Federal Sales Mentoring – Three things you should know
I love selling. I love having my ideas resonate with someone I just met and having that person truly understand the value of what I am speaking to them about. I have been this way my entire life. At one point in my career, I was a pre-sales engineer. I was very happy going from meeting to meeting, listening to the customer’s issues, and providing a product solution to their requirements. I worked directly with the outside sales teams. It was comfortable, and I enjoyed the challenges and was rewarded by a customer buying and implementing the product solution I had envisioned. Hopefully, the solution worked as advertised.
Then one day, the Vice President of Federal Sales of the product company where I was working came into my office and changed my career and life. He told me I was no longer an engineer for the company. My heart dropped. My world was crashing down on me. I thought I was getting the boot. Instead, he informed me that he would like me to become a Federal outside sales representative for the company on his team. I was scared, confused, and excited, and I saw an opportunity to prove myself in a completely different way once again.
Here are the three things I wish I had known about becoming a Federal outside sales representative.
1. No product Federal inside or outside sales training available
I was a lucky one for five reasons:
- I had a military background
- My territory was the Department of Defense – Southeast
- I understood the Federal speak
- I knew the products I was selling intimately
I had Federal outside sales friends working with me to help me succeed. I have listened to many stories of outside and inside Federal sales representatives who were given their first territory, a phone, and an outdated customer relationship management tool and were told – Go sell and be successful. Here is your quota. The salespeople before you successfully sold into that territory – so we are expecting the same from you.
Especially when the Federal sales representative was, just a day before that discussion, the commercial northeast sales representative. I am not saying this person could not be successful. But it takes time to understand the Federal markets quirks, which include:
- Federal budget cycle,
- Federal product certification requirements,
- Federal resellers who hold (near and dear) contract vehicles,
- Federal marketing, and
- Federal business essentials.
These quirks have real implications on whether the Federal salesperson will succeed.
Returning to the “No product Federal inside or outside sales training available” requirement. Hundreds or even thousands of commercially available enterprise private sector training companies, books, and seminars exist. They all teach the student the basics of blocking and tackling enterprise sales. Some seminars do have specializations and focus on parts of the sales process. Some of these seminars and books are very good but lack some essentials for selling into the Federal market.
I also have had multiple Vice Presidents of sales tell me: Selling is selling. No one else here has the issues you are bringing to me. He is 100 percent correct. All the other sales representatives were selling into the commercial enterprise market. I was selling into the quirky Federal market.
2. Figuring out your territory
Most companies in business for five or more years have normal sales personnel turnover. This is the nature of the sales beast. With that said, as these people roll through the system, the company-mandated customer relationship management tool becomes the company’s system of record for leads, customers, and pipeline management (CRM). There are inherent flaws in all the CRMs I have enjoyed maintaining at multiple companies. One intrinsic issue became clear when the four preceding sales representatives spelled the customer company names four different ways. The data can be incomplete. The data can be inaccurate. Like they say, “Garbage in, garbage out.”
The salesperson has to try and figure out what is in the CRM or sometimes just begin creating their NEW subset of data because they cannot make sense of what is in their current company CRM. That is especially true for the Federal sales market. Salespeople tend to spell DISA in ten different ways. It is almost impossible to truly get a picture of what your territory looks like, and should you go into DISA and begin asking questions, the customer might come back to you with the following:
- We already own your product
- We told the last salesperson from your company never to come back
- We looked at your products, and they do not fit our environment
The salesperson can look bad because they could not understand what had transpired previously in their new territory.
3. Where to start
Do you need to begin? How do you succeed? First, you need a plan. This is how I was very successful. I created a step-by-step Federal sales plan for my territory. I printed reports or downloaded the information for my customers from the CRM that I was mandated to use by the company. I needed to know where my whitespace in my territory was. What is “whitespace”?
Whitespace is your total addressable market (TAM) for your territory. Your TAM provides a roadmap on where you need to spend your time building your revenue pipeline to achieve your annual quota.
I have used my TAM to truly understand and plan where I need to target my time. Time! It is the only thing you cannot make more of…. Planning your time is essential to building and executing your Federal territory plan. Take your plan one step at a time. Don’t look at your territory in its entirety. Review your territory – TAM / Whitespace – where you could be most successful quickly. That is normally called low-hanging fruit.
Now that you have Federal target accounts, what is the persona or title of the person you need to find?
Here is where the magic occurs. How do you find customer contacts, phone numbers, and more to build your territory map and strategy? It is a methodical, organized, and tactical approach to developing your territory.
There are many approaches to developing a specific sales territory. Not all approaches fit every scenario regardless of what specific sales training programs state to companies. I can say none of those approaches fit the Federal sales market. The Federal market has enormous potential for those companies that want to tap that revenue. It takes work. It is not simple. What is it? The Fortune One of the World spends more than $89B in Information Technology every year, growing. Where should you pay attention?