Yes – it is a battle!

Quick Question (or two):

Have you ever been asked to complete a task that requires the support of many people and other company resources in order to be successful and not received any help at all?

Oh, and you are still expected to complete the task on-time!

Sometimes it makes your head spin.

In this article I will examine why it is so very important a company entering the Federal market completely understand the resources needed to build a successful Federal vertical and close revenue.
 

It is funny, in just about every company for which I built a Federal vertical, as soon as I start asking for things (features, certifications, and testing), the first question management asks is:

” If the company provides the resources (time and money) to sell into the Federal market, how much revenue can you forecast?”

And my answer is always the same:

“Well, if we don’t do what is needed to sell into the Federal market, the revenue will be ZERO!”1. Avoid the Catch 22

To be successful when starting or fixing a Federal vertical, the Federal sales person will have to sell to two separate organizations. He/she will have to sell to the Federal customer. More importantly, however, he/she must sell internally to their own company. Depending on the product or service, the Federal salesperson will have to work internally with their company for a variety of requirements for their Federal customer.

During my long sales career, I have seen the same scene play out hundreds of times but with a slightly different flavor. Essentially, the scene begins as I attempt create my pipeline. For example, I once found a multi-million-dollar opportunity that required Federal product certifications in order to close the revenue.

In this case, I was very excited to bring this opportunity to the company, but I had to have some very specific certifications before the customer could even begin testing our product on their network (never mind procuring it). So, I went to my company’s executive leadership to detail costs, timeframes and engineering requirements to obtain the certifications for the product. The executives were very excited, but they asked for me to commit a Return On Investment (ROI) for the resources (time and money) to be spent to obtain the required certifications. The company refused to move forward with anything until I committed to them an ROI. Once again, I was caught in the middle. The *customer wouldn’t speak to me without the required product certifications, and my company wouldn’t get the certifications unless I could give them an assurance of revenue.

It was a classic Catch-22!

This situation will become much more prevalent for companies with applications and IT products as the Federal customer moves their assets to the cloud: FedRAMP. [link]

There are ways a company can avoid the Catch 22, and it has everything to do with planning. The salesperson and company must:

  1. Know the market.
  2. Know the customer.
  3. Understand their technical environments and requirements.
  4. Understand if your product or service align correctly to the customer and technical environment today, and if not today, then when?

There are many products and services that may not require any Federal certifications, accreditations or requirements, but without planning, you will not know until your sales person hits that wall.

SO:

If there is zero guarantee for closing revenue, even with obtaining certifications, accreditations and requirements

AND:

Your Federal sales person often times cannot begin to sell to the Federal customer without them

Why would any company invest in a Federal vertical? We discussed this in Blog Article 1: Building a Successful Federal Sales Vertical: Federal is the Fortune One of the world. 

2. Understand the Battle requirements: Time, Money and People

THE BATTLE BEGINS

For company resources

In any company, PEOPLE, TIME and MONEYare extremely precious. While the company is mainly focused on the large opportunities in their commercial enterprise market, Federal sales does not always receive the resources and assistance needed to close their revenue opportunities. This is why a company needs to build a strategic and tactical business plan when deciding to enter the Federal market.

Again, at the beginning of my Federal Sales career, companies hired me to build the Federal sales pipeline. When I would approach the company with specific product requirements and or changes to the product, I would get push back stating that other priorities were already specified for the product from the commercial clients. I would have to wait a few quarters even to begin work on the specific requirements that I needed to sell the product to my Federal customers. Thus, I had no product to sell.

An example of a Federal product requirement is for multi-factor authentication with:

  • Department of Defense customers: Common Access Cards
  • Civilian Agency customers: Personal Information Verification Cards

CAC/PIV Cards! Why can’t the customer use another method to do multi-factor authentication that our product supports? WOW! I have had this conversation multiple times. This is the solution that the Federal customer uses and they are not going to change because our product does not support their environment. If the company cannot write the code that can use CAC/PIV cards, then there is no opportunity.

NOTE: Though the DoD wants to get away from the CAC, they have not selected a replacement technology.

This gets directly into the central battle. The Catch 22.

If you will build it – will they come?

Time, Money and People are all inter-related aspects in building the business. Let’s begin looking at each separately but also their inter-dependencies too.

TIME

Everything takes time!

