How to Sell to the UK Public Sector

by Kayla Toh

GovTech experts at techUK gave us an inside look at cracking the code to one of the toughest markets in the UK.

Ever feel like you can’t get your foot in the door long enough to sell to the big guns within the UK public sector?

While the thought of pitching to someone within the public realm might seem daunting to SMEs and startup companies, the government has recently committed to spending £1 in £3 with SMEs by 2022 and involving more SMEs in projects.

This is monumental, as 51 percent of IT public sector spending is divided amongst only five suppliers, according to the National Audit Office.

Since 2010, the Cabinet Office has promised to allocate 25% of government spending on IT, however by 2016, government spending with SMEs was still around 10%.

Owen Spottiswoode, the head of public services at techUK said that while the budget will most likely remain stagnant, government spending on technology is predicted to increase, leaving the door wide open for more opportunities to involve SMEs in public sector projects.

Why Sell to the Public Sector?

This is an exciting time as an SME to begin tackling the public sector market; not only are there more opportunities for SMEs due to the planned increase in government spending, but there is an increased demand for IT as more than half of all Civil Servants believe that a lack of skills is a barrier to technology adoption in the public sector.

IT has become more critical within business operations, as the annual survey for Civil Servants found that 69% of Civil Servants find technology imperative to their workplace operations.

The survey also found that Civil Servants are most excited by Mobile Services, Data Analytics and Cloud.

Skills Gaps Chart-02
Where are the skills gaps in UK Gov? Source: TechUK

Rob Driver, Head of Public Sector at techUK, said he has seen drastic improvement in the way that The Government is procuring within the last two years, and recommends for SMEs to look at The Central Government Strategy 2017 – 2022 to figure out what Public Sector are looking for from SMEs.

According to the 2017-2020 Transformation Strategy, the Government aims to move away from large monolithic contracts towards smaller off-the-shelf solutions, make better use of data by linking datasets and publishing more APIs, deliver joined up end-to-end solutions built upon reusable components, and improve the digital skills and capabilities of the civil service.

However, where there is a growing increase in the need for tech adoption in business operations, there is also a growing problem: the skills gaps between Civil Servants and technology adoption.

According to Spottiswoode, these skills gaps are considered the largest barrier to digitisation in Government.

Civil Servant Technology Chart-01
Which Technologies are UK Civil Servants excited about? Source: Tech UK

Opening the door just a bit wider to SMEs creates opportunities to improve the digital skills and capabilities of the civil service, as it’s facing a growing deficit in both.

As shown in past numbers on government IT spending, the future holds opportunistic promise to those wanting to sell to the UK Public Sector who may have found it an overly inclusive market previously. The only question now is, how?

Know the Challenges of Selling to the Public Sector

Just as in any other market, you must know the challenges of the realm you’re stepping into. Juliana Slye, CEO of US based company, Government Business Results

said “there is no other industry that is more challenging, more compelling, and more risk/reward laden than working within the public sector.”

Aside from the importance of consciously working to network and include yourself in a somewhat exclusive market, you are selling to people who are constantly being approached with sales calls all day, and the sales cycles are long and unpredictable.

When attempting to make a mark on the public sector with your product, it’s imperative to remember that you are not just selling to one large entity; you are still selling to individuals.

Mary McKenna, tech entrepreneur and co-founder of e-learning company Learning Pool said, “every opportunity is attached to a person”.

So rather than prepare yourself and your product for “the public sector”, first know who and not what you are pitching to.

Who are you selling to? Specify to Satisfy

Seth Finnegan, UK Chief Executive Officer of Informed Solutions advises sellers to avoid “just selling” and to listen carefully, as each department has very strong culture and passionate way of doing things that’s different to other departments.

When selling to a specific department, it’s important to consider key factors within that department-does it meet the cost efficiency? Does your proposal match buyer needs? Are you familiar with the procurement framework?

Specifying the needs and framework of your prospective buyer before launching into the sales pitch gives you a far better chance of satisfying the wants and needs of the specific department you’re after.

Selling Into the NHS

Kate Francis, Programme Manager for Health and Social Care at techUK weighs the pros and cons of selling into the National Health Service. She said as it’s not one monolithic organisation, it’s a challenging one to find a way into. There are various departments within the NHS, which means there are just as many variations in administration, so it’s just as hard to make your second sale as it is your first.

