A big change to the application process to G-Cloud 12 in 2020 was that filing a documented Service Definition was mandatory once more.
The Service Definition has always been of pivotal importance in winning business on G-Cloud, particularly for an SME attempting to develop public sector business for the first time. In this article we are going to look at what makes it important and offer some suggestions for what to include (and some exclusions).
What is the role of the Service Definition?
The G-Cloud Buyers’ Guide explains to public sector buyers the process they should follow to select a product on the Framework and make a purchase. The guidance is not fully followed in every procurement, but it is useful to recognise that it is adhered to by the majority of buyers, most of the time. At the heart of guidance is the instruction that “you must be able to show that your assessment of services was fair and transparent” … and for this purpose there should be an audit trail. In evidence of this adherence to guidelines, we can see that one of the best-selling software products on the G-Cloud catalogue is a system that “delivers robust, compliant evaluation decision making… in support of procurement”.
The Buyers’ Guide is itself essential reading for any supplier preparing to put services onto G-Cloud’s catalogue because this explains how buyers are going to find services they want to evaluate and how the evaluation process takes place.
There are 40,000+ services available on G-Cloud 13 and there are likely to be more on each new iteration. A buyer starts with an agreed list of requirements. They find a candidate list by using the in-built search feature and are obliged to evaluate all candidates against agreed criteria and the requirements.
Although the Service Definition is not indexed for the initial search, it is used in matching requirements and in evaluation. So, it has a key role in eliminating products that don’t have required attributes. Think of it in marketing terms. 40,000 products contain many apparently similar competing offerings. We all attempt to differentiate our offering based on attributes we consider will be of value to the market. The structured part of the catalogue has limited space for setting out attributes and we clearly must describe ‘core’ features (e.g. our accounting system incorporates stock control, wages, billing…) but the place where we can fully differentiate our offering is in the Service Definition and if we keep quiet about it – we may be silently eliminated when we actually fulfil the users’ requirements.
It is important to recognise that much of the buying process takes place without contact with the supplier’s sales team, we must employ other assets to overcome this lack of engagement and the Service Definition is one of the most important.
Does it make a difference?
A Service Definition was not mandatory between G-Cloud 9 and G-Cloud 12. Analysis performed at that time showed that 80% of suppliers which had achieved at least some sales success had published a Service Definition. The vast majority of suppliers which had not published a Service Definition had no sales at all.
What of the 20% who succeeded in selling despite this impediment? The Service Definition is one of a supplier’s marketing assets and its absence may be compensated for by (say) global brand awareness – so a reseller of a ubiquitous global brand may make sales without a Service Definition. Equally niche brand awareness explains why some of the suppliers achieve sales success without this document in areas such as managing unique processes in local government or policing, where they may have been selling systems for many years. To these we can add the asset of an effective traditional sales team, out bound sales techniques do win business, with or without a Service Definition.
So, particularly for an SME with limited sales resources and without a global brand or a track record of selling to public sector, the Service Definition is essential.
How many suppliers on G-Cloud 11 had no Service Definition?
* Data extracted on 1 February 2020.
In total 48% of suppliers have at least one service on the catalogue without a Service Definition.
However, not all Service Definitions are equal. Reviewing a statistically significant random sample of published Service Definitions, we can conclude that roughly 40% of them contained either no useful information at all or superficial or partial information that would prejudice their chances of being selected.
What should be in a Service Definition?
With 48% of suppliers writing a Service Definition on G-Cloud 12 for the first time, and a further 20% getting a “could do better” report on their present offering, what does a good Service Definition look like?
CCS offer some guidance on this subject in the Suppliers’ Guide:
It is worth noting that in earlier iterations of G-Cloud the advice was more prescriptive, similar items were required to be in the Service Definition. This list was not generated on a whim; buyers had asked CCS to prescribe these items. So, in the knowledge that they are important to the buying process, we can conclude they are essential.
For other content, reflect back to the marketing purpose of the document. We are using it to differentiate our offering on significant attributes that are not fully disclosed elsewhere on the catalogue. We also use the document as a platform to show the buying team that we understand their needs, in the language that they use to express them.
In contrast, many examples can be found in existing Service Definitions of suppliers explaining how their service ‘wins customers’ or ‘enhances profitability’, these are alien concepts to many in the public sector who may articulate their needs in very different ways. (Different language may also be needed for different public sector departments, so consider having separate Service Definitions, for example, for MOJ, MOD or NHS).
Some services are valuable because they serve a number of quite different purposes and these can be quite difficult to project to a prospect with a particular problem to solve by describing features and attributes alone. In this case, consider employing brief use-cases or case-studies to illustrate the benefits in an accessible way.
There may be other relevant matters to consider for inclusion, if a supplier is aware of an impediment in their offering, the Service Definition may be a useful area to anticipate and handle potential objections. For example, I have seen SMEs usefully describe strategies to remove concern over their size as a risk factor, there is nowhere else on the catalogue where this could be placed.
Mistakes to avoid
Here are a few common mistakes encountered in my research which are best to avoid. If you find your Service Definition falling into one of these ‘traps’ consider starting again from the position of what the document is being designed to achieve as a marketing asset: to provide answers to the buyer’s questions (and let’s remember a buying team can often be a panel made up of individuals from different disciplines – finance, operations, IT, etc., who may have very different questions):
In past iterations of G-Cloud CCS have expressed the view that the Service Definition should not be a ‘marketing document’. That is advice I suggest we abandon.There may be very little opportunity to engage with a prospective customer before the procurement decision is made. Your Service Definition says a lot about your company and how easy you are to do business with. It is worth investing some time and effort in this document, make navigation to the salient parts easy and leave the right impression.