Yes, everything takes time, but time is the only element in this equation you cannot make more of….

Time is incredibly important. It dictates how fast you can operationalize your Federal business and begin closing revenue. To understand how much time is needed to build this business, a company should build a Federal business plan. This plan will assist you in properly defining tasks for people to execute, the amount of money needed to fund additional requirements and how long the process should take to build the business.

Additionally, when a company does decide to go after the Federal market, big changes can happen in every facet of the company. Time can be your enemy.

What type of changes am I talking about for a company to go into the Federal market?

  1. Marketing needs time to develop the new collateral.
  2. Engineering needs time to review any changes to the product.
  3. Sales needs time to create presentations and leads.
  4. The Channel needs time to review partners with government contracts.
  5. Most importantly, the C-Level personnel must allow enough time to execute the business plan.

Up until now your business plan has been focused primarily on a commercial revenue. Introducing Federal into that business plan really requires patience from the C-Level personnel.

Why?

Let’s dig a little deeper into some of the areas that you may need to address and the time it takes to execute. Depending on whether you sell a product or service, the Federal market could have barriers that could prevent you from closing business. In fact, never mind closing business, it could prevent you from even bidding on opportunities in the first place.

A couple examples of some of these barriers include certifications and accreditations. Some of these requirements take a significant amount of time and money.

Services – Certifications and Accreditations

To perform and bid on some specific services for the Federal customer you may be required to have some of these requirements:

  • Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI) Levels 1-5
More info
  • Lean Six Sigma
More info
  • ISO9001
More info
  • ISO20000
More info
  • Project Management Professional (PMP)
More info
  • Security Clearances

 

Products – Certifications and Compliance

To add your products on certain Federal networks, products may be required to have some of these certification and compliance requirements:

  • FIPS 140 L2
More info
  • NIAP CC EAL (1-7)
More info
  • CAC/PIV
More info
  • 508 Compliance
More info
  • FEDRamp Plus
More info
  • Risk Management Framework
More info

 

These are just a few of areas that bring together time, people and money that may need to be completed to do business with the Federal customer. Some of them may have a direct impact on your product development schedule. The battle for product enhancements versus product changes to fulfill requirements for the Federal customer will always be a struggle. But without these changes or requirements to the product there may be a direct impact on potential future revenue.

As previous stated, these requirements should be fully vetted and understood in your Federal business plan to mitigate any risks and the time it will take the company to complete.

So how much will it cost to enter the Federal market?

MONEY

COLD HARD CASH

For some reason it seems easier for companies to ask their people to struggle with a task than to write a check.

Throughout my career, I have worked at small, medium and large IT companies. The larger companies with an established Federal practice normally have a well-defined plan for funding certifications for each and every product that may be sold into the Federal marketplace. On the other hand, I often see both medium and small companies struggle with the concept of investing in the Federal market. This normally comes down to the costs associated with all the aspects of entering the Federal market. The first question that the C-Level personnel want to know when investing their cash is:

What is the Return On Investment?

Return On Investment (ROI): While there is never a guaranteed ROI in either the commercial or the federal markets, Federal can make it a little more risky because the Federal customer may not even listen about your solution if you have not made the necessary investments. Let’s look at the types of investments you may need to begin selling to the Federal customer.

Federal Civilian Agencies for the most part do not require the same investment as the Department of Defense and Intelligence Community. Federal customers in all three areas are moving fast to the cloud. The Federal cloud is called FEDRamp. Table 1. provides you a better understanding of some of the certifications and requirements that the Federal market may require to add a product to a specific network. I did not include actual costs for each TYPE because it all depends on the product capability and use which determines which TYPE and associated costs.

NAME TYPE COST TIME
FEDRamp (plus) Certification YES 6-12 months + Company Engineering
NIAP-CC Certification YES 8 months + Company Engineering
FIPS 140 Certification YES 6-12 months + Company Engineering
RMF (DIAPCAP) Requirement TIME Customer + Company Engineering
CAC / PIV cards Requirement TIME Company (Engineering)
ATO Requirement NO Customer
CoN Requirement NO Customer
DoDIN-APL Certification YES 6-9 months + Company Engineering
FSO Requirement YES 12-18 months

Table 1.

QUESTION: Now that we have looked at some of the certifications and requirements, when will the company close revenue to recoup those initial cost outlays?

