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Ask an MSP Expert

Q:  My MSP has never gone after government business, I have wanted to, but I keep getting scared away by the whole bidding process. How complicated is it?

An excellent MSP opportunity may be hiding in plain sight. Many MSPs hustle after the business of medical offices, manufacturing facilities, and even schools. However, MSPs shouldn’t overlook one potential source of business right under their nose: city hall. Towns and cities of all sizes increasingly need more tech ability than their in-house people can handle. This void has created an opening for MSPs to come in and fill but some have been hesitant, turned off by the sometimes onerous bid process.  However, a bid process isn’t much more than just making a great presentation that showcases your company and its values. Preparing a bid is a great marketing exercise even if you ultimately fall short.

Still, anytime the government is involved, there are a few more hoops to jump through than with other accounts.  The hoops, though, are worthwhile if you’re patient and willing to do your due diligence.

SmarterMSP talked with Kyle Hamilton, Vice-President of Eaton, Ohio based Opti-Vise, a family-owned MSP which services several cities in southwest Ohio.  Hamilton has some excellent advice for MSPs thinking of taking the plunge into government.  Here is some of what he had to say:

So, how do MSPs go about getting some of this municipal, state, and federal contracts?

“The key thing to remember when you talk about municipalities or government, in general, is that budgets get divided, and all decision-makers have to weigh in,”  Hamilton says. This can create a fragmented chain of command to deal with.

“Decision making can be all over the map,”  Hamilton says.

The police chief, fire chief, tax officer, and others all have to weigh in on various IT decisions.  Each department has their own budget which complicates things further.

“The finance department has a bigger budget, and they want to pursue a project or upgrades, and then one of your smaller departments needs something that will impact a larger department,  it all comes down to how they allocate their funds and just keeping conversations on track,” Hamilton says.

The best bids

When cities or government agencies have an IT need, they’ll put out bids for contracts, and that is your cue to put together your best presentation possible.  Sometimes you’ll have to stand in front of city council in an open session to make a pitch. Dress your best and be confident. And, Hamilton says, give the government value. That doesn’t always mean submitting the lowest bid.

“When it comes down to the process, being undercut on price will happen. The key is to make sure you are very clear on your differentiators and value you present,” Hamilton says. The value can include exclusive options, hardware, labor, and full 24/7 on-call coverage.

“If you offer value, you won’t be the cheapest, but you will present value,”  Hamilton says. He says it is also important to be clear in explaining why your deliverable looks the way it does.  Many times city and state government agencies will be overseen by people with limited tech experience, so your bid proposal needs to be very clear.

“When you talk about the level of service that the competitors will present, as you are putting your packet together and presenting it, you’ll become the more appealing offer,”  Hamilton says.

Another aspect of steering your company’s bid through the process is to be available all the time to answer questions and provide reassuring to those decision-makers who might not be as steeped in tech.

“Convey that you an are an expert in your field and are reliable, trustworthy, those are the intangibles that others can’t compete on. An MSP has to figure out a way to explain it and really convey what you are getting for the money,”  Hamilton says.

One of the municipalities that Opti-Vise services is Clayton, Ohio, population 13,000.  They entered into a 3-year-contract with Clayton in 2015 to provide IT services. Services included in the contract include backup and recovery, remote monitoring and management, managed endpoint security, internet threat security, management and support labor, and workstation hardware refresh schedule. If you want to see an example of what a winning bid looks like, this is a copy of the contract between Opti-Vise and the city of Clayton.  The final consideration to keep in mind is that business transactions with any government entity are public record. If you are skittish about having your prices and services available, that is something to consider. But, as Hamilton says, the real issue is value, not price. If you are ready for a new opportunity, look to the government and set your bid.

Photo:  Andrea Izzotti / Shutterstock.

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Kevin Williams

Posted by Kevin Williams

Kevin Williams is a journalist based in Ohio. Williams has written for a variety of publications including the Washington Post, New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, National Geographic and others. He first wrote about the online world in its nascent stages for the now defunct “Online Access” Magazine in the mid-90s.

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