Our expert guide on how to sell to the public sector

UK government spending continues to grow year upon year, with enormous sums of money being spent across various departments to pay for public services – from education to healthcare to transportation. As a result, there is a clear opportunity for more businesses to grow themselves by directly selling to the public sector.

UK public spending breakdown

Each the Treasury publishes in-depth public spending statistics and Public Expenditure Statistical Analyses (PESA), however, this does include “the procurement of goods and services by one public sector body from another”.

The latest figures revealed that gross spending on UK public sector procurement stood at £357 billion for 2020/2021, which rose dramatically year on year due to the pandemic. In total, there was a 17% increase in public spending from 2019/20 to 2020/21 – which equates to more than £53 billion. As you’d expect during this unprecedented period, health spending rose by £43 billion – a jump of 44% against pre-Covid levels (2019/20

Other areas that saw a growth in public spending included education (up from £34.8 billion to £36.4 billion), defence (up from 29.4 billion to 30.9 billion), social protection (up from 38.5 billion to 40.1 billion), and general public services (up from 15.2 billion to 18.4 billion).

How to sell to the public sector

Whilst there are many businesses that exclusively rely on selling to the public sector, there has been a growth in the number of companies previously dedicated to supplying the private sector that are now looking to work with public sector organisations and therefore looking to enhance their overall knowledge and understanding of public sector procurement.

In years gone by this may have been seen as an intimidating prospect, due to the misconception that the nature of government procurement frameworks and public sector procurement regulations favoured larger companies with extensive resources – but this is not the case. For example, the government has previously committed to spending at least £1 in every £3 with SMEs across the UK, providing a welcome boost to smaller companies looking to sell to the public sector.

However, businesses tendering for public sector contracts should be aware that selling to government is considerably more complex than the private sector. In addition, there are various channels the government uses to procure different products, services and solutions – and some of these will be dictated by how much a product/service/solution will cost.

We recommend reading our blog post, “Everything you need to know to successfully sell to central government today”, for a closer look at how the procurement process may change depending on the value of the contract. The article also provides an in-depth look at pitching for government contracts and explores how to become a Crown Commercial Service Supplier.

It is not just value that will have a bearing on how you will sell to the public sector – the processes you’ll be required to follow will also change depending on the government department.

Selling to the education sector

The education procurement landscape has changed dramatically over recent years – shifting from a model where school finances were strictly controlled by local authorities, to a model where schools are now responsible for acquiring their own services and solutions. Therefore, maintained schools and academies are now run much more like traditional businesses, which opens-up exciting opportunities for suppliers that previously struggled to make their mark in the sector.

Whilst schools and academies are encouraged to purchase products and services through the government’s framework agreement, they can also consider quotes and bids from external suppliers or run a Public Contracts Regulations (PCR) compliant buying process. It is worth bearing in mind that whilst companies do not have to be listed on the educational supplier framework to sell to schools, it will certainly benefit them in the long-term. In particular, being part of this scheme will add authority and build trust.

Education supplier frameworks are made up of a list of previously approved suppliers that have been through a robust procurement process. These frameworks are constantly monitored by the Schools Commercial Team (SCT) – part of the Department for Education (DfE) – who also have the power to add suppliers to relevant lists.  You can view the list of procurement frameworks for schools here.

We have created a comprehensive blog that focuses on “how to sell into schools in 2022”. This informative guide explores educational supplier frameworks and education supplier directories in more depth, whilst providing important advice on who makes buying decisions in schools, buying cycles within schools, and how to sell to private schools. We also provide a number of top tips on how to successfully sell to schools, including advice on timings, communication channels and what events and exhibitions are worth attending.

Selling to the NHS

The NHS is, without doubt, one of the trickiest public sector departments to sell to. Not only are market entry issues both numerous and particularly difficult, but procurement rules are far more rigid than those of other public sector authorities and bodies.

However, this hardly comes as a surprise when you consider the NHS uses products/services from more than 80,000 suppliers, which covers everything from medical equipment and health tech, to stationary and food

We have published “An in-depth look at how to successfully sell into the NHS”, where we explain the structure of the NHS market, and the best positioning tactics to become an NHS supplier. Key questions answered include:

  • Who owns the NHS Supply Chain?
  • Who oversees NHS procurement?
  • What is the SCCL?
  • How are NHS contracts awarded to external suppliers?
  • How do I sell my products to the NHS supply chain?
  • How long is the buying cycle in the NHS?
  • How to become a supplier to the NHS?
  • How do you sell to hospitals?

Preparing for long-term success

Once a business has secured a public sector contract it is important to maintain that agreement by successfully fulfilling the deliverables as accurately and efficiently as possible – this could increase the longevity of the relationship, as well as provide evidence of exceptional service for future tenders.

Current issues and budgetary constraints continue to stretch government organisations and therefore suppliers need to provide the public sector bodies with more support than ever before. This blog post not only provides valuable insight into winning public sector contracts but also focuses on maintaining these agreements. This includes advice on managing deadlines, being proactive with your support, plus providing necessary data and information.

Getting in front of the right people

There are many channels and techniques that marketing departments should be actively using to get in front of the right people from the public sector. For example, websites and social media platforms are vital for showcasing expertise and building trust, whilst PR programmes and PPC campaigns will help to drive inbound leads. We have expertly packaged up valuable advice for those businesses looking to market to the education sector, NHS and central government, as well as the public sector in general.

At GovNet, we continue to build a strong portfolio of specialist exhibitions and conferences dedicated to the public sector, including the Public Sector Show, which is considered the home of public procurement. We also enjoy supporting our brilliant clients across our various sector-focused portfolios, including education, healthcare and technology, to name but a few.