ANSWER: There is no guarantee. But you can mitigate that risk by communicating with multiple customers that want/need the capability your solution provides to them.

Often times executives will point to current opportunities that have closed without these certifications, or they have past experiences of getting Federal Business without these certifications. This can be a difficult discussion, when your executives feel they know more than their salespeople about selling into the Federal Government. These are hard conversations to have, but I have found that when directly addressed with specifics, even your executives can come to understand you position.

I have had success making my position know by having a conversation such as saying,  “When I was in the Navy, my Chief used to always tell me, ‘even a blind squirrel will find an acorn every once in a while’,”and that is a true statement. There are opportunities in the Federal market that do not require the certifications, accreditations and requirements. There’s always “low-hanging fruit” that leadership will point to as reasons why they don’t need to spend money. My response to that is, just like a blind squirrel will eventually starve, so will a Federal practice that builds its foundation on the efforts of a sales force trying to find “one-off” opportunities. They both eventually die off.

An additional pitfall to this approach is your sales personnel will have difficulty qualifying Federal leads. The question is no longer “Who has a requirement and funding available?” The sales personnel now have to ask the customer, “Who has a requirement, funding and is able to sidestep the Federal requirements?”  I can assure you that it can be an impossible task.

Even the small and medium companies that I have worked for eventually understand the revenue potential of the Federal customer. When they decided to fund the pre-work necessary to fulfill the governments prerequisites, I was able to close tens of millions of dollars of business for these companies. It is not about belief in my abilities (which are, of course, awesome). It is about my understanding of the system. It works! You just need to know how the system works so you can strategically, and with pinpoint accuracy, leverage your cold hard cash to expand sales into this very lucrative and strategic customer.

So, then we move on to the most important resource – PEOPLE.

PEOPLE

Each area of the company must be fully committed to executing their functions to build a successful Federal sales vertical. In Table 2. I provide a high-level overview of each personnel resource that will be key to be successful in building and doing business with the Federal Government. There are other resources that will be required but these are the main personnel needed to build the business.

I will not be going into each resource in-depth, although I will highlight some important factors within the functions of the personnel listed in Table 2.

Personnel Resources:

Personnel Resource Function
C-Level Money and Strategic company direction
Marketing Federal Messaging
CTO Certifications & Requirements
Engineering Technical resources for Pre-sales & technology development
Sales Pipeline Opportunity & Closing revenue
Channel Partners & Contract Vehicles
Legal Federal Flow downs, Contracts, NDAs, Teaming Agreements
FSO Security clearances
Business Development Federal System Integrators / Federal Program Funding

TABLE 2.

This is the fun part of building the business. By using a well-defined business plan with Key Performance Indicators to follow the progress of each functional area, you can watch the successful execution of the plan. Again, the keys to success are the C-Level personnel understanding and committing resources to all functions of the business plan. Without the commitment from the C-Level personnel, no one will assist.

This is also where battling for resources asserts itself. One example is amplified in this story:

Let me take you back about 10 years ago, when I was working for a small startup that felt the Federal Market was key to their long-term success. I was hired to build the Federal market and I had made some progress with several customers. At one point, I was told by a customer that I needed very specific changes made to one of my products since it had failed their Federal compliancy testing. I provided the results of the compliancy testing to the CEO, VP Sales and Engineering. I also provided guidance from the customer specifically about the desired outcome from results of the next compliancy test of this product.

After Engineering reviewed the change requirements of the product to achieve the desired results, they reported that the changes needed were not overly extensive, but were not small either. The opportunity was in the seven-figure realm and could close rather quickly if the company would fully support the changes required for the next compliancy test from the customer.

The decision came down to the other priorities that product management would need to move to accommodate the required changes in the product. Were there commercial opportunities that were in the sales pipeline should product marketing change the engineering schedule? Was it worth the risk to the company to modify the schedule and product to close the Federal opportunity?

I completely understand the formal processes in developing a product. But there are times when significant revenue is at stake that a company should make decisions that move other priorities around.

OUTCOME: The company made the decision to accommodate the changes to the product to close my business and we were able to close that revenue within six months.

