NO MAGIC WAND! SELLING TO THE IC IS HARD WORK BUT WORTH IT!!
Well, how did you do this fiscal year? The intell budgets have not really been cut, as much as they’ve been adjusted away from Cold War programs towards counterinsurgency and modern tools that more directly support the global war on terror (GWOT). Fred Kaplan, in a recent Foreign Policy Online Magazine article, points out that SECDEF Robert Gates “favors spending tens of billions of dollars to maintain, and somewhat upgrade, the nuclear arsenal. He opposes any slacking off in America's global military presence.” And the NRO is preparing for "the most aggressive launch campaign we've had in 20 years." Gates has seen that the transformation from a Cold War machine is by no means complete and we don’t need to shrink budgets, but adjust priorities within budget. These couple of examples are typical to the current environment as FY10 closes.
In this context, if you’re not making reasonable business development gains, it may be your method that also needs adjustment; the money is out there in the DoD and the intelligence community, albeit shifting from one pocket into another. Therefore, I don’t let the news of funding cuts alarm me in any way. For instance, ISR and C4I spending—in both the collection and and analysis, is at least slightly rising. Also, look what is happening to the cyber spending. And DoD spending on classified R&D will be in the neighborhood of $22B during FY11, according to Todd Harris of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Analysis (see www.csbaonline.org). So, the funding is there, but if you want more of this pie, read on.
The first place to begin is with the truth: do you truly have something to offer and how has your firm performed in communicating this towards those in a position to pay for it? Who is driving this bus—are they the right individual? Does s/he have the tools and clear goals? Has management given them enough time? These are only a few of the dozens of questions that periodically need to be posed. Here is a six-pointed fulcrum on which to conduct a quick (or detailed) evaluation of your firm’s go-to-market approach:
1) Technology or innovation – your offering, even when it is a services offering, must be innovative, compelling, differentiated or in some way, and worth paying for…relative to your competition. And this applies to minority companies as well. No one will care what color or ethnicity you bring to the table if your firm fails to meet its commitments.
2) Technique – you may be approaching the agencies in the wrong manner. For starters, they don’t owe you anything except fair treatment. You may be fairly losing for a good reason. Talk with some folks whom you respect and get their feedback if things are still a mystery to you.
3) Timing – I have been around companies who were two and three years ahead of their time, relative to the intell community’s ability to take advantage of their innovation. Patience is vital here. What can you sell in the mean time?
4) Resources – is the wrong person or the wrong amount of funding in play? Foreign nationals selling to the intell community is a challenging place to begin. And if corporate management wants a two-quarter return on investment, they’re in denial of the reality of what is needed. (This happens all the time out of ignorance or dysfunctional thinking).
5) Value Proposition – As specifically as you can articulate it, why should any of the target agencies spend my tax dollars