The public sector, which includes local authorities, the NHS, education, and a myriad of central government agencies and departments, spends a serious amount of money on goods and services from external suppliers. If you’re not already marketing to the public sector with the aim of selling your goods or services, you may want to consider why not.

Each year, the public sector spends more £350 billion with third party suppliers on items (such as pens, paper, laptops, desks, hospital beds and medicines) works (which includes the construction and repair of assets, such as roads and buildings), and services for the delivery of many public sector functions (e.g. social care, IT support and HR).

Public sector procurement is huge, but the processes are complex. All individual parts of the sector have their own priorities, needs and budgets.

The good news is that it is easier to sell to the public sector now than it has ever been before. The government recently committed to spending £1 in every £3 with small and medium-sized companies to increase innovation within the sector, so there is absolutely no reason why you can’t tap into it.

To win public sector contracts, you’ll need to get your business noticed. This blog explains how to market to public sector buyers.

What’s the difference between public sector and private sector marketing?

There are a few differences between private and public sector marketing. That said, many of the basic common-sense marketing rules apply. Having a decent website with relevant up-to-date content, being proactive with SEO (Search Engine Optimisation), joining conversations on social, networking and attending events, email campaigns, and generally positioning as an expert in your field, are all highly relevant marketing tools, regardless of sector.

A key difference between the two sectors comes down to navigation and entry points. Public sector departments and structures can be frustratingly complex and pinpointing the senior decision-makers aren’t always easy. The buying channels for you to sell into the public sector are also complex and can be difficult to navigate if you don’t know-how.

To win a contract, you’ll need to focus on targeted marketing to reach key decision-makers and get a grasp of public sector procurement processes. Perhaps the biggest difference between the public and private sectors is that your bid and your company will be more heavily scrutinised. It means ticking all boxes, crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s. The marketing and sales cycle are considerably longer, so patience and grit are key.

How do you market to the public sector?

The ease with which you can sell your products or supply your services to the public sector varies drastically depending on which part of the sector you are targeting. The complexity of NHS and its exceptionally rigid procurement rules, for example, makes it a particularly tough market to break into.

Getting to know how public sector contracts work in the key area you are targeting is essential. The government website has in-depth guidance on public procurement policies.

Here are some basic ‘good practice’ public sector marketing guidelines to follow:

  • Bespoke website landing pages are a good idea to demonstrate how your products or services suit this sector’s specific requirements.
  • Build credibility with case studies – it’s especially important to highlight other successful work relevant to the sector.

Get to know the ‘language’ or terminology commonly used by the public sector department or agency you are targeting. It is essential to showcase your products or services in specific or relevant contexts.

  • Showcase agility – this is essential as public sector buyers will be more willing to connect with businesses that can adapt and grow as needs change.
  • And just as you would do with the private sector, shout about your achievements. Modesty in this sector won’t cut it. The competition is too fierce. Selling into the public sector you need to be brave and bold.

There’s no quick guide for marketing and selling to the public sector. There are many questions depending on which department or agency you are targeting. You may want to know how to market your services to schools and academies? What is the best strategy to sell into schools? How to market to the NHS? What are the best marketing tactics when selling to NHS?

The following sections cover the 3 key areas – central government, the NHS, and education.

How to win government contracts

Central government is often overlooked as a potential buyer. Aside from the Prime Minister’s Office, there are over 450 central government departments, agencies and bodies, which are as diverse as the Met Office, the Parole Board and the Royal Mint.

Marketing to central government has its own nuances. To win a central government contract you will need to gain a deep understanding of the procurement processes and your marketing campaign should clearly illustrate you are an expert in your field.

Build a bank of content on your website, write for trade magazines, and share successes on social media to highlight your level of thought leadership. Attend trade events and speak at conferences to grow credibility. Show your experience and be the expert at every opportunity.

Accountability is also key. Ensure all necessary ISO accreditations are in place and up to date. Also, highlight any work you do with your local community and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities you undertake.

How to market to the NHS

It’s safe to say that the NHS is the most difficult public department to sell to. Whatever your product or service, be it medicines, health-tech or on-site cleaning, getting onto the NHS’s approved supplier list is a daunting and difficult process, and it will take time. Don’t forget it’s possible to sell to large NHS providers where commissioning rules may be less strict than if you were selling into the NHS directly.

The complexity of the NHS makes it difficult to navigate. You may be selling directly to trusts or primary care organisations, through the new NHS Supply Chain, or via government tenders and contracts. Whatever your route in, marketing will play a vital role in building credibility and getting you noticed.

The key starting point for any marketing is your website. Without a credible website, you are unlikely to get very far. Ensure your website is inviting, easy to navigate and has content relevant to the decision-making influencers you are targeting.

Specialist landing pages are a good idea. Case studies and testimonials are a great way to make product and service pages come alive. When taking part in an NHS tender process, you will need to demonstrate ROI, so having a polished case study or two is ideal.

Gated whitepapers also go a long way to demonstrate your expertise and enable you to collect email contacts (in accordance with GDPR rules). Always avoid jargon. Show in simple terms how your product or service solves a problem.

Don’t rule out email and telemarketing but do make sure you are prepared. This means sourcing the right contacts and asking the right questions.

Importantly, attend and exhibit at NHS-focused trade shows. GovNet runs specialist exhibitions and conferences dedicated to the NHS and the wider healthcare sector, including Healthcare Excellence Through Technology (HETT) and the Leading Healthcare Innovation Summit (LHIS).

How to market to UK schools

Many of the tips and tricks already mentioned apply when marketing to schools. A decent website, social media activity, developing a reputation as being a thought-leader in your field and so on, are all important strands of successful marketing.

There are also certain challenges when marketing to schools. Education budgets are particularly squeezed, so offering value is vital. It is essential messaging clearly highlights both value and the specific problems that your product or service can solve.

It’s worth taking the time to understand roles and responsibilities within the education setting. It won’t necessarily be a teacher that your marketing needs to target. Be sure you are clear about the role of head teachers and school business professionals.

You may also want to consider how to market to private schools. This is virtually the same as you would market to any other private sector business. All you need to do is identify the most appropriate person to speak to.

Timing is another challenge when marketing to the education sector (both public and private). School holidays mean marketing during these times won’t have much impact. Furthermore, for those products that are being marketed to teachers, there’s little point in trying to make contact during the school day. A timely email at the end of the day, after 3.30 pm, is more likely to get noticed.

Also, don’t bombard educational professionals with marketing emails and calls. They are incredibly busy.

Keep abreast of education policies and what is going on in the sector. Follow key industry authorities and news sources, such as Tes, The Schools & Academies Show, Schools Week, Inside Government, and Education Technology. And be sure to monitor the relevant industry hashtags, such as #ukedchat #sltchat #uksbmchat, on social media channels.

Kick-off your campaign: get in front of people at trade shows

Trade shows and conferences provide a fantastic opportunity to get in front of industry professionals. You’ll also learn about the nuances of the specific public sector segment you are keen to sell into.

At GovNet, we continue to build a strong portfolio of specialist exhibitions and conferences dedicated to the public sector and each of its niche areas, such as the NHS, education, criminal justice, cyber security, data, pay, technology, and asset and estate management.

Click here to request a meeting with one of the team today.