Panel to foreign firms: Open D.C. offices for federal success

Foreign-owned companies that want to cultivate the U.S. federal market should open an office in Washington, D.C., or the surrounding suburbs, according to a panel of industry leaders.

Speaking at an educational session at the FOSE trade show under way in downtown Washington, D.C., they also urged firms to wisely use contracting vehicles, market themselves tirelessly and forget many of the myths they've heard about the federal market.

"In the end it comes down to two words: execution and focus," said Frank Pugliese, managing director of government business development at DuPont. "And that's just the same as any other customer."

Pugliese, a former commissioner of the General Services Administration's Federal Supply Service, moderated the panel.

The government deserves specialized attention, said Todd Oakes, vice president of government solutions at performancesoft, a Canadian firm. When his company tackled the market, its officials not only opened a Washington, D.C., sales office, but also created a Web site with content tailored to the market and brochures and free seminars with specialized information.

"Government organizations are keenly interested in doing business with people who understand them," he said. "The quicker you can demonstrate that, the sooner you can get in the door."

Oakes said he is often surprised by businesses that create only a landing page for government officials on the company Web site that then leads to the same site all customers view.

Karl Pringle, general manager of Strategic Thought, based in England, also emphasized the importance of having an office in the Washington, D.C., area. It allows the company to mix with potential partners and customers more easily. It also allows the foreign company to learn about details such as standard paper size for offices -- they are not always the same -- language differences and similar details.

"You unearth these little subtle points that could make it look like you don't understand the market you're supposed to be an expert in," he said.

Rodney Thomas, president and chief executive officer of Thomas and Herbert Consulting and the sole Washington, D.C., native on the panel, stressed the importance of perseverance and focus in cultivating government customers.

"You really have to focus to be successful," he said, rating both factors as No. 1 on any company's priority list.

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