Is it time to ENTER the Government Market?

Commercial Firms looking to Enter the Government Market?

Are you kidding me?  Nope, surprisingly some have mentioned this as an option; even though there’s limited money, long sales cycles and a completely different process some commercially focused companies are looking to enter the government market.  After I pick myself up off the floor from laughing so hard I find that some are just chasing the idea of the big contract while others see this slowdown in spending as an opportunity to be part of the next phase or the next boom with the recognition that its years away and won’t be like the boom of the last 10 years.  If you never enter you can’t win business so at some point if there’s a desire to close government deals you need to bite the bullet regardless of the current situation.  It might be better to enter the market when you don’t expect much – any win is a huge win.  This is the company that truly understands that entering this market is an investment.  You should expect a bare minimum of 2 years activity in this market before you close a deal – for some it’s shorter and others its longer but if you think you’ll close business in 6 months you’re either smoking something or you have THE MOST amazing  widget ever.

Here’s the deal, is it a great time to enter the government market if you have no experience?  Why not, look at the environment – even long term government players are struggling to close deals.  With re-competes, less business to be had, bid protests, reduced budgets, etc those that are there now have to do more with less and if they haven’t already they will soon be forced to deal with the new reality.  That reality is a little more challenging and can be highly lucrative IF and it’s a big IF you put in the effort.  The problem is that in the past it was fairly easy to get business, just respond to a RFP and go low – you’ll get millions of dollars worth of business – not the case anymore (except the low cost – that definitely helps).  So if there’s less coming down the pike, things are taking longer to come to fruition, there’s a litigious environment why would you want to enter this market?  It’s easy, get in now, create the relationships now and prep for when the situation improves and if you get a deal it’s just icing on the cake.  It’s better to lay the groundwork now when business isn’t flying off the shelf then to feel like you’re missing out by trying to jump in when it’s going gang busters.  Again recognize that all business development is an investment.

If the government space is a desired target market you have a choice –

  • Commit to the market, do your research
  • Understand that each agency works differently and identify which is best to pursue
  • Hire those with technical knowledge and connections to bridge the gap
  • Identify where you fit and why you fit – inside each agency there are multiple silos
  • Identify contract vehicles to pursue
  • Understand your commitment – a minimum of 3 years
  • Attend industry events, join industry groups that support the mission you’ve chosen to support
  • Build a pipeline with short, mid and long term opportunities
  • Manage the pipeline consistently

Or –

  • Sit around and wait for the right time
  • Get frustrated when you have to act happy for your buddy that just closed on a big contract
  • Constantly second guess yourself
  • Prepare and identify when the right time will be and commit to action

There is no perfect time so make sure you do your homework and plan for the future.  Create a strategy to enter the market and a timetable then execute.  Most importantly create relationships and be patient.

Springboard Prospect Rant #2 – I Can’t Keep a Sales Person

Continuation of the Bob London of London, Ink “Customer Rant” posts, see previous posts for more information and the slide share of the presentation.

Springboard Prospect Rant #2– I can’t keep a SALES Person

Typically when a prospect finds us it’s because they’ve tried the traditional route and it just isn’t working for them.  They’ve hired 2-3 sales people over the last couple of years and they have either left or failed.  The issue may be the hire, or it may be in the process, the management of the sales person or in management altogether.   Here’s what we typically see:

 

  • They hire the person based off how they interview and their resume, not qualifications or references – interviews and resumes aren’t always 100% accurate
  • They hire the person who has spent their entire career doing something other than sales and yet expects them to be closing deals in 2 months – this is a person who requires training and mentoring
  • They hire family or friends where the challenge becomes accountability, how do you tell your child, your friend that they aren’t living up to expectations?  This can be an excellent idea but it can also have damaging consequences.
  • They hire without plans for tools, expenses or process of accountability.  Tools – tracking, Customer Relationship Management, communication.  Expenses:  mileage, phone, lunches, events, memberships, etc.  Accountability – who, what, when, how?
  • They want the professional who comes with a rolodex, who is on a first name basis with decision makers, who can shorten the time it takes to get in the door, who can frame them as experts in their field, who has a process for management and follow up and who can ask and have answered some challenging questions.   This can be an excellent hire and it can also backfire.   Former executive levels at times can fall into the trap of schmoozing with little follow up and execution – if you think about it, it makes perfect sense; they always had someone else to do it for them.  This would be a great person to partner with an in house program manager or business development manager.

