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Get Your Federal Sales Team Revved Up For Results (Part 2): Connection

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Part Two: Connection

This blog post brings you the second of three keys to Federal Sales Success. See part one, FOCUS, here.

Reach The Players At All The Layers

Once you’re focused on your best prospects and have a plan, you’ve still got to get in front of the right people. And I mean all of the right people.

One of my favorite GovCons is super successful. Her company’s recent wins include two multi-year government contracts for over $50 million each. She also held a multi-year project program at a prestigious location that was up for recompete…which she told me she lost.

I was so surprised! “Any idea what happened?” I asked her. “Your team is so thorough!”

“I don’t know what happened,” she admitted. “The customer’s on-site program manager loved our work! Then all of a sudden, the solicitation came out on a contract vehicle we didn’t have. There was no time to pivot and find a new partner that would have been right.”

On the face of it, this should have been a low-risk competition for her. Instead, it was a painful loss.

I thought immediately about Players and Layers, so I asked her, “Where were your relationships inside the account? Did you have any relationships inside the contracting shop?”

“The on-site folks, the project manager, the people we worked with every day. The contracting shop? Oh…no, we really didn’t,” she said. “Why was that important?”

“The project manager doesn’t pick the contract vehicle,” I explained. “That’s up to the contracting team. The contracting officer and the contracting specialist do more than run the competition and administer the contract. They also choose the acquisition strategy and the contract vehicle.”

I went through the Players and Layers Methodology® (PALM) with her. “This is a real wake-up call,” she sighed. “Now I get it: I need relationships right through the customer organization. The contracting team chooses the acquisition method that they feel is in the agency’s overall best interest.

“If we had had relationships – and conversations – with those folks, their choice of contract vehicle might not have been such a surprise. We might have had the lead time to find alternate partners on those vehicles and at least been able to compete.”

Bottom line: she’s making sure her Federal 2024 plan includes getting to know all the decision-makers and influencers involved in opportunities she has in her business plan.

First: The Right Message For The Right Person At The Right Time

Your Federal buyer in any one agency isn’t just one person. You’ve got to know and engage with players at five different layers everywhere you want to be successful.

Connect With the Right People

Our proprietary Players and Layers Methodology® (PALM) helps you connect with the right people more efficiently, and build strong relationships with the right people, easily. Get all the details, including mini-lessons, on our PALM hub, and download our complimentary GovCon Personas Guide.

First, craft the right message for the right person at the right time. Give the right type of information each person is looking for at the right part of the acquisition cycle.

The Small Business Specialist doesn’t need your most complex technical presentation to persuade them to introduce you to the program manager. Bring them a selection of your most relevant past performance.

In October, November, and December, when contract awards are typically fewer, most Contracting Officers have more time to get to know new-to-them vendors than they do in August, when they’ve got very few days left to award millions of dollars’ worth of contracts and do so flawlessly.

Our friends at Market Connections, a GovExec company, regularly survey Federal buyers and share a snapshot of the information people in different roles want, and from what channels, from vendors of products and services at different points in the acquisition cycle. Here’s a recent example.

Second: Show Up With Polite, Positive, Persistence

I hear two stories over and over from Federal vendors about their experiences in making sales calls. The first sounds like this: “Oh, those contracting officers, they’re not there. They’re working from home, we don’t have their cell phones. They don’t talk to vendors.”

The other is, “I can’t believe it. We get them on the phone, and they won’t stop talking to us. It’s like I’m the only human being they’ve talked to in the last two years who genuinely cares about what matters to them.”

Here’s the truth: People – including Contracting Officers – absolutely want to connect with each other when they’re talking to somebody who cares about them.

The Top Way To Make That Happen

Script your voicemails. You’ve only got 30 seconds tops, write it down, practice it, make it concise, make it cheerful, come into it with really great energy. We, as humans, are wired to notice the energy of the person we’re talking to.

Include one “best value” element in that voicemail: something that communicates why you lower their risk. Past performance – track record – does that! Your Federal buyer wants to know that you’ve solved their problem for someone who looks just like them, yesterday afternoon.

Create a great experience for your Federal buyer – right from first contact, which is that voicemail. They’ll pick up on the energy from you in your voicemail, as well as the conversation you eventually have.

A Tip From Professional Call Teams (And Why It Works)

Professional call agents use a technique called “Doubletap”

The idea is that you realistically expect to get voicemail when you call. You’ve got your call script and anything you might add to personalize that. And you have a follow up email all ready to send as well. For instance:

“Hey, Charles, sorry, I missed you. It’s Kate from Absolutely Perfect Staffing about our 95% success rate in placing cleared application developers. Check your email for details. If I don’t hear from you by Wednesday at noon, I’ll try you again Thursday morning. I’m at 555 555 1212. Again, that’s 555 555 1212.”

Then you hang up the phone, send the email right away.

And you make a note to call them back Thursday morning.

Your contact notices, “Oh, they did what they said they were gonna do: they sent an email. I wonder if they’re gonna call me back Thursday. I’m gonna wait and see.”

And you call back on Thursday, you get the voicemail, and you leave another slightly different but equally chipper email – maybe this time, mentioning your 20 years in business – and do it all over again.

