Managing Corporate Expectations: The Federal Market – Part I



Have you begun to build your Federal market strategy? Have you spoken to the key stakeholders in developing this strategy?

Having done Federal sales for over twenty-five years, I’ve become accustomed to the Federal processes and sales cycle and all its intricacies. I’ve built repeatable, proven and successful Federal business plans for seven companies with sixteen different product lines. What I’ve found at each company is the single most critical factor for success is obtaining buy-in and managing expectations of the key stakeholders.

In this article, we’ll discuss developing and managing high level expectations of the stakeholders known as VITOs (Very Important Top Officers). VITO is a term coined by Anthony Parinello in his great book, Selling to VITO. Though it may seem a no brainer from the perspective of someone who has created this vertical in the past, most VITOs do not have the historical success or revenue understanding of this most lucrative market segment. In fact, most companies stay away from the Federal market to focus on their comfort zone – commercial.

Managing these expectations is one of the most critical elements for any company entering the Federal Market. This single element will probably set the company’s commitment to either succeed or fail in this endeavor.

Over twelve years ago a company interviewed me to start their Federal vertical. During the hiring process, I flew out to San Jose to interview with the entire management team. They were very successful with full fledge commercial sale teams across the USA. They had incoming calls from Federal prospects who were inquiring about the technology, capabilities and certifications. The Vice President of Sales had not really done Federal Sales before so the company began a search to start their Federal vertical.

At this point in my career, I had already developed my methodology to establish a successful Federal vertical. So when we connected, I investigated the company, people and technology, and agreed to fly out for an interview.

As I met with the management team throughout the day, I thoughtfully and methodologically went through my formalized vertical plan to start a Federal sales market with each stakeholder. I began by asking specific questions on their Federal experience and listened intently to their answers. What as I looking for with my interviews?

Would this company fully embrace the time frames, costs and commitments that it would take to successfully build the Federal vertical.

At the conclusion of my day, as I was about to leave, the CEO of the company asked me to quickly talk in his office. I walked into his office reflecting about the entire day. I thought about each stakeholder I spoke too and their responses to the interview and felt very positive about their responses to my inquiries on my overall plan and methodology. The CEO shook my hand and thanked me for coming out to interview with the company. He had already spoken to all the stakeholders I interviewed with throughout the day. It appeared that there was a unanimous decision to offer me a position to begin their Federal vertical.

I did eventually formally accept the position, but truth be told, much of the heavy lifting was done on the day I interviewed the staff.  During each interview, I made it a point to set expectations with each of the key stakeholders.  This also allowed me to understand the companies comfort level with the risks and rewards of journey into the federal market. This was crucial to my success, because now it was my job to manage their expectations while I executed the plan. The work I did before I officially started working for this company, and the commitment they made, enabled this to be one of the most successful companies I have lead into the federal market.

This post can’t address every specific expectation, because every company and technology is different. The purpose of this article is to provide significant insight into what expectations your company should be examining.


Why is managing corporate expectations critical to the success of building this vertical?

This answer has many parts because not all stakeholders have the same definition of success. Therefore, expectations must be viewed from their perspective to manage them correctly. So, know your audience.

Among the many expectations to manage are:

  1. Costs for entering the market – Can I get the company to fund the requirements?
  2. Time on return on investment – How long will it take to recuperate the costs of building this business?
  3. Revenue generation: pipeline building and closing – How long will it take before we see revenue being closed?
  4. Personnel – Who has to be involved? How much time is involved?
  5. Marketing – What is the cost and time to develop strategy and collateral?
  6. Engineering – Does the product need enhancements for the Federal market?
  7. Channel – Do we have the correct partners?

Other Considerations – I call them “The 5 C’s”- (NOTE: I will deep dive into these in a future article.)

  1. Customers – Past performance
  2. Clearances – Are they required?
  3. Contracts – Is the company aligned properly?
  4. Certifications (product and services) – Depending on the customer in Federal vertical
  5. Cloud – Does the product have the correct requirements?

Additionally, the reason you want buy-in from these key stakeholders is to obtain four critical resources: money, people, process and technology. To manage expectations is also to manage these resources. So again, communicate, communicate, communicate your expectations constantly and consistently. Without all of these four resources, you cannot be successful. (NOTE: I will deep dive in a future article.)

It’s interesting about the question, WHY? In each of the companies for which I built their Federal vertical, the key stakeholder’s question was the same. (one example – product certifications) If we get these certifications, how much revenue can we generate for a return on investment? Though this is a great question, it can’t be realistically answered. WHY NOT? Because without these certifications, the revenue will be zero. With the certifications, the customer can buy and add the product to their network.

To continue this discussion, we will delve into the HOW to manage expectations & WHO are the key stakeholders and their expectations. I hope you will join me.

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BLOG 3: Continuing the Managing Expectations discussion.

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