The General Services Administration, in response to the pandemic, has opened up the multiple award schedule contracts to state and local governments. That’s one of a myriad of effects the situation is having on those who sell to the government. For more on this and a couple of others, federal sales and marketing consultant Larry Allen joined Federal Drive with Tom Temin.
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Tom Temin: And Larry, hasn’t cooperative purchasing been in place to some extent for a long time?
Larry Allen: Tom, it has. But it’s been very patchwork of depending on the types of products or service is you’re selling. There are only two parts of the program that have blanket, what we call, cooperative purchasing authority. That is the ability of state and local government to access schedules. But right now, GSA has enacted its blanket disaster relief and prepared this capability on the schedules program, which provides state local governments with the opportunity to buy from any GSA schedule and any participating schedule contractor during the time of the pandemic.
Tom Temin: So there’s no special BPA for this or a special item number, a SIN, or is it just open season anywhere you want to go on the schedules?
Larry Allen: Well, it’s anywhere you want to go on the schedule. If you’re state or local government, you can buy from either the GSA schedule, VA has opened its schedules under similar but slightly different authority, so to the extent that you can find masks and medical supplies on the VA, federal supply schedules, state local governments can buy those things as well. Whether it’s IT or professional services or tents or anything else on the GSA schedules, Tom, state and local governments can buy directly from those contracts as well right now.
Tom Temin: I wonder if they’re going to get some blowback from small businesses in the various regions of the country because they’ve always been kind of the ones leading the opposition to nationalization, if you will, of the GSA schedules.
Larry Allen: That always has been a tension between the federal GSA schedules program, even though that program has a lot of small businesses on it, and local small business communities. That’s usually why, Tom, you see state and local government buyers looking at the schedule contract as an option, but maybe not the only option, almost never the only option. At the same time, the schedules program has an impressive record of working in times of crisis for things like the delivery of tents, temporary work solutions, bottles of waters, IT support services. Everything you need to set up, for example, say a triage center, you can get from the schedules. And schedule vendors now have substantial experience in working a time of crisis to provide those solutions at the state local government level. Every time we have a hurricane season, people unfortunately, get practice in how they can support that mission. This is a little bit different. It’s going to be with us for a little longer, not necessarily tied to a weather event. But you do have experienced companies and buyers who now have some comfort level when using the schedules program. And there’s the potential now that you know that beachhead might expand out as we move ahead with COVID-19.
Tom Temin: Sure. Any particular reporting or other compliance requirements for sales to non federal entities?
Larry Allen: Well, if your government contractor, Tom, you have to record your sale under the schedules program as a schedule sale regardless of whether you make it to, say the city of Sacramento, or you’re making it to the Department of the Navy. The schedule sale is a schedule sale. in you collect and remit the industrial funding fee on it as a contractor. You do identify it as a state sale. So in your reporting, you are reporting that this was a sale made through the cooperative purchasing program, but otherwise you’re recording that sale exactly as you would any other schedule sale made to a federal agency, and all the terms and conditions apply, except Tom, for the disputes clause, where in a federal dispute, the federal GSA contracting officer may get involved. If there’s a dispute between a contractor and your state government customer, you’re most likely going to go to handle that dispute in the district court or other administrative process that is set up inside that state.
Tom Temin: And talk about the issues with making sure that you, as a company are easily available to your federal customers during the time when everybody scattered in their homes and basements and bunkers and Lord knows where.
Larry Allen: Well, and this is a really particular issue right now, Tom, there are so many companies that want to help and have good solutions, but you’re trying to reach a decentralized federal workforce, a workforce that has shifting priorities, priorities that can shift literally from conference call to conference call. What I’m recommending for my clients is that it’s time to give your federal customers one click access to your business. It’s not enough to say we’re ready to help, and we’re here to help. You have to be proactive and provide your customer an easy way to get to you. So make sure that you’ve got and are in contact with all of the account managers that you have inside a federal agency that you’re working with. Similarly, make sure that your acquisition people on your staff are in touch with federal government acquisition staff. And don’t assume that they know that you’re there. And don’t assume that those current our perspective customers know how to buy from you. Make sure that you are the easy choice for them to turn to. You’re the partner who they can rely on to navigate the procurement waters with a successful solution.
Tom Temin: All right, and you’re also recommending short webinars or video white papers, especially one you say that shows thought leadership on a newly issued directive or recommended action.
Larry Allen: Right. Well, in the absence of the ability to have meetings, companies need to figure out other ways to get their message across. White papers are certainly a tried and true way to do that. And we know come from constant polling that federal agencies say that they do rely on white papers. But one of the things that they’ve also relied upon that can be particularly useful now would be a short video. How good are your YouTube skills? They should be very good indeed, because, a good video type of white paper, a good video presentation can really get your message home in a succinct way. Take a page out of the government’s own book, GSA just recently stood up one minute federal acquisition news snippets and your company can do the same thing. It doesn’t need to be a 20 minute sermon on your company. In fact, I wouldn’t make it that. But if you’ve got something short on interesting to say about how your company can support a remote remote workforce, how your company can insure safe diagnoses and identifying people who might have the COVID-19 virus. How can your company support the mission with providing masks and gloves. And, of course, very importantly, you know, how much toilet paper your company provide to the Department of Defense
Tom Temin: In this case maker buy means roll your own.
Larry Allen: How do you make your message stand out in a crowded field? And it’s not just gonna be the flyer that you blast out via email. It’s gonna have to be something that shows some thought leadership.
Tom Temin: Larry Allen is a longtime federal marketing and sales consultant. Now, with BDO. As always thanks so much.
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Larry Allen: Thank you Tom, and I wish your listeners happy sowing.