How to Optimize Industry Outreach Conversations!
In the future everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes or so the saying goes. Your Industry Outreach could be your Fifteen Minutes of Fame….. so if you only get one shot, what are you going to do to maximize it”?
It’s YOUR fifteen minutes!!
Never more true than the Industry Outreach conversations you have with either a government employee from a Small Business or Program Office seeking possible vendors for products and services or a potential prime contractor looking at teaming partners for future bids or ongoing contracts. Your ultimate objective is to make enough of an impression with your capabilities to get another meeting…..and another….and another.
Yes, ongoing contracts fit here as well, because capabilities needs change over time and sometimes the existing support team needs some additional capability.
So if you get your “Fifteen Minutes” how are you going to approach a potential customer to engage and convey your interest in becoming a valued and trusted partner providing high quality offerings at a fair and reasonable rate?
Let’s review a possible scenario: You have a chance at an industry outreach event to meet with several different government teams in an Agency as well as possibly leading companies in your industry aligned to that Agency or market. You are either trying to break into that market or you are seeking additional opportunities to grow your business in the Agency so you want to at least explore opportunities with other companies in that industry. You have a schedule and a list of “15 minute matchmaking or Industry Outreach sessions” that you will follow or alternatively a list of companies/Agency representatives you want to approach at a table/booth to establish a connection with. You are taking advantage of the chance to engage with those other companies to make them aware of your capabilities and you are seeking to learn a little about who the “players” are in this Agency and market. Both can consume a great deal of your time and energy if you are not prepared to take in the entirety of the opportunity and all it means.
Own it! Provide a purpose for the discussion, give it structure….
Establish early that you have a message and a purpose for the discussion….that your company can provide the right capabilities to help them solve one of their most pressing challenges…and here is how you can do it. Show how you have had similar challenges and solved them for other customers, demonstrate an understanding of the Agency mission and objectives and how you can fit. Discuss a broader understanding of market trends and analysis to achieve the outcomes desired and how you can meet their expectations for success just like you have with other customers. Own the path of the conversation, by having the next aspect and next topic ready. Do not wait for insightful questions or make them guess…as the representative may not have specific expertise or knowledge. Its’ your fifteen minutes—OWN IT!
Peter Drucker told us that businesses have two functions: marketing and innovation. I would like to add “leverage technology” to that. Perhaps technology is part of innovation, but not always. Educate first as to your ability to see the challenges in your market/domain to deliver a capability,/technology use/product or service to assist. Create in their mind your ability to see a business problem and apply a solution using your process, people and technology or product. You should have a compelling story of success to help frame the use of your product or service that will linger in their mind. What innovations can you bring to help that customer achieve their mission objectives? What do you want to do for them? How can you specifically add value for them? Convey your ideas that resonate with the representative at the table so that they stop taking notes and say, “I need to connect you with Person XYZ in our Agency/Company who does that.” And the representative may appreciate your taking the time to help them learn something!
“We do business with those we do not dislike.”
Wise wisdom from a very experienced senior business development executive. Sort of the corollary is to do business with those we like and trust….so how do you create that likeability and trust in a short matchmaking session? When you meet up with your target Agency representative or your intended industry prime, after exchanging greetings, don’t just jump into the technical details of your capabilities by “briefing” them or “selling” them. Keep it conversational. Allow the dialogue to flow in both directions—as much as you are there to educate them on your company, you are interested in what they have to say as well….remember you are gathering intelligence and information as well!
Convey energy about your company and its successes! Oftentimes, it becomes a challenge when the day is dragging, the speakers have disappointed, the schedule is running long and the clock is ticking, but nothing impresses more initially than a boost of energy relative to the chance to engage with a potential partner and shift the momentum towards a positive conversation. Talk about a success story, relate to the Agency challenges or share a personal insight with the individual on the other side of the table. Result? Instant likeability–it’s a spark that gets remembered!
Compel empathy, appreciate the chance to engage (any time spent with a potential customer or client is a gift!) and demonstrate some understanding of what the customers challenges are relative to the capabilities you can offer to meet requirements. “Yes, I understand how hard it is to deliver a high quality SME with experience in your process and expertise in those products, but let me give you an idea of how we approach those challenges in our company and where we have had success previously.” That goes a LOT farther, than “we can help you with that, just bring us on the team.”–normally an instant turnoff.
Learn something or share something of interest
Provide some evidence that you understand the competitive environment…..what companies are positioning and who is a dominant force. You have more to offer than just your capabilities–competitive intelligence is always welcome and it conveys a deeper understanding of the market as well as certain tactical and strategic details that may be of interest to a prospective customer. Remember, partnering is one of your objectives—show shared interest in success. Any current news in your professional space or in the competitive market to look at a little differently from your perspective to convey information or understanding?
How do you stand out for social responsibility?
In today’s competitive market, it may also be helpful to identify how your company addresses social responsibility. How have you contributed to the common welfare? What outreach do you have and how do those in society benefit from your efforts? Even if you are not a financial sponsor of an effort, time donated to a cause, a willingness to offer support and provide some relief, even if it is personal and not your company’s is a way to engage with your potential customer to demonstrate your humanness.
Make efficient use of their time, keep it interesting and engaging–they will appreciate it.
Remember you are trying to become a trusted partner…engage on that level of trust. Try to avoid reading or reciting a brief. Instead, share information, be open and conversational appealing to the human aspects of doing business.
Meet the Author
Kevin Hoey, Former Senior Director, Programs and Business Development Executive for General Dynamics Information Technology where he planned and directed efforts to drive growth and business development operations focused on Space and Missile Defense community, US Army Corps of Engineers, US Marine Corps Requirements generation, Space and Missile Defense Command, Army Aviation and Missile Center, Army Materiel Command and Missile Defense Agency in a wide range of professional, IT and engineering services. Developed comprehensive business plans defining potential market share and opportunities for growth in Missile Defense, engineering services, IT and Energy markets. Influences the development of relationships with business partners, potential customers and prospects within assigned technical and business areas. Mentor and Business Coach for the Women’s Business Center of North Alabama. MS from the Industrial College of the Armed Forces as well as DOD CIO, IA, IO and EGov Certificates from National Defense University. MS from Florida Institute of Technology. Colonel, USMC (Ret.)