 

Essentially what we end up seeing is the person who should be producing but isn’t getting a very long leash costing the company far more than it should or the newer professional who needs in depth training, mentoring and time expected to perform like a pro immediately.  Sometimes it’s the hire, sometimes it’s the training, sometimes it’s the expectations.

 

It Really Is YOU not ME

I’m sure at some point in your dating life someone said “it’s not you, it’s me” and you believed them.  It doesn’t mean that it was a bad thing that your relationship didn’t work out although at the time you were probably devastated.  The same happens every day in business and whether it’s you or me is irrelevant; we’re just not the right fit.

A few blogs ago we talked about our Client Acceptance Protocol and the changes we had to make to ensure we are focused on working with the right clients.  We find that there are certain business owner traits that coincide with a certain size and type of client and we’ve learned over almost 5 years where we can and cannot be successful.

Here’s what we look for in a client:

  • A unique offering, product or service
  • A CEO who knows how to delegate and outsource
  • A CEO who understands their sales cycle
  • A client who is looking to build long term happy client relationships and not just transactions
  • A respectful leadership team and corporate culture
  • A leadership team who truly understands their people are their greatest asset
  • A leadership team who regularly, consistently communicates and receives feedback with grace

What we know doesn’t work:

  • A CEO that’s a micro-manager
  • A CEO without a vision of the future of the company
  • The CEO who believes that their people are the smartest and their service is better than anyone else – this is usually the person who is not living in reality
  • A CEO or corporate culture build on disrespect
  • A CEO or leadership team that cannot accept feedback or places blame on everyone else
  • A CEO who thinks their team is disposable

As you can see it’s not easy to tell one from the other in a meeting or two.  Everyone puts their best foot forward in an interview and no one will tell you they are a passive aggressive nutcase or they micromanage everyone and everything.   People have asked why in our Client Acceptance Protocol have we instituted meetings with other members of the company and with clients along with attending new prospect meetings…this is why.  You can learn a lot from seeing someone in action, how they respond to questions, how they handle adversity.  These meetings allow us to learn more about the company, its process, its unique capabilities, and most importantly it allows us to see who we’re really partnering with.  Every day we put our relationships and our reputations on the line for our clients and one bad client can ruin years of work, we look to ensure that never happens.  Outsourced business development is a team  approach; we rely on each other to close deals and if we can’t trust the behavior of our client, we can’t in good consciousness represent them

 

Where have you been?

I’ve been AWOL, definitely MIA from this blog – a huge No-No.  I know this and yet the business required so much of my time these past few months that I neglected the one thing I know people look for – information.  Yes I was busy, new and existing clients, a pipeline to die for, and most importantly recreating our structure.  2012 taught me a few things – like having policies in my head was probably not a good idea, sure I communicated them (or so I thought) but how was anyone to really know what I expected if it wasn’t on paper?  So it’s now on paper.

We changed how we “on-board” a client.  We found that most clients had a ready, fire, aim approach to new business development and for many the idea of target markets was anyone that breathes.  We revamped our Client Acceptance Protocol and it made sense to create one for each new client so our consultants could more easily stay on task.  Our government contractors say,” it’s easy we just focus on this agency and that agency” and yet each of these agencies has multiple silos with separate decision makers so how do you know where to go in each agency?  We’ve found that a more in-depth market review and analysis in the beginning leading to a Client Acceptance Protocol for each new client prior to pipeline development led to a stronger understanding of the client’s unique capabilities, an easier transition for the consultant to communicate most effectively with prospects and it gave the client a better understanding of our strategy.

We did a billing and invoicing policy for our clients so there are no longer any questions regarding pay structures, how it’s handled and more importantly for me who handles it (and guess what …it’s no longer me)(side question – what are the things taking up your  valuable time that could easily and cost effectively be outsourced?).   We updated our Client Acceptance Protocol and it’s in the hands of everyone in the office so we all stay on task when it comes to marketing and new client engagement.  No longer can we choose to bring on a client if they don’t fit the mold (we call this rescuing puppies).  If they don’t fit, they don’t fit and we’ll be glad to introduce them to someone else who may be able to help.  In fact over the past several months I’ve given 5 opportunities to my competition – they were just a better fit.

