Updated: Nov 17, 2021
As with any vertical market, GSA has some unique aspects that are important to know when pursuing business with federal government agencies or others that can access GSA contract. The four big ones that stand out to me are acronyms, compliance, the federal budget process including the use of GSA contact, and access to data.
I recently did a training I titled “Demystifying Public Sector” and as I reflect on everything in that training there were a couple of topics specific to GSA that have stayed with me that I want to share with you. As with any vertical market, GSA has some unique aspects that are important to know when pursuing business with federal government agencies or others that can access GSA contract. The four big ones that stand out to me are acronyms, compliance, the federal budget process including the use of GSA contact, and access to data. Acronyms: Working with federal agencies requires a completely different language. Everything has an acronym including the agency itself GSA (General Services Administration.) After some time in this vertical your mind automatically thinks everything is an acronym and not a word in itself. A great example of this is when a friend sent me an email titled SPA. I totally forgot that I had asked her about her hot tub, and I automatically thought she wanted to talk about a Special Pricing Authorization (SPA), so for about 2 minutes I was trying to understand her email. I think this has become more common with the introduction of what Wikipedia calls SMS language, textspeak, or texting language, but in all honesty, this has the potential to make my world harder, as I am confident if I tried hard enough, I could find a GSA acronym that is the same as an SMS and would have trouble deciphering what you are trying to say to me in a text.
Compliance: This could be many articles or a presentation by itself! With a GSA contract comes compliance. Selling to the federal government is not the same as selling commercially. Somethings are honestly much easier - like access to data, but there are many more guidelines on what you can and cannot do, and the stakes are much higher. For instance, you should not offer, nor follow through on paying for a federal employee’s lunch, dinner, drinks etc. No food, no entertain ent, no gifts. This obviously helps with your T&E budget but also takes some of the fun out of the sales process. Additionally, you have commercial sales practices (CSP) to worry about that could trigger your Price Reduction Clause (PRC.) You have probably heard of some major fines and even jail time that has been given to GSA contract holders for non-compliance (if you are not familiar with them go to justice.gov and type furniture in the search bar and prepare to be enlightened.)
Federal budgets: Did you realize that the federal budget that is approved by congress each year is a use it or lose it budget? For most agencies if they do not spend the money they are allocated in the fiscal year (which runs from October 1-September 30), they will most likely not get the same amount of money next fiscal. This is why you hear the GSA salespeople talking about year-end spend, drop money, etc. Now is the time to learn if all of your hard work in sales and marketing as a GSA contract holder will pay off. Depending on what you read and, in part, what you provide, the federal government spends upwards of 35% of their total budget in the 4th quarter (July-September.) This is also when you see a fair number of projects that do not even hit the street, as they are sole sourced to socio economic providers: 8a, HUBZone, WOSB, SDVOSB.
Over $700M is spent annually on furniture through the furniture GSA contracts (33721 and 33721P), but did you know that only about 20% of what the federal government spends goes through a GSA contract?
Some of the other avenues they use besides GSA contract are IDIQ’s, having the GC procure the furniture, or simply purchasing open market items. A lot of what they purchase is done on government procurement card (p-card) if it is under the $10,000 threshold and is not always done through GSA contract.
Data: I love data!! If you know me, you have heard me say it is my love language. Ask me for my opinion on something or ask me to create a plan or strategy and I will ask for some sort of data to review. The great thing about this in the GSA world is that you can find pretty much anything you want if you know where to look or have access to some subscription services that make it easier to find. This is helpful, not just for people like me, but for anyone that wants to sell to the federal government. You can find which agencies have the money, what they plan to spend it on (you can get their actual budget), contact information for the agencies you are targeting, who is currently selling similar products to them, and sometimes you can get actual copies of POs to your competition. The information is limitless you just need to know where to find it and put the time aside to do the research. With data comes knowledge, with knowledge you can create a strategy to be successful in targeting the government.
I hope this has helped you in the process of demystifying GSA. Best of luck as we wrap up another fiscal year!
About Michelle Warren
Michelle Warren is President of Catalyst Consulting Group, a firm specializing in providing strategic solutions to the commercial furniture industry to enhance companies' sales and positioning within their industry and distribution. Michelle has been in the commercial furniture industry for over 25 years with experience on both the dealer and manufacturer side of the industry. She has experience at the EVP, VP and National Sales Manager level for large and small manufacturers.
PUBLISHED IN: DELVE | AUGUST 2021 V.17