By Steve Charles
Co-founder, immixGroup, an Arrow company
The federal market for information technology is around $80 billion; enough to attract many technology companies, but few make as much progress as quickly as they imagine.
The sooner a new company to the space realizes that it’s not the government’s job to teach them how to be successful, they better off they’ll be. On their own, these companies tend to fall back on their private sector methods of selling and forecasting while failing to grasp that buy-side process calls the shots. This is why we totally focus on buy-side process.
Successful organizations embrace the government’s multi-step buy-side process as the steps they need to address as sellers. They learn to ask informed questions and provide timely information in lock step with their customer’s acquisition planning processes long before a particular procurement is advertised in FBO, E-Buy or the SEWP Bowl. These sell-side organizations have learned how to focus their marketing and sales efforts to first get a toehold in the federal market and then grow it over the years based on process, creating a sustainable (and most importantly, repeatable) line of business out of it.
To be able to anticipate and address buy-side activities while filling a sales funnel, a successful sell-side organization’s plan will include these six facets.
1. Stop thinking of the government as a vertical
The government is not a monolith. Each department and agency has its own particular mission and each program is funded to perform a piece of that mission. Transfer your commercial industry success to the analogous public sector environments, such as agriculture and food, energy, health, housing, education, transportation, banking, finance, and law enforcement. This will focus your sell-side efforts in a way that will bring credibility to you and value to the buy-side, resulting in a faster path to revenue.
2. Leverage partners to follow public sector money horizontally and vertically
If you’re just starting out, you’ll need to get to know the prime contractors already serving your targets. While the government wants to hear about your new technology, it also wants to know that you can easily work with whichever partner they point you toward. Leverage your distributor to make these linkages work easily. Each partner can provide unique knowledge for specific accounts as you look across government and identify common activities in multiple departments or agencies. Then look public sector wide for linkages between federal, state, local, and education initiatives. Add arms and legs to your public sector coverage map by asking partners for help in understanding where your expertise and technology can add value to their customers and prospects so that everyone in the channel is playing to their strengths.
3. Get smarter about building your opportunity pipeline
In federal sales, like the private sector, timing is everything. The federal procurement process includes times when prospects actively seek information about what is available in the market to meet a particular need. Be ready for that window of opportunity by building an opportunity pipeline based on the public sector acquisition process steps, identifying program-level stakeholders by name from influencers to decision-makers to contracting people. Create traditional and social media campaigns to direct your message to these prospective buyers. Then pay attention and follow-up on their Requests for Information, Sources Sought Notices and Public Meetings. (immixGroup offers a day-long class on Selling IT to the Federal Government that lays out this process.)
4. Develop channel sales programs that add value to the government’s supply chain
With the first three activities maturing, companies will scale by evolving successful partner relationships into channel programs that keeps everyone playing to their strengths while treating all parties fairly. Design these channel programs so that partner activities and direct sales can work together because large government customers are large enterprises and the sell-side players need to be aligned. A channel program that creates synergy between sales and channel partner activities builds trust at the enterprise level, rather than confusion and value-subtracting competition.
Create a complete list of go-to-market activities. Matrix them across your direct sales force, your marketing team, and your partners (distributors, systems integrators, and resellers) so everyone knows who is responsible and accountable for which activities to prevent overlaps, conflict, or gaps.
5. Create a sales forecasting process based completion of buy-side activities
Among tech companies, federal sales often operates outside the company’s normal processes because of the unique buy-side steps. Yet these same companies forecast public sector revenue like they do in the private sector. This ignores the public sector buy-side processes and results in strange sales closing gambits at the quarter-end that leave public sector buyers shaking their heads in disbelief. This is why we base sales forecasting on the details of the government’s procurement processes. Public sector teams’ forecasting then becomes much more accurate. Corporate management can immediately see what is working, and why. Most valuable, this method of forecasting provides early indicators on what is working and where to invest more as well as where to stop investing.
6. Organize to scale on all fronts
Scaling in the federal marketplace happens when you are relevant to all levels. Starting high, Capitol Hill (where mission and funding comes from) and agency executives (who are responsible to Congress) we make sure they know who we are and what we are trying to accomplish. Then we focus on program managers (responsible for on-budget mission accomplishment) who have needs we can address. They in turn, refer our salespeople to the right people in their organization. These levels can be addressed by leveraging your upstream and downstream partners in conjunction with your own people, if your ecosystem is properly aligned and orchestrated.
As distributor, it is in our interest and within our capability to help both our upstream suppliers and our downstream partners with this alignment. We can’t guarantee instant success, but we do have a methodology, the ability to perform and a successful track record. Follow the roadmap, and you’re sure to make steady headway in the years to come.
For a copy of immixGroup’s White Paper on “Ten Tips for Successfully Selling to Government,” click here.