A unique aspect of NASPO’s Exchange conference is the opportunity it provides to state members and suppliers to come together and have open and honest conversation in a “safe space,” where no ideas are bad, and no questions are stupid. It is a learning and thinking environment that lends itself to useful and edifying conversations that might not otherwise take place. The session “Ten Things Your Procurement Officer Wants You to Know,” led by Stacy Gregg, Procurement Manager from the State of South Carolina, really seized the moment Exchange creates and used it to convey some hard-won truths to the supplier community in attendance.
In an overflowing room, Stacy walked through the “ten things” with care and precision – taking questions along the way and allowing CPOs and other procurement officials in the room to chime in with additional viewpoints and advice. Her list included insightful quotations from her fellow public procurement officials and is presented with many of those insights below:
10) Many entities have diversity goals.
“I’ve worked for several different types of public organizations and they have all had SWMBE (Small-, women-, and minority-owned business enterprises) goals of some type. Disadvantaged businesses need to know what those goals are within each organization. They should also seek the small procurements until they are better able to handle the large ones and even after.” –Clarissa Clark, Associate Director for Facility Procurement & SWMBE Liaison for the University of South Carolina
9) Ethics are a big deal for public procurement officials.
“Sometimes it is just the appearance… what would happen if the newspaper got ahold of the story? Just because you aren’t breaking the ethics laws, is it the right thing to do? Perception is greater than reality.” – Norma Hall, Procurement Director for the Commodities & Services, South Carolina Department of Transportation
8) It is the procurement official’s responsibility to help you… within predefined parameters.
“Vendors need to understand the importance of just being on time for meetings, including pre-bid meetings. We’ve had vendors… show up as much as 30-40 minutes late and don’t seem to be concerned. Besides missing important information, it makes a bad first impression.” – Joe Tommie, Purchasing Director for Cobb County Government, Georgia
Stacy made a great point here in her presentation—noting that when a procurement office issues a request for proposals (RFP), they are asking for a SOLUTION and when they issue an invitation to bid (ITB), they are asking for a PRICE.
7) Advocate for yourself and protect yourself.
“If a contract awardee is asked to make changes/deviations in the performance/scope of the services of the contract, insist on it in writing.” – Greg Spearman, Purchasing Director for the City of Tampa, Florida.
6) Read the solicitation in its entirety. Everything issued subsequent to the solicitation is part of the solicitation and, ultimately, the contract.
“I would advise bidders to carefully read through all instructions and don’t wait until the last minute to ask questions! Most reasons for rejecting bids are things that can be avoided by simply ensuring that all requirement have been followed.” – Brenda Patel, Purchasing Director for Jefferson Parish, Gretna, Louisiana
Knowing how to do business with the state – one of the primary goals for the Exchange conference – is key to a good relationship with state procurement officials.
5) Help public procurement officials establish positive and professional relationships with suppliers.
“I would say one of the top things to do is to make sure you modernize your company’s contact information with an email address or, if big enough, a website so that you are reachable. I have so much trouble reaching small and [minority-owned business enterprises] that do not have email, fax, etc. That’s the way I stay in contact with vendors for opportunities and once a project begins. Without this information, the contacts are out of the loop. – Jim Smith, Purchasing Agent for Peoria County, Illinois
One way to move toward a positive relationship with state purchasing officials is to attend a NASPO conference or make an appointment with them in their offices back at home.
4) Be realistic.
“Read the solicitation document thoroughly before responding. Don’t overpromise. Don’t take on more than you can do. Don’t lowball your cost. Do ask questions to make sure you understand. Do attend pre-bid meetings.” – Terry McKee, IT Procurement Director for Knoxville Community Development Corporation , Tennessee
3) Know the resources in place to help you.
“They should know their rights under [their state’s public records laws] to get previous pricing information from the old contract(or).” – Steve Pullie, Procurement Director for the South Carolina Department of Mental Health
2) Protest if you must… but be smart about it.
“Don’t file a frivolous protest which takes up a lot of time. The protest needs to be legitimate and based on facts.” – Greg Spearman, Purchasing Director for the City of Tampa, Florida
1) Suppliers have got to put in the work.
“Know the players. What do we buy? How do we buy? Where do you start? Where do you go from here? Pay attention. Make contacts. Do research. Research more. Read everything. Know dates.” – Don Buffum, Director of Procurement & Contracts for Mississippi State University.
Stacy’s presentation was well-received by suppliers in the room and gave many practical tips for how to do better business with state governments. We hope this has been helpful to you whether you are a supplier looking to learn how to improve your relationships with public procurement officials or a NASPO member looking for how to better communicate and work with your suppliers.