- 2-Part article looking at SMEs failing to sell on G-Cloud
- Focus is on SMEs offering Cloud Software (not resellers)
- Almost all of the findings equally applicable to other Lots
- Many SMEs highly successful on G-Cloud majority are not
- Review 94 failing SMEs looking for errors in listings
- G-Cloud has 2 important differences to a B2B market
- Strict, regulated buying rules
- All services, prices, etc, transparent on strict template
- The quality of an SME’s listing can be its best marketing asset
- The majority of listings found to have catastrophic errors
- Analysis of where the errors lie:
- Some services should not be on G-Cloud
- Majority of SMEs not using search fields competently
- Appendix 1 – Methodology
- In Part 2 (to follow) we look for problems in:
- Service Definition
- Standards (e.g. ISO27001, Cyber Essentials)
- Terms & Conditions
- Overall quality and standard of presentation
The fourteenth iteration of G-Cloud is set to open for applications later this month, February 2024.
It is a remarkable achievement, since it started in 2012 almost £16 billion of spending has been channelled through it to Cloud computing services supporting digital transformation across the public sector. 3,300 suppliers have benefited from spending on the framework, Amazon the largest beneficiary has earned £700 million through it and, significantly, 2,650 SMEs have been among those enjoying some sales success.
However, more SMEs fail to make any sales than those who do. 943 SMEs on G-Cloud 13 have made some sales on that framework to September 2023 (all data in this article is taken to that date, being the most stable spend statistics at the time of writing). Yet there are approximately 4,500 SMEs on the framework, that’s about 80% yet to score. Of course, some of those SMEs will be enjoying sales success continuing from earlier frameworks still valid for conducting business, but by contrast, 71% of Large enterprises on G-Cloud 13 have recorded revenues on the framework to the same date.
In this 2-part article I am going to concentrate on SMEs that are failing to generate business and I’m going to try to identify an important part of the answer to the question “what’s stopping you?”.
Two Important differences impacting success
Failure to make a sale to a prospect has all the standard marketplace dimensions, but G-Cloud has two, very special, additional dimensions:
- Buyer integrity: buyers are compelled by rules supported by oversight, inspection and, at times, process of law, to be open, fair, rational and objective.
- Level playing-field: All suppliers have to exhibit their services on the Digital Marketplace according to a quite strict template. It is from this catalogue that buyers, according to a defined process, identify services that fulfil their principals’ needs and make their selections.
I have had many conversations with suppliers who question the rigidity of these two factors. They like to dwell on the suggestion that they are both more ‘flexible’ in practice than I make out. Let’s dismiss this as a red-herring. It is unsound to base your strategic approach to listing services in some way to recognise that the rules may not always be rigorously followed.
For an SME supplier, with limited sales and marketing resources, the details of your listing on the Digital Marketplace may be your most valuable strategic marketing asset. It is a shop window, and it can generate enquiries and sales. It deserves very close attention.
This article concentrates on UK SMEs that have not made a sale.
So, let’s start with my golden rule of G-Cloud success:
If you are an SME with a Cloud service that is successful in the B-to-B private sector (so service benefits, price-point and delivery are proven) and you are not finding success on G-Cloud, it is not the system, Crown Commercial Service (“CCS”), the buyer or the consumer that is at fault. It’s you. Look carefully at what you are doing on G-Cloud 13 find your mistakes and do not repeat them when you apply your services to G-Cloud 14.
Understand how buyers buy through G-Cloud
It is fundamental to your approach to getting listed on the framework to understand how buyers buy. The following link explains in detail how the process works for the present iteration of the framework, I do not expect this to change very much for G-Cloud 14:
What can go wrong?
The way a supplier lists services on G-Cloud has a strong impact on success. The buyer has to follow a ‘fair and transparent’ assessment and record choices and decisions in an audit trail that may be scrutinised.
