This is a guest post by Eileen Kent, Federal Sales Sherpa
Many companies believe that since the government prefers small business that they already have an advantage over the name-brand large businesses, and that’s not the case. In fact, it’s the opposite. The government wants to work with a safe bet. They want to work with a company or product that is proven, at a price they can justify.
Sure they have small business goals to meet, but they’ll never take a chance on a mission – no matter how small – by giving it to a company they don’t know. They’re betting their retirement on the right vendor, so you need to get in there early – and often – and show them why you are the safe bet. From what I have seen, it takes a TEAM of people to develop that trusting brand relationship.
Who should be on your federal sales team?
An experienced guide
You can hire a consultant to train your team and build an action plan, or hire a full-time federal sales expert to take on the government on your behalf.
It’s just like the name of Bill’s blog, The Fish Don’t Jump in the Boat. You need to get out there and fish, but would you buy a boat, buy the equipment and then drop lines wherever? Or would you hire someone who has the experience of leading many fishing expeditions and already KNOWS where the fish are biting, and also has the ability to train your team on the equipment available to catch the right fish for your company?
A consultant can help train you and your team, perform a competitive analysis to uncover where the fish are biting, and then build an action plan around the agency who is most interested in your type of product or service.
[Note from Bill: Most businesses use consultants at one time or another. It’s helpful to remember that ultimately you’re in charge of your business. To get the most out of your consultants, be very clear about your expectations, deliverables, and success metrics.]
An enthusiastic team willing to get out there, drop some lines, and wait
If you don’t have time to perform cold calls, hire persistent and patient sales executives willing to work the phones, the halls, and your federal sales action plan. Unless someone representing you exclusively gets in the field and on the phone, no federal employee is going to give you a shot.
Many small businesses believe that since they have a GSA schedule or a small business set-aside that people will be happy to work 100% commission and sell on their behalf. That’s a pipe dream. There are no 100% commission sales people willing to work exclusively for you to gain government business.
Federal clients take a long time to build relationships – at least six to twelve months – and no savvy federal sales executive will accept a 100% commission job. Prepare your budget to provide a base salary or hourly rate, and then offer a commission to keep them motivated. Think of your sales people as those fishing on your behalf. There’s a waiting game and they have to weather the buying seasons. You need to keep them alive and alert so they can keep selling for you.
This person doesn’t have to be a federal sales expert, as long as they’re willing to hit the phones tirelessly and will report their results. In the beginning, intelligence is money. Require your sales team to report on what they learn. That way you are never left empty-handed in terms of lessons learned every step of the way.
Sales people come and go, but the federal agencies follow buying habits and if your sales people are learning where the fish are biting, they need to be reporting that to you. You want to know what works – and what doesn’t. Empower yourself with an excellent sales action plan and reporting tool and stay on top of the sales team’s lessons learned.
You’re steering the boat, so you need to direct your team where to drop the lines – and then wait.
You won’t win if you go it alone
There’s help out there. You can get free help from public resources like Procurement Technical Assistance Centers (http://www.aptac.org). There is also the SBA. They’ll help with the small business set asides and your registrations (think of it as your fishing license). Remember, a license or registration is just a piece of paper that many other people have – it doesn’t guarantee you’ll catch anything.
If you want to survive and win in the federal marketplace you need guidance from those who have fished before, intelligence about where your fish are biting, and a sales team in place to close the deals.
Eileen Kent is known as the Federal Sales Sherpa. You can contact her at 312-636-5381.