinkedIn, maybe you can find them in a relevant group.
  6. Trade shows and events. What trade shows and events do they host or participate in? Can you get introduced? Can you meet face to face? What can you learn? What can you demonstrate?
  7. Websites and org charts. Does the customer have a website? Does it name names? Does it have an org chart that can help you navigate? Can you do an image search for a relevant org chart?
  8. Publishers. There are companies that research, aggregate, and publish databases that include customer contact information. Some can save you a huge amount of time.
  9. Google. Learn how to use Boolean search operators. Then combine fragments of names, email addresses, titles, projects, technology, locations, etc. to see if you can find the needle in the haystack.
  10. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).  If it’s a Government customer, you can try doing a FOIA for rosters, staff directories, points of contact, organization charts, committee memberships, attendance lists, etc.
  11. Teaming partners. Who do your subs or primes know? Can you get a referral or introduction?
  12. Alumni. Not yours. Theirs. Where did they go to school? Can you track them down through Alumni organizations or discover someone else who knows them?
  13. Certification registries. If their job requires specific certifications, are there lists or registries of people with that certification?
  14. Look for coordination points. Where does the customer’s organization need to coordinate with the outside world? That’s where people will be visible.
  15. Look for common interests, platforms, tools, and requirements. Show interest in their interests. Be where they will be. Then be helpful when they arrive.

Procurement Lobbyists can assist with all 15 approaches but most importantly they bring years of personal networking: a wide cast of personal relations to allow you to expand your network. Because it’s not about selling. It’s about getting to know each other and working together. It’s about professional development

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Cooperative purchasing as a public contracting concept.

Rather than each governmental entity endlessly repeating a time-consuming full-and-open competitive process for every buy, cooperatives conduct competitions for multiple award contracts, creating a contractual framework and facilitating faster, lower-cost competitions at the order level. In some cases, cooperatives also are able to aggregate requirements and pool money, lowering costs for both buyers and sellers.

There are three main purchasing co-ops operating nationally for U.S. nonfederal government and other nonprofit entities in addition to the federal cooperative purchasing program run by GSA. These purchasing co-ops allow for technology manufacturers, distributors, resellers and dealers to participate. And a glance at the products and services they offer shows they quickly adapt to changing IT market conditions by including cloud, cybersecurity and other software services.

NASPO provides the broadest-ranging purchasing co-op in terms of commodities offered. Its ValuePoint site brings together multiple award programs established by a single lead state, but made available to all 50 states and the District of Columbia. It also maintains a list of upcoming procurements and the states creating them. So while there is a lead state for each commodity, ValuePoint provides a single clearinghouse for a variety of commodities and multiple-award contract programs for everything from fire trucks to public cloud hosting services (lead state: Utah) and commercial off-the-shelf software products (lead state: Arizona).

Dating back to 1982 as the Michigan Collegiate Telecommunications Association, MiCTA has branched beyond its original charter — to serve as a forum to share information among universities — into a state and municipal acquisition association for a variety of network products.

These products include hardware such as switches and other data center equipment, and services such as voice over Internet protocol (VoIP), cabling and voice/video conferencing. MiCTA is based in Saginaw, Mich. Buying entities pay a small fee to belong to MiCTA, and its membership spans all 50 states. Some states themselves are members, as are many county and city governments.

A third purchasing co-op arrangement, U.S. Communities Government Purchasing Alliance, dates to 1996. It grew from a partnership between the Association of School Business Officials, the National Association of Counties, the National Institute of Governmental Purchasing, the National League of Cities and the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Customers are public schools and colleges, nonprofits, and state and municipal agencies. Like NASPO ValuePoint, U.S. Communities carries no membership fees. It works similarly to ValuePoint in that a single agency forms the lead for a particular technology or service contract, but the contract is available for all of U.S. Communities members. Technology contracts in place include several cloud providers, document and print services, telecommunications, and systems integration services. It claims 90,000 buying organizations are members.

Then there is the federal buying cooperative operated by the General Services Administration. For decades, Congress barred GSA from offering its multiple-award schedule contracts for use by nonfederal government entities. Why? For many years, coalitions of resellers, led by fire apparatus dealers, said such an arrangement would destroy the local markets they enjoyed for supplying nationally marketed capital equipment. That concern faded, or at least Congress avoided a vocal constituency by enabling GSA to offer Schedules 70 (IT goods and services) and 84 (security, law enforcement and, yes, firefighting and rescue equipment).

GSA has added several more narrowly focused schedule-based blanket purchasing agreements, including those for continuous network diagnostic and mitigation services and wireless voice/data products. From the early days, GSA structured the schedules as centrally managed contracts and catalogs that can also include participation by local dealers.

GSA markets these purchasing cooperatives to state, local and tribal governments and while the program is gradually growing, it only accounts for about $1 billion per year. Clearly it suffers a bit from state-specific cooperative programs where contracts are based on the GSA schedule and managed for the benefit of in-state cities, counties and educational institutions structured to avoid paying fees back to GSA. Thus we see that competition between the various cooperative purchasing programs is quite robust.

It would appear that cooperative purchasing as a public contracting concept is here to stay and will only grow as more buying entities become more comfortable with leveraging framework contracts managed by others.