Cracking into the Foreign Government Buyer Market. broadcast # 9 October 28, 2013

Do you have a product or service that you’re presently selling to a government entity here in the U.S.?  Selling to government buyers is considered by some to be a unique skill, if not an art form!  Once your company is able to make a connection in this market however, it can be the source of large and consistent orders, with limited to no risk of non-payment.  Despite this appealing side of the government market, the typical small business owner/manager thinks that getting their product or service to be considered by government buyers in other countries is an impossible challenge.  That said, a surprising number of small and mid-sized companies here in the U.S. have done precisely that, with unbelievable results.

This week on Export Success, I’ll be speaking to Gregory Maguire, Senior Director, Legal and Government Affairs for Revision Military, based in Essex Jct., Vermont.  Revision sells ballistic protective eye gear and helmets to various units of the U.S. military, and to military and security establishments around the world.  Greg will talk about how Revision has promoted its products to prospective foreign government buyers, and what special factors exporters have to take into account as they start planning to enter the foreign government buyer space.

Link to show:

Key takeaways:

1. Your firm has been very successful in breaking into the military and security market in several countries around the world.  How did Revision do it?   We feel that the keys to success in this market are to have a good product and to build relationships with the decision makers and anyone else who can impact the buying decision.  In terms of your product, the first step has to be to identify your company’s core capabilities.  Know what you do best and stick with it.  In terms of relationships, don’t get caught up in paperwork.  Find out who makes the buying decision and what their needs are.  Finally, be patient – this is a market that takes a while to develop.

2.  How can a small company with limited resources but a product or service that could be really useful to a government buyer in some country even begin to find out where the opportunities are?  There are many federal and state government programs to help small companies identify potential foreign government opportunities.  There are trade shows and industry days that are organized around the world.  You should plan on having a series of interactions with a potential foreign government buyer.

3.  What’s the best way for a small exporter to approach a foreign government buyer?  Do
they have to wait for a formal RFP being issued, or can they try to get some
information in front of a potential government customer before formally bidding
on a proposal?
If you’re planning on making a sales presentation or other informal communication
to a government buyer, you will want to do that before a formal solicitation is
issued.  Once a formal request for proposal (RFP) is issued, most buyers are restricted in what level of communication and contact they can have with a potential supplier.  So, before that, try to find out who the decision makers are and call on them.

4.  If you had to describe the ideal supplier to the government market, how would you?  I know price is very important but it’s not the only or even at times the most important criteria?  What are other things a small firm new to exporting can bring to the table that could give them their entrée with a government buyer?  Price is becoming increasingly important in the United States, but not necessarily in the rest of the world.  The ability to meet the buyer’s requirements is crucial.  You have to know your customer and understand their needs.  Your company’s ability to meet those needs within the budget that the buyer has to work with is critical.  Sometimes however, the foreign government buyer doesn’t even know what it needs.  You may have to educate the customer on what is technically possible to solve whatever problem or need they have.

5. For some products and services, U.S. export controls are a potential issue.  How does a company new to exporting even find out if it needs a permit to export its goods or services, and how does it go about getting one?  You should use government resources to get help.  There are also independent consultants who can help exporters on this.  Obviously products or services with military or security applications will be on the list of exports requiring a permit.  However, you also have to know what you are selling.  It could be that your product has certain inputs or components that are on an export control list, even if your fully assembled product doesn’t have an obvious military/security application.

6. What are the most important things you’d advise an owner/manager of a small firm which is new to exporting to do with respect to selling to foreign government buyers?   I’d have say there are three things the owner/manager has to keep front and center:  Firstly, look at the buyer’s requirements, and adhere to them precisely when you are making any presentation or proposal;  Secondly, be aware of U.S. export restrictions – the U.S. government is very interested in who is buying technology from American firms and why;  Thirdly, getting paid is not as easy as selling to a private company located across town – there could be strict requirements for getting your money.  For example you may be asked to post a bond guaranteeing your firm will perform according to the terms of the bid.

Next show:  Monday November 11, 2013, 3:30 PM EST

Topic:  Resources and strategies to handle potential legal issues in exporting

Guest:  Mark Oettinger, international business attorney/member of the Export Legal Assistance Network (ELAN)

Focus Areas:

–  contract enforceability

– dispute resolution basics for exporters

– intellectual property rights and protection

– Foreign Corrupt Practices Act


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