While this means that you have to constantly prove yourself to secure sales, selling into the NHS also means that your technology is backed by strong clinical leadership, which speaks for the credibility of the technology.

Sell your technology with the idea of being citizen-centered in mind. If your technology can offer a solution that betters the lives of others, then you’re already onto something in healthcare. It’s a rewarding market to go into because you are helping to save lives in the process. 

Selling into the Ministry of Justice

Henry Rex, Programme Manager for Justice and Emergency Services at techUK says HM Courts & Tribunal Services have the biggest opportunities for SMEs, as they’re now trying to put more of their information online and revolutionise the outdated courts.

HM Courts and Tribunal have 15 different procurements in the next 3 months, so it’s a prime time to get involved.

Digital evidence and digital crime has exploded in the recent years, so there is an explosion of data that needs to be internalised by the justice system, such as videos and tweets of evidence, which means that there needs to be a solution to the large amounts of terabytes of data being received via the current disc format process.

There is also an opportunity for tech SMEs to provide solutions for improving education and rehabilitation within the Prison Services.

There are 43 police services, so there are plenty of opportunities if you already have a service that works for just one police force. While whatever you’re selling to the police has to be ESN compatible, you’re more likely to secure a sale if the technology changes the way people work in the system for the better.

Back to Basics: Selling 101

While these are just a few of the dozens of departments you could sell into within the public sector, there are some basic tips that could be applied when selling to Government.

Rex says you’re onto something if you’re talking about scalability, collaboration and how it can tie into the police force’s principles.

Innovation and access introduce new methods, and can drive the police force toward the future; manage the risks and have confidence in what your technology can provide as it can truly change lives.            

1. Know your Buyer

As discussed earlier, Henry Rex, Programme Manager for Justice and Emergency Services says it’s important to understand the landscape; who does what, and where the decision makers are.

Knowing the buyer’s mission will help you frame your bids into their guiding principles and target a market segment resembling current clients. Seth Finnegan, UK Chief Executive Officer of Informed Solutions suggests attending Meet the Buyer events, and to research their spend.

2. Do your Research

Or make Google do it for you.

Rob Driver, Head of Public Sector at techUK recommends looking at The Central Government Strategy 2017 – 2022 to figure out what Public Sector are looking for from SMEs. He also suggests Googling ‘GDS Govtech funds UK’ to check for fund announcements.

The most recent announcement is about a £20 million funding for a project that provides challenges and problems for tech companies to solve, and SMEs can pitch and propose.

Seek out  guidance from the right people within your target customer who will help you understand how to access funding and finance.

Along with research, it’s important to build up digital transformation references. Driver suggests marketing yourself as a transformation partner.

3. Familiarise yourself with DOS and G Cloud Frameworks

Jenny Mulholland, Public Sector Lead of Softwire, whose win rate for bids to the public sector has more than doubled in the last two years since using Digital Outcomes and Specialists (DOS), suggests finding the right framework for your niche.

Seth Finnegan, UK Chief Executive Officer of Informed Solutions says unless you get to know the procurement channel and framework really well, otherwise you don’t stand a chance selling your product despite selling skills or how quality your product is.

He says DOS and G Cloud frameworks helped immensely when securing sales.

4. Be Personable

Finnegan says being easy to work with and exhibiting good interpersonal skills and relationship management skills will attract buyers. Always deliver what is promised to buyers to build your reputation.

Match your proposal to buyer needs by echoing their language, emphasising key differentiators and show that your technology can solve the buyer’s problem.

Finnegan says chasing buyer’s feedback has been a top factor in helping win more bids in the future. The key is to never stop asking what you could improve on; what was good and what could be better, as constructive feedback often needs to be asked for.

Remember that the prospective buyers are receiving sales pitches all day long, so it’s always better to take a soft approach rather than a hard one to be taken seriously.


Remember to be confident in your product! When all is said and done, one of the most rewarding benefits of selling into the public sector is that your technology has the chance to benefit others.

As 69% of Civil Servants find technology imperative to their workplace operations, according to the Civil Servants Survey, your technology can genuinely make significant improvements within the public sector.

Combining these tips with a digital solution that solves real-world problems, you are guaranteed to make a mark within the public sector and continue to change the way that they use and view technology.