This doesn’t go on forever, even if you have to do five or six cycles of it. Because most of your competition has already given up by the fourth try. This is about more than the tone and message you leave in your voicemail or the text of your email.

It’s effective because you’ve given that contact two experiences that have built their trust, even before they ever talk to you. Your actions told them, “I’m a reliable person you can count on. I do what I say I’m going to do.”

You’re standing out ahead of your competition simply because you do what you say you’re going to do!

Sure, it’s true: more and more people communicate by text these days. That gives the advantage to people who follow up by phone. You stand out.

Why are they going to return your calls? Because you leave an awesome voicemail. Imagine having 30 seconds of someone’s uninterrupted attention. That’s what your voicemail is. Right inside their head.

“Here’s who I am, why I’m calling, how I can help you. Sorry, I missed you; check your email. And if I don’t hear you hear from you by noon tomorrow. I’ll call you back Monday morning.” Be polite, be concise, and be consistent. Do that, and most people eventually call you back because they like you.

The Big Fear That Gets Our Way

One of the big fears we have is that somehow we’re going to cross the line between persistence and pestilence.

Did you know? After many of us leave, say, four or five calls and messages without reaching someone, we become afraid that person will think of us as a pesky salesperson. But the opposite is usually true: that fourth call is often the point at which we’re just barely getting the attention of the government people we’re calling!

Getting through takes a lot more effort than you think.

“It’s taking 28 to 32 touches these days to get from contact to contract.”
~ Leah Edwards, Founder, Transcendent Marketing

Be with that for a minute.

How many times do you try to get through to someone? Three or four, maybe?

How many times would you try if your business depended on it? Because it does.

The contact awards ultimately go to the people who keep showing up. Because those are the people who ultimately get through and build the relationships.

Measure what you do, track activity as well as results, provide support to get there, and then celebrate as you go.

Federal buyers are human, with feelings and big responsibilities! Start with how we solve their problem. If they’re not calling you back, maybe it’s because they don’t need what you do. But you can’t know why they’re not calling you back until you talk to them.

Here’s When To Call – And How To Keep Motivated

Let’s talk timing, timing, timing: change it up. Some days, try very early in the morning. Other days, late afternoon. Professional call teams often find that 10 minutes to the top of the hour, when they’re just changing tasks or getting ready for another meeting is a time you can catch them.

Then, your win is “Hey, thanks for picking up. I know I’m calling out of the blue, could we get a time on the calendar?” That might be a 60-second conversation. Easy.

The only thing you can know when they don’t return your call is that they didn’t return your call. You cannot know if they’ve got a sick child or a parent in the hospital or their office has been closed down. We can’t know this stuff till we talk to them.

Keep your assumptions generous. That’s the key to staying motivated when you’re leaving voicemails and think you’re not reaching them.

Sometimes our Federal employees come into the office really early – 6:30 or 7:00 am. Sometimes you can catch them at the end of the day. Experiment a little and see what works.

One of the big mistakes people make is to say, “Well, I already called them this week. I think I’ll wait a couple of weeks.”

It is absolutely okay to call two or three times in the same week.

Or maybe you pick maybe a two- or three-week period and treat it as though you are traveling to that part of the country and you’re going to work that account or agency really consistently and call lots of people in the same office or organization.

When you do that, word starts to get around the office.

“Oh, hey, someone named Eileen called me. Did she call you?”

“Yeah, she doesn’t give up! But she sounds super friendly.”

“She said she’s the sales rep assigned to my account, so clearly this company is organized.

“If she’s that determined, I want to at least hear what she has to say.”

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Third: Make Every Call Count

Who loves voicemail? Very few people say, “Me!”

Okay, so again, imagine having 30 seconds of someone’s undivided attention and the ability to bring your voice right into the middle of their brain.

That’s the power voicemail gives you.

You’re going to get a lot of voicemail. Plan to leave a high-impact message every time. And deliver it with as much energy as you would if you had reached your contact in person. Remember, you’re still connecting; just not in real time.

Plan a sequence of four of five messages suitable for the roles of the players at all the layers. Make sure each message centers on something your company does, or how you do it, that matters to the person in their role in the account.

As the business owner or the person leading a sales team, remember that there’s no such thing as “I have nobody to talk to.” There’s always someone to talk to.

I’ll always remember the tip Nick Wakefield, senior executive at the publication Washington Technology, gave me. He recounted a conversation he’d had in the Pentagon, which ended with, “The General always has twenty minutes for a capability briefing.”

“Wait a minute,” I said to him. “I talk to thousands of companies every year. They struggle to get in front of people like that! Did I hear you right? Say that again.”

Nick smiled at me. “The General always has twenty minutes for the person who can solve their problem.”

The same thing is true for your players at every layer.

What can our sales team bring to our players at every layer? The goals of somebody who’s a small business specialist are different from the goals of the contracting officer, and different from the end user.

You’re not sending the same email to everybody. You’re not leaving the same voicemail for everybody. But as you plan your calls, think about what’s important to each of them, and it’s gonna be different for the players at every layer, and then for the individual Federal humans you’re calling on.

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