The comfort zone: It was not uncommon for management focus on a $30,000 commercial opportunity while I was working on a $240,000 Federal opportunity. I would beg for my supporting personnel to give me their time and attention, but almost without exception management would allow them to focus on the $30,000 commercial opportunity. Why? Everyone was comfortable with the commercial opportunity. They understood it and it was in their comfort zone. You can be an expert at managing expectations, but if you cannot rally the troops to move outside their areas of comfort, you will struggle to find success. People like to stick to their comfort zone.

Other reasons to petition for People, Time and Money are:

  • Marketing Resources
  • Engineering Resources
  • Channel Resources
  • Sales Resources

Battling for these resources can be as hard as any other area.

Marketing Resources:

Using commercial marketing in the Federal government is like nailing Jell-O to the wall.  It just doesn’t work. It is for this reason that I have been forced to produce almost ALL marketing collateral when I start a Federal vertical for a company. In general, a commercial marketing team’s comfort zone is in the commercial marketspace, and so they tend to focus on the commercial market. I have tried to work with them in the past, but I have found that it takes much longer to explain the nuances of Federal marketing than it does to produce my own materials, and time is money, so you know what I chose.

As you may know, Federal has its own language. (See: Let’s Talk Federal: The Twisted Federal Speak.)

Even though commercial customers and Federal customers face many of the same challenges which can be solved using your products and services, your company needs to articulate and direct the customer’s needs in their own terms, using their own language. Your Federal customer needs to understand the solution that your company provides and how it solves their problems using their language. The key is that your messaging must convey company certifications, past performance, and past/current Federal customers, just to name a few. Below in Table 3. I have outlined the type of marketing requirements that need to be created for the Federal market.

TYPE COST TIME
Collateral YES Marketing
Event Booth/Signage YES Marketing
Federal Events/Shows YES Marketing
Social Media NO ALL

TABLE 3.

Engineering Resources:

To begin this discussion, let’s review some examples of Federal product certifications and requirements. This brings together Time, Money and People (Resources).

What type of certifications and costs associated? (NOTE: Certifications & Requirements will be a future article) This is an overview of some of the certifications that some of the Federal Departments and Agencies require to even allow “products” to be attached to the Department of Defense network backbone.

NAME TYPE COST TIME
FEDRamp (plus) Certification YES 6-12 months + Company Engineering
NIAP-CC Certification YES 8 months + Company Engineering
FIPS 140 Certification YES 6-12 months + Company Engineering
RMF (DIAPCAP) Requirement TIME Customer + Company Engineering
CAC / PIV cards Requirement TIME Company (Engineering)
ATO Requirement NO Customer
CoN Requirement NO Customer
DoDIN-APL Certification YES 6-9 months + Company Engineering
FSO Requirement YES 12-18 months

TABLE 4.

This area definitely brings together People, Time and Money. With People, everyone has to come together to obtain these certifications and requirements for the company. Each one of these certifications and requirements will take the resources including much time to follow through with internal and external companies and government agencies.

Again, in Table 4. this is a listing of some certifications that may be required for your product for the “check the box” to sell into some Federal customers. If the company does not feel compelled to spend the time and money to obtain these certifications, almost two thirds of the Federal market will be unavailable to procure and use your products.

Also, Table 4. only looks at products, not other types of services that may be required to win Federal business as an example CMMI or PMP. This is an entirely different discussion for service related opportunities.

Summary:

This has been a fun article to write. I kept going back multiple times to make sure I articulated the correct positive message about why it is so important to battle for the company resources to successfully build your Federal vertical and close Federal business. The commitment of “People, Time and Money” will make or break the company in this vertical.

Catch-22: noun: A dilemma or difficult circumstance from which there is no escape because of mutually conflicting or dependent conditions. The term “Catch 22” comes from a novel written by Joseph Heller, Nov 1961 about Army Air Service during WW II.
*Note: The Federal technical requirements customer cannot commit any guarantee of funding or procurement of any product or service.

Leadership, planning and knowledge are the keys to ensure you are successful in building this market vertical.

So, tell me what you think? Do you have any stories about how Time, Money, and People are different when selling to the Federal Government? Let me know in the comment section?  Do you have anything to add?

On the next blog, I will be directing my attention to the “The TEN complexities of selling into the Federal Market: The REAL differences from selling to Commercial and Federal customers”. I hope you will join me.

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BLOG 6: The TEN complexities of selling into the Federal Market: The REAL differences from selling to Commercial and Federal customers