As I’ve explained before, these two groups often work together. As a vendor, you generally focus on the end-users if you sell technical or complex products — i.e., products where the user has a real vested interest in performance.
If you sell lab filtering flasks, for example, and the Director of Lab Services for your state’s Department of Agriculture and Food prefers filtering flasks made by Indigo Instruments, well, then that’s something you need to know if you’re going to have any success in selling to that agency. You’ll have to sell Indigo’s product or convince the lab head yours is better.
But it’s important to know official buyers, too, for reasons that include the following:
- They have a broad understanding of what the agency buys.
- They make the buying decisions for commodities, non-technical products, and routine services.
- They can tell you who the end-users are for complex product and services.
- Though they may not USE them, they can certainly influence the decision on which technical or complex products to buy.
- They are the source for awards data, including who has provided what product/service in the past, the pricing and other contract details.
- They have knowledge of the agency’s planned future procurements.
Generally, buyers are accustomed to sharing information with vendors. Sometimes they’ll provide it for the asking; other times you’ll have to make formal information requests (Freedom of Information Act requests at the federal level).
Finding buyers is considerably easier than finding end-users for the following reasons.
- They are concentrated in the purchasing organization, as opposed to end-users who can be located anywhere in an agency.
- Often a buyer directory is published at an agency’s web site. If you’re lucky, a buyer directory will show the types of products or services that each buyer is responsible for purchasing.
- The employee breakdown of the purchasing organization is usually shown in published, paper directories available from the public information office.
- At a minimum, the public information office will provide you with contact information for the head of the purchasing organization.
These days, the internet is the place to start to find buyers. The research can be laborious if you’re interested in many agencies, but manageable if you’re focusing on only a few.
To find the main agency site, try using the following search engines and the keywords representing the agency’s name.
Once at the main agency page, generally it is easy to find the purchasing organization page and then the buyer directory within the purchasing page. Call the purchasing director and ask for a buyer directory if it’s not posted at the site.
Using the State of California as an example, you’d find the buyer directory as follows:
At the home page, click through the following link hierarchy:
- Business Doing Business with the State Selling to the State Procurement Division Directory
The Procurement Division Directory in California tells you buyer names and telephone numbers by product/service category, but does not show email addresses. Some government agencies show email addresses in their directories and others don’t.
The California home page provides links to directories of California counties and cities with web sites. Directories like these are valuable tools for finding local government buyers.
The California example is a fairly typical outline of the path you’d follow for large and medium sized states. The purchasing organization’s directory is reasonably easy to find by following an intuitive path starting on the state home page and clicking on a link called “Business”, “Doing Business with”, “Business Opportunities” or “Vendor Information.”
In smaller states, counties, and cities, you may find only contact information for the head of the purchasing organization, rather than a directory of individual buyers.
The following Fedmarket.com products are available to reduce the Internet research effort required to find buyers:
- CD-Roms of Government Internet Sites, http://www.fedmarket.com/vtools/cd_urls.html. This product will show you all of the government agency and purchasing sites nationally or by state. It is particularly helpful in that it shows federal, state, and local agency Internet addresses within a state. All of the links can be found on the Internet with extensive research, but the product saves you time.
- CD-Rom of Official Buyers,http://www.fedmarket.com/vtools/official_buyer_cd.html#official. This product offers you access to contact information on over 18,000 official government buyers.
- Bidengine.com, http://www.bidengine.com, provides a convenient way to find buyer contact data at the federal, state and local levels. Bidengine searches about 1,000 Internet pages containing buyer contact data. For example, using the keywords “office supplies”, Bidengine can tell you the agencies and buyers that have purchased these products.
An example of a buyer directory found from Bidengine.com using the keywords “office supplies” is at this URL: http://www.co.catawba.nc.us/depts/purchase/staff.htm. That particular site (Catawba County, North Carolina) lists the names of the buyers, their telephone and fax numbers, their email addresses and what types of products and services they buy.