The way a supplier lists their services can prevent a buyer from being able to select the service. These are ‘fatal errors’ – a supplier which has one or more fatal errors in their listing will never hear that this is the case. CCS does not perform a quality control function (although they are getting more pro-active in relation to some pricing practices).
Then there is a spectrum of errors in placing your service on G-Cloud that run from near-fatal to reducing potential for success.
What errors are being made on G-Cloud 13?
As explained in Appendix 1, I selected a sample of 5% of the 1,880 suppliers that I had identified as being on G-Cloud 13 Lot 2 (software), with no identified sales from G-Cloud 10 to 13. Some of those will have only made their first listing on G-Cloud 13 which commenced on 9 November 2022 and so may unfairly be classified as likely to have an impediment preventing their success. I also ignored resellers as the owner of the branded item being resold may have built a strong presence which would give a misleading picture.
I also had a ‘control group’ a sample of 10 suppliers with the same characteristics but with significant sales on G-Cloud 13 (£600,000 – £2,500,000).
Reading each of the listings I assessed the following characteristics:
- How many have one or more catastrophic, fatal errors?
- Is the service admissible Cloud Software?
- How have they approached ‘being found’ – the search text.
- Does the listing show awareness of filters for key attributes?
- Is pricing expressed adequately and in conformity with the rules?
- Is the Service Definition fit for purpose?
- Has Accessibility been adequately addressed?
- Are standards (e.g. ISO27001, Cyber Essentials) referenced?
- Are terms & conditions compatible with G-Cloud?
- Is Social Value well addressed?
- Overall quality and standard of presentation
In this, Part 1, I will describe my conclusions on the first three issues:
What proportion of each cohort has a ‘fatal error’?
This is a subjective assessment and, in some cases, they could be argued to be ‘borderline’. The main question is would a buyer be sufficiently concerned that a supplier is either in breach of a material part of the framework agreement that it would be impossible to enter into a call-off contract, or is there insufficient information provided to make a valid assessment.
There may be fatal errors in many different parts of the listing. A common one will be covered in the section on Pricing (in Part 2) where the supplier simply does not give any pricing information.
These are the percentages of each cohort where I consider there to be a catastrophically fatal error preventing success:
Clearly, we have a problem. A result like this shows that there is strong evidence to suggest that suppliers not getting any traction on G-Cloud 13 need to take a cold, hard look at themselves. Or get Advice Cloud to do it with them. Their G-Cloud Buyability™ Assessments are designed to do this. The good news is that once you know what the problems are, a lot of the fatal errors can be fixed, sometimes with just a morning’s work.
To get greater granularity we will begin to look at the individual problems in detail.
Is the service Cloud Software?
One problem that can’t be fixed is where the supplier is trying to market something which is not Cloud Software on Lot 2.
|% Not Software
As explained in Appendix 1 (Methodology) I am not going to provide sufficient information to identify the relevant suppliers, but common problems are promoting bespoke development services or other unrelated professional services as Software and selling hardware online.
The importance of the search fields
Today there are 39,945 services presented on G-Cloud 13, of these 12,918 are Cloud Software. It is quite impossible for a buyer to find possible solutions to the user’s requirements without using the Search facility. If a supplier is to have its services identified for evaluation – it must be found in this process.
There is an exception to this. If an effective ‘sales’ call has been made say to a department in Whitehall that has notified of an ‘early engagement’ event to shape a procurement exercise, it is possible that the user department or buyer will look out for a particular service. Strictly this is not permitted under the Buyers’ Guide, but I don’t doubt that it happens. But an SME probably doesn’t have an army of salesmen – it is common sense for an SME to get the greatest value from the marketing asset it has – its G-Cloud listing(s).
If your service is not identified when a buyer makes a keyword search based on the user requirements, then your service does not exist. The guidance on writing a good service description used to warn that “… using additional keywords may impact your acceptance onto the Digital Marketplace”, this is somewhat counterintuitive, and I believe it has been dropped. A supplier must anticipate what words a buyer will put into the search box and make sure those are in the searchable fields.
