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Do I need a public sector sales & marketing strategy?

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Jun 12, 2023

Thornton & Lowe has worked helping SME businesses grow through public sector contracts and sales for over 14 years. We have supported hundreds of businesses to win billions of pounds of UK public sector spend. Less than 3% of our new clients have had a Public Sector Sales & Marketing Strategy!

The benefits of having a marketing strategy are well-known, including:

  • Higher conversions
  • Increased reach
  • Better return on investment
  • Higher retention!

While your plans need to be different for the public sector, a strategy is still essential.

For an overview of what we class as the public sector, see our dedicated sales and marketing page.

Selling into the public sector – your questions answered?

If you want to increase your sales in the public sector you may be asking yourself many questions!

Q. Can I ‘sell’ to the public sector? Can I speak to them? Will I not be breaking ‘the rules’?

Quick Answer: Yes, you can sell into the public sector. Like any sale, relationship is key. You need to build your relationships. This means you need to speak to them and you can do this! Unless told otherwise (e.g. during a live tender process).

Q. Aren’t public sector contracts reserved for large corporate organisations?

Quick Answer: No. The Government is pushing more than ever to actively work with SME businesses. They are targeted to do so and check any contracts register or public sector contract award notice and you will find many micro, third sector and SME suppliers.

Q. To win work in the public sector, will you need to tender for it formally? You will need to go through a formal procurement process?

Quick Answer: No. This is often part of the solution for many suppliers of the public sector. But only ever part of the solution. This depends on your service or product and the value. Those who are the most successful in securing public sector contracts, do actively and consistently engage with key decision makers and stakeholders. This puts them in a better position if it does lead to a tender, but it can often create opportunities ‘under the tender radar’. For further details see our Ultimate Guide to Public Sector Sales & Marketing, which can be found here.

Q. Do I need to be on a framework to work with the public sector?

Quick Answer: No. Depending on the value of your solution and your sector. It can, however, be a very helpful sales tool.

Q. Decisions are just made by procurement people I don’t know, despite being the incumbent suppliers for 10 years!

Quick Answer: This can happen but not always. Many of our clients, for example, won’t bid for a tender if they don’t have an existing relationship. The relationship you have is very important but it is very important you still maximise your position during your existing contract and in preparation for the re-tender. If you are performing you are in a perfect position. The risk of removing a high-performing supplier offering value for money is considerable. A bold decision for a procurement manager to take. Tenders can be managed by the procurement team who also usually lead the evaluation, however, supported by relevant divisional leads and end users (who actually understand the requirements and issues from a delivery perspective).

Q. I monitor tenders, check if it’s a good fit for my business and then bid. A Public Sector Sales & Marketing Strategy surely can’t help here?

Quick Answer: It can… How confident are you that you are finding or receiving all relevant public sector opportunities? How to you decide what is right for your business? If you formalise this you monitor the impact of your decisions at this stage. If you only bid for opportunities where you have a relationship – how do you increase your relationships to help you bid for more? How can you improve your conversions and tender win rates? Are you getting enough customers from the frameworks you are on? A strategy will of course, help with all this.

Q. Relationships can’t be that important? The last tender we won we didn’t know anything about it until we seen the advert.

Quick Answer: It’s about doing more, improving and increasing win rates. Many of our clients have success without investing into building relationships. However, we know they will have more opportunities, both those which are formally procured and those which aren’t, and a higher win rate if they do.

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Key considerations when creating an effective public sector sales & marketing strategy

  • What data is available now?

Spend data, contract notices (tenders), contract award notices, contract registers, framework analysis, decision-maker marketing data, and freedom of information requests (FOI) should be used to understand the market and what has happened to date. Beyond key decision makers, which wider stakeholders are involved? Are these important to your strategy? Do you need to map these relationships? By relationship mapping will you better understand how to engage with the wider sector while gaining insight into your competitors’ alliances to those influencers in your marketplace.

This stage will provide highly valuable information. You will understand which of your competitors are performing in this sector, where spend is higher by public sector division, where there seems to be little ‘formal’ procurement spend, which frameworks are more beneficial and to which suppliers. This will all inform your public sector sales and marketing strategy.

  • Understand who you want to sell to

Who is the best fit for your solution? And why? How are you solving their problems better than others? Building relationships in housing associations, schools or central government will require a different approach and needs to be based around their specific challenges.

  • Understand the procurement rules impacting your product and services

Can you use the procurement rules to enhance your proposition and sales process? How can you use their procedures to your benefit?

  • Who are your competitors

Competitors analysis is key. How can you compete? How can you monitor this, learn and improve on their already successful approach? What does their sales structure look like? What conferences do they sponsor? What training do they offer? How do they provide reassurance, trust and goodwill? What business awards do they bid for? Details of our business award writing services can be found here.

  • Monitor tenders and frameworks

While not the focus on this article, tenders are of course important when discussing sales and the public sector. Our Bid Writing Ultimate Guide here, includes tips, how to find tenders and how they are evaluated on both price and quality. Our free tender alert software helps our clients monitor tenders, competitor wins and framework opportunities. Further details of our Tender Pipeline can be found here. If you require any support finding relevant sector opportunities or public sector focused bid writing or training support, click here. You can develop a clear bid-no-bid strategy.

  • Sales and marketing costs and budget for public sector engagement

By understanding in practice what you have available in terms of time, energy and money, you will be able to tailor your strategy.

  • Define your offer to the public sector and create a bespoke marketing campaign

You may have multiple offers but they need to be tailored based on your research. Your route to engage with this market needs to be credible and realistic. Your public sector marketing campaign may include the full marketing mix or may initially start with smaller ‘tests’. For further details see our Ultimate Guide to Public Sector Sales & Marketing, which can be found here.

  • Set targets

Based on what you now know, what is realistic for you to achieve? How can you monitor results? What are the different likely stages in your sales cycle and can you monitor these in the form of a public sector nurture list?

  • Review, improve, repeat

Like with any sales and marketing it is about being committed but continually assessing your performance, return on investment and how you can improve. This could be increasing budgets, changing our offer, target market or campaign. You may require a place on a key framework in order to maximise the opportunity, which may change your engagement activities until you have been successful with this procurement hurdle.

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