Rev Up Your Federal Sales Team: Part 1 (FOCUS)
Want to rev up your Federal sales team? Focus, connection, and consistency make all the difference!
This first-of-three posts is about focus. You’ll learn: who should really be doing sales; what elements of focus are essential; and what you need to give your team. In the next post, we’ll cover who to connect with, when to connect, and why they’ll return your calls. Our series wraps up with how to know what you’re doing is working and ways to create unstoppable momentum!
FOCUS: The Foundation For Federal Sales Success
Before we talk about “Sales”, let’s be clear: Business Development is about creating the environment for your company to deliver long-term value. Marketing is about helping your buyers find you. Sales is about helping them CHOOSE You.
Who Really Does Sales?
You’ve heard the adage, “Everybody’s in sales.” My most successful clients, and I, agree! You hear people talk about government contracting as a relationship game. It’s all that, but here’s the part you don’t hear about: it’s also a team sport. I don’t mean “teaming with big primes.” I mean the way you work together within your own company to reach your goals.
That’s why, when I work with clients, we have two or three people work together to research prospects and prepare and complete sales calls. When people sit down and compare notes, they discover how much they each know about what’s going on in an office or in the marketplace. One person will say, “Oh, I met them; I’ve known them for 20 years,” and someone else will say, “Really? They’re not returning my call; can you give it a try?” or “They told me about this other person; who’s the right person to follow up there?”
Your “sales” team includes not just your “salespeople”, but also the business owner, subject matter experts, proposal team, those who make products or deliver services, your on-site team, and your help desk. It includes everyone who has contact with the customer…and everyone whose activities affect the quality of the customer experience, like Admin, Invoicing, Legal, and Human Resources.
The Role of The Business Owner
Some companies have salespeople who are talking to prospects every day, introducing people to our capabilities. They bring in the business owner to elevate the conversation with qualified prospects.
The owner’s participation in the sales process shows commitment and delivers a little bit of a star quality to the experience. Everybody in the room sits up when you come forward and put your heart out there to them. They know you’re an entrepreneur; they know that you’ve put your investment to risk to come to them and offer your products and services.
We highly recommend that your sales team introduce the business owner after they’ve built the initial relationships. Very often, the owner is a top subject matter expert who makes a big impact on the conversation.
In many small companies, the owners themselves are doing all the sales by themselves without any help. And that’s okay. But if that’s your situation, then sell your subject matter expertise.
Elements of Focus
Start with your capabilities…not your set-asides. What is your company really good at, and have past performance that tells the story? When you say, “We do everything,” your Federal buyer hears, “We don’t know what we do.”
Set up your sales team for success: keep them focused on no more than three or four agencies; if your best prospects are in large departments like Homeland Security or Veterans Affairs, perhaps even fewer.
These are the things that set you apart from others. Ideally, these are quantifiable, objectively provable, and focus on things that lower risk and create value for your buyers. These give your sales team powerful leverage. You’ll say those things to your clients and prospects over and over: in your emails. In your voicemails. On your website.
“And we’re only five minutes away.”
“Our distribution centers are 60,000 square feet with 10,000 items in it.”
Combine them: “We can deliver same day; we can deliver these name brands, same day, from our 60,000 square foot building, that’s only five minutes from you.”
When your buyers start to see the combination, they see that there’s nobody else like your company.
Simple things like the number of years you’ve been in business, your safety record, your speed to deploy, your proximity to your customers, your past performance, and your team’s experience and education help lower risk for your buyers. And they can justify why you at a higher price.
One call at a time, one conversation at a time, you build up your prospect’s receptivity to how your best values help them lower their risk and make you the best choice. That’s how you shift their thinking away from your competitors’ best values.
So set your best values, build the best value statement, and say it in every conversation, on your capability statement, and on your website. You’re using that language in every voicemail, every email.
Then they start to think, “Gee, what does the low-risk choice look like? Sound like? How do I define it? How can I put in the desirable qualifications that I need to choose this company?” You consistently lay in the clues to make it easy to choose you when they’re behind closed doors making the final selection.
We worked with a client who had a safety record that was ridiculously good. They focused on that element in their calls and marketing, and in the construction industry, that criterion is enough to eliminate most, if not all, of the competition if the buyer decides they want this company.
Constant Progress Toward Federal Buyers’ Wins
What are the milestones that are important to your federal buyer?
They are also making that journey from October 1 to September 30. What are they working toward right now that tells them they’re getting to their goals? And how are you contributing to that?
We, as humans, learn to do more of the things that create success for us. And our brains make very little distinction between a big win and a small one.
If our Federal buyer learns that “every single time Christine calls, Christine knows what’s important to me. She really listens to what I’m talking about. She has my goals in mind. She’s always got a white paper for me, or she remembered to ask about my sister, who was going through chemo. Christine told me where I could find some obedience training for our new puppy…”
Whose call is that buyer going to return first? You got it. Christine’s.
