If you're trying to sell a product or service to a government agency--local, state, or federal--be aware that bidding is the rule. That in itself need not put you off. The problem is that the officials who write bid specifications and award contracts take their time and hide behind complicated forms. Vincent Yost, founder of a start-up called Intelligent Devices, in Harleysville, Pa., received the following advice from a panel of seasoned experts about how to sell his company's electronic parking meter to municipalities.
Sell up and down the ladder. Don't just find the guys who use and service the product--pitch to the councilors and commissioners who may have a stake in boosting revenues from it and can lobby on your behalf.
Use the bidding process to your benefit. Don't be passive about it. Help the city draft its request for proposals (RFPs), and offer suggestions to help ensure that the published specs include your proprietary features.
Make the bid work double-duty. Try to turn one sale into several by encouraging municipal "piggybacking." In Ohio, for instance, a properly worded RFP can bring other interested cities under the legal umbrella of a single city's published bid.
Pick the right cities. If a city council constantly disagrees, bypass that town. Ask the executive director of the division that will use your product what related projects the town has done lately. Has it built any parking garages? Bought any property? If the answer is no, move on. Don't waste your time.
Get another foot in the door. Hire a high-profile consultant to work on your behalf and become, in effect, an auxiliary salesperson who can recommend your product as part of an action plan.