Compared to many other kinds of sales, landing federal sales contracts is a complex process. Rather than selling just one thing to someone, you have to sell your service or product as well as influence and advantage many different people and organizations across many different domains. An intelligent and well-prepared company can launch a good marketing and influence campaign for themselves, and they can find the right people to form relationships with. However, if they lack an understanding of timing, they can still fail.

Fortunately, understanding federal budget timelines is not as difficult as it may seem if you have the right information.

First and foremost, it’s important to know that if there aren’t funds authorized and appropriated for your project, it is dead in the water.

No matter how many relationships you form with other industry leaders and politicians, none of it matters unless Congress identifies a need and puts money aside for it. As the above graphic shows, the President’s Budget is predictably submitted to Congress on the first Monday in February each year, and the new fiscal year begins in October of each year. Around and between those two dates, that are many windows of opportunity to capitalize on.

In particular, it’s important to know that the President’s Budget is not law—it is an outline of needs and a request for funding from Congress. Once it’s in the hands of Congress, the members and committees confer with each other about what needs funding and where money should be allocated. This means that once Congress has the President’s Budget, the race is on for your company to form relationships with senators, businesses, committee members and other key individuals to lobby for your interests and try to shape outcomes.

During that time, it’s important to advocate for your business in as many different ways as you can.

As these diagrams also show, there’s more than one fiscal year to pay attention to at any given time—there’s actually always three.

In the short term, there may be levers you can pull in the agency ring that can help advance your objectives—but on a longer timeline, there may be more macro-level things you can accomplish by influencing Congress or other industry leaders. In general, there’s a handful of things that you should focus on for your business:

-Try to identify and cultivate champions for your business in each of the three “rings” of federal sales: Agency, Industry and Congress.

-Help your agency customer define what their needs are in detail (and determine how to communicate how your company can serve those needs).

-Publish articles in trade journals and participate in panels to establish your authority and expertise in a given area.

-Educate various decision-makers about issues relevant to the need your company will be filling, and why you’re the best company to fill them.

Though the timelines on each of these objectives vary by the need and by the political climate in general, the important thing is to keep your eyes on the big picture and to be prepared well in advance. Although the process of developing these federal budgets is slow, it’s still easy to lose track of things that need to happen or to get behind.

Still, companies who know how to time their asks and maintain their influence long-term are the ones who shape outcomes and land federal contracts.

Need help engaging with the federal government for policy or access to funding for your product? If you need help with this schedule a call with Gene.

To get a copy of Gene Moran’s book Pitching the Big Top: How to Master the 3-Ring Circus of Federal Sales or for more information on federal sales, visit Capitol Integration.