How to Sell to Uncle Sam

March 25, 2016

The federal government is the largest purchaser of information technology products and services worldwide, which is why myriad businesses rightfully view its coffer as a crown jewel.

Within industry, though, selling to Uncle Sam is quite often considered arduous and frustrating. And while I’m not here to disagree, accepting this as fact is the first step towards a successful go-to market strategy.

Furthermore, instead of blaming bureaucracy and attempting to connect the dots of stakeholders that may cut checks, embrace the opportunity to differentiate your value proposition while developing a sustainable relationship bridge with your potential customer. The net result will be more sales for industry and more significant impactful investments for the Federal Government

Tip #1: Leverage Your Interpersonal Skills

Federal agencies rely on industry to keep pace with evolving technology advancements consistent with a balance of innovation and risk, and industry wants to sell products and services that add value to the mission.

Businesses can improve their chances of a successful transaction (and a long-term engagement) by:

  • Connecting on a personal level during your face-to-face interactions. Getting to know your potential customer matters!
  • Asking questions about the agency mission versus pretending to know every aspect of an agency’s organization. You don’t want to come across as pompous.
  • Building a rapport that elicits curiosity on the part of the agency stakeholder. This is a sure sign of interest and most likely a follow-on meeting.

Tip #2: Active Listening Doesn’t Go Unnoticed

Effective listening skills cannot be underscored enough. This attribute will serve as a key differentiator between making the sale and missing the opportunity for a second chance to make a first impression.

Businesses often miss the mark by talking too much, showing too many PowerPoint slides, and speaking at the 30,000 foot level. Do the following if afforded 30 to 60 minutes of face time:

  • Take physical and mental notes.
  • Ask for specific pain points and challenges.
  • Leave the marketing materials behind. The less you talk the more you’ll learn.
  • Bring no more than two people to your meeting. Less is more.

Tip #3: Leave A Lasting Impression

It is no fault of the seller to believe their product or service is the remedy for the Federal Government’s technology challenges. Confidence and conviction go a long way. But recognize that the government is seeking out-of-the-box thinking NOT a silver bullet.

Establishing a connection with someone can happen in an instant. I like to refer to these occurrences as “light-bulb” moments. When I am enlightened, or taught something new, or feel educated as a result of not feeling sold to, I have been hooked. It’s refreshing and different.

Do the following, and your chances for doing a deal increase exponentially.

  • Articulate the uniqueness of your product or service
  • Don’t crush your competition
  • Be a teacher, not a seller

Maya Angelou said it well, “…people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Tip #4: Leverage Your Relationships

Doing business with the federal government is less about the IT offering and more about the trusted relationship. Cultivating these partnerships takes time, yet it will be time well spent. Don’t assume your competition is doing it and put in the effort. This sweat equity will result in increased revenue.

However, it’s not just the human relationships that are key. The relationship with the agency is arguably most important. Employee attrition is dynamic whereas an agency’s mission is static. Be accustomed with the agency mission and your credibility and authenticity will be validated.