What are the searchable fields?
- Company name
- Service name
- Service ID
- Service description or summary (max 50 words)
- Features (max 10 x 10 words)
- Benefits (max 10 x 10 words)
Buyers are also encouraged to use filters to reduce the number of ‘hits’ – this is important, but I will discuss this separately in Part 2.
A buyer is obliged to evaluate all services from the filtered search for services that emerge from the requirements led exercise on G-Cloud. It is not like a search for a screwdriver on Amazon, which produces over 2,000 hits and most of us would buy something on the first page. So, it requires a different approach to Search Engine Optimisation – but it definitely does require some SEO technique.
But the Summary, Features & Benefits section of your listing are not just there to maximise your chances of snaring a buyer. Firstly, you only want to attract a buyer which is a real prospect for your service – so be precise and avoid the vague, and secondly those 250 words are important in your communication and making an impression on the buyer after you have hooked the search engine – so write in clear English, describe what sets your service ahead of the competition, use all your 250 words and please use a spell checker! (The number of typos I have come across in reviewing the sample are most surprising).
Table showing % of usage of potential 250 words in the main 3 searchable fields: Service Summary, Features & Benefits
The Control Group of Successful Software suppliers show a greater awareness of the purpose of the searchable fields in attracting a buyer in both the higher usage of the potential 250 wordcount, but also the quality of the text. In reviewing all 94 of the sample and the 10 Control Group, I made a subjective assessment of how the text had been written: (a) looking for keywords likely to be adopted by a buyer having drawn up requirements for a system like the one being offered, and (b) how well the text communicated what the system did and its functional attributes.
Table showing the quality of usage of the searchable fields where a score of 100% = very good a score of 0% = useless
There are suppliers in the main sample which are very search aware, 6 of the 94 received a full score of 100, in the Control Group 4 of 10 received a full score.
Some of the tips to bear in mind when improving the searchable text for G-Cloud 14:
- Think of the terms that would emerge from a specification of requirements to the buyer.
- You must state the obvious, if your product is ERP, state ERP.
- Articulation of benefits can be hard; you can put in more features – the search engine doesn’t discriminate.
- Don’t repeat the same word or phrase, look for synonyms the buyer may use.
It is good to use words and expressions that your target customers use, however this can create a complication. If the police and hospitals are both target audiences, you may need to list 2 services as the language used to describe common features can be very different.
The buyer may not be a domain expert, use industry acronyms and buzz-words, but help an unfamiliar buyer understand what you are saying by using more of your permitted 250 word-count. (incidentally, when I last checked, hyphenated-words count as one word).
Appendix 1 – Methodology
To find out what may be holding back our SMEs from success on G-Cloud, I needed a representative sample to investigate their listings for errors and weaknesses. I concentrated on SMEs with a service listed under Lot 2 (Cloud Software) excluding resellers, which have a UK Company Registration Number and have no identifiable sales on frameworks G-Cloud 10 to G-Cloud 13 (to 30 September 2023). The focus on software is both because this is my own background but there are also interesting opportunities for errors (e.g. in pricing or accessibility).
The following table summarises the population I found matching these characteristics:
|% of Class*
*% of Class refers to the number of suppliers of that size
group that had no sales in the reference period
The difficulty of matching supplier names between the spend data and the face of the G-Cloud catalogue results in this population being smaller than the true number – probably by around 20%.
From the total of 1880 (failing, UK registered, SMEs on G-Cloud 13 Lot 2, not resellers), I took a random sample of 5% or 94 suppliers split: micro 36%, small 36% and medium 28%. I selected the service that had the largest word-count in their product summary, features and benefits.
As a ‘control group’ I then took a random selection of 10 suppliers with between £600,000 – £2,500,000 sales on G-Cloud 13 (only).
This analysis is anonymous, I will not name any supplier, nor provide information which would enable a supplier or service to be identified.