Rescuing Puppies is the phrase my husband chose one night about 4 years ago as we were talking about a client that just wasn’t the right fit but I knew we could help them if they would just let us do our work and stop the self -sabotage.  Of course all of our pets are rescues and there is definitely something in my core about helping and taking care of others, but sometimes, in business, I want to help them more then they want to really help themselves.  As it turns out this particular client really wasn’t ready or willing to make the changes necessary for them to thrive.  This is something we see every day with smaller companies.  Almost 5 years into the business we can now spot a “puppy” a mile away and while we may have a personal relationship with the owner and we may want to see them thrive, we know the total costs will outweigh the benefits.  How often do you take on a client that isn’t the right fit?  What have you done to ensure your clients truly fit within your target?  Where are your policies?  If you’re like me you communicated, or at least thought you had communicated the policies and yet for some reason the same issues kept popping up.  Many thanks to Susan Katz, the Growth Coach for helping me to realize that it was easier to get the policies out of my head and on paper then it was to expect everyone to be mind-readers.

So while I’ve been missing, it was time well spent.  Look for our next blog on Prospect Rants.

How to be a Business Networking Guru: Lessons Learned from the Cadre Community

A few weeks ago, at the end of September, I had tickets to a Baltimore Ravens game, and I decided to join forces with the other purple-clad fans and go to the M&T Bank Stadium to support my local team – even though it meant missing out on another great social activity: Cadre’s Event of Business Awesome. If you’re not familiar with the company, Cadre is dedicated to forging synergistic relationships between successful professionals to promote the networking of great ideas and skills.

Though I had fun cheering on the players that evening, I was also a little disappointed to be missing out on what was clearly going to be a stellar event – that is, until I read about a networking no-no that happened at the affair. Cadre’s founder, Derek Coburn, wrote about it in his blog post, “You want to push your services at my networking event? I don’t think so!”  I encourage you to read about it there, but here’s the recap: a non-Cadre member named Ajay Sagar attended the Event of Business Awesome, and his behavior was, as Derek writes, incredibly un-awesome. After getting a hold of the email addresses of all the attendees, he sent out a generic message in efforts to promote his own software.

The problem is, his approach here seems inauthentic: he wasn’t trying to do what Cadre encourages, which is to foster genuine opportunities for business professionals that make sense and unfold somewhat organically. Sagar was doing one thing and one thing only: pushing his own agenda. Though I’m sure he meant no harm, his attempts at self-promotion caused a cascade of negative events:

1)    He attended an event, probably at the invitation of a member, only to make him or her look bad because his networking did not align with Cadre’s mission to encourage genuine relationship building, trust, and advocacy.

2)    Although he did his research and found contact information – which is a good thing – he used the email addresses he found to send a canned message in which he claimed to have met everyone, and subsequently put them on a mailing list they didn’t voluntarily subscribe to!

3)    In so doing, he created a stir: people started talking about him, his company, his services, and of course, his tactics – and not in a positive light.

4)    Because Derek Coburn wanted to speak out on the issue after receiving numerous complaints from members, Sagar got his name and company published for all to see online – but not in a good way.

5)    Finally, since his actions were deemed unacceptable and counterintuitive to Cadre’s purposes, he was banned from a great organization that could’ve actually helped to create sales and business opportunities for him had he altered his approach a bit.

Were all those consequences worth pumping up his email list a little? I’m going to have to say no; my guess is his phone isn’t ringing.

How could he have better established himself as a valuable member of the Cadre community? My advice would be to follow up with the people he actually met, rather than claiming to have made contact with everyone at the event, which clearly would’ve been impossible. From there, he could open up conversations with people about how he could help them, either via his own service or through other people he knew that could be of value.

This would’ve put him on the path to becoming a valued member of the Cadre community, putting him and his company in high standing with other members. In turn, this would naturally create business opportunities for him while simultaneously demonstrating his ability to be a valuable resource for introducing amazing individuals to his contacts.

The bottom line? Be an advocate for others, learn to give, and do it for the right reasons – unselfishly – and you will be amazed at what sort of opportunities come back to you. I’m sure of it.

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