“Off-White” Paper #14 – In the Government Market, It’s the Nuances

Many b-to-b companies have stayed out of the government market thinking it is simply too difficult, arcane, and inbred. In part, this is true. But not to the point where it is insurmountable. A little education goes a long way. Use gratuities for an example. Take for instance the ability of a b-to-b company to give a business client a book. Nothing extraordinary, but say a $25 business book which, after the customer or prospect reads it, what you are selling becomes abundantly clear. Iâve used this technique for years when dealing with business clients. But I would never use it with a government client. Government ethics rules are clearly defined by the U.S. Office of Government Ethics (www.usoge.gov). Generally speaking, gratuities for government employees can never be cash, or cash equivalents. A “gift” to a government employee can never exceed $20 in value, including tax. And gratuities to a single employee may not exceed $50 in a calendar year. Paying for a meal for a government employee is generally not acceptable, unless the meal is part of an event where the employee is a participant. These represent the “high bar”. Any government agency can lower the bar, and several do. Over the years we have witnessed many glaring errors on the part of alleged government marketing veterans, including * A major government publication, which, until recently, sent a survey to its readers each year with a dollar attached. Yes, it’s only a buck, but I said NO Cash, ever!! * A major hardware player which sent the “Reengineering” book (so popular a few years back) to several hundred key senior execs. The cover price was well over threshold. * A major government web mall, whose radio spots offered “government procurement professionals a free Metro card” for signing up at their site. No cash equivalent, remember. There are more, but this is already going to piss off a few people, and thatâs my quota for the day. The point is, intelligent gift giving is good. A recently launched federal web site sent out a postage paid survey, asking key buyers for input prior to launching their site. They included a nice travel mug – well below threshold for almost any agency. They also got a good return on the survey. Simple stuff, slightly arcane, but simple. If you have doubts about an offer, call someone who would know. Or contact the Office of Government Ethics. Copyright 2000, Amtower & Company