Get your sales team focused on how to bring a win to every conversation. Maybe the win is in the energy of their voice, plus the well-chosen best value we just talked about. Maybe it’s in how they make good on the promise to call back on the day they said they would. Maybe it’s showing they listened.
Before you pick up the phone and say, “Hi, here’s who we are and what we want to sell you,” you need to know how that might help the person you’re calling.
One of our TOPGUN coaches, Will Randolph, a longtime former Federal acquisition professional, tells our clients, “Don’t ask, ‘how can I help you?’ When you do that, you’re giving them homework. Instead, turn those five words around, and start with “How I can help you…”, if you’re not actually putting a solicitation number or a project number or forecast number right in the email subject line.
What You Need To Give Your Federal Team
To focus, you need hard data on past contract awards that lets you focus with confidence in the agencies that represent your best prospects.
Used right, that data also becomes your team’s enduring source of intelligence for them to answer the questions, “Who are our buyers? And how are they behaving?”
There are advantages and drawbacks to using both free public data and paid subscriptions. But no matter what data you use, you need to know what the data elements mean. You need to know what kind of interpretive choices people might have made when they entered the data.
You need to invest time in learning how to work with data efficiently, and interpret it with confidence, so you can organize it in a way that supports your business decisions.
You need someone who has walked the halls and talked to people, been told the wrong information, and knows where to compare what’s being said to you versus what you’re reading.
If you don’t have that time or expertise, don’t just pay for data: get expert help.
When we do this work for our clients, we tap about 60 out of over 200 data fields and bring it to you in a very simple storyboard fashion that you can refer to and read easily. We look for the patterns of intelligence related to the people as well as the requirements.
When your sales team has got hands-on great competitive intelligence, you can ask powerful questions and show up smart to the conversation. When you do, your Federal buyers will ask you, “How did you know that?” Or even better, they’ll say, “I spent 50 hours last year putting that data in, no one ever reads it, and you did. And you understand it!” They feel appreciated right from the start.
Federal Sales Training
Top achievers in every field have top coaches and mentors. Professional development and coaching and support to strengthen Federal sales skills is a key to success. 80% of what you have to do to build relationships and sell is the same, whether you’re selling to Federal or commercial clients…but that other 20% is painful and expensive to figure out by trial and error.
Research shows that the average small business spends 12 and a half months, and invests anywhere from $30,000 to $233,000, before they get that first Federal contract win.
Great Federal sales training can collapse that learning curve down to a matter of days.
Structured Federal Sales Plan
The average sales plan or Contact Relationship Management System shows you who you know. A great Federal sales plan shows you who you don’t know, but the data says you need to know and gives you a methodical, systematic way to knit together those relationships. That way, the people who know you are opening doors for you.
Somebody who’s already bought something from you is 12 times more likely to do business with you again than somebody who’s never heard of you. Flip that over: If you’re not in front of the current clients that are already paying you money, you’re working 1200% harder than you need to!
Once you’ve done your homework and researched both, you quickly learn how to get past the initial awkward feelings many of us get when we’re calling up to ask for referrals. Does that feel uncomfortable? You’re not alone. That’s why Professional Sales Training helps! We help our clients tackle that every day.
Support: Clear Expectations, Milestones, & Celebration Build Resilience
Figure out, for you and your team, what are your milestones through the cycle of the Federal fiscal year. What reliable indicators show you’re on track for your goals? And what actions do you need to be taking so that those things happen?
Give your team regular feedback and cheer for them – including when you reach the milestones and the small wins.
RESOURCE: One of my favorite resources that supports consistent engagement and focus on progress to your goals is Rhythm Systems by Patrick Thean. His book is an easy read with lots of powerful case studies and examples, and his web site has a ton of free resources as well.
My most successful clients do a thirty-minute stand-up sales meeting each week. They make sure that people bring their wins, like “Gee, the contracting officer called us back!” When we celebrate the momentum those small wins give us toward our goals, research shows that celebration builds a culture of resilience. The time that we take to celebrate our wins gives us resilience for the hard times – which we know also comes with the territory of govcon. That resilience makes it easier to keep going when it’s tough. Learn more in this article Four Steps to an Outstanding Federal New Year.
Want to rev up your sales team? Spark excitement with focus: on those who have the most active sales roles. On the agencies where you know your best prospects are. On your best values – the reasons why you lower their risk and increase their success. And on giving them the resources they need: competitive intelligence, a structured sales plan, and sales training and support on the road to your goals!
What’s Your Takeaway?
What will you do next, based on what you learned here? If you like the ideas you see here, and would love to put them to work with your team, maybe it’s time we talked! We do all these things and more with our clients in our Federal Business Intensive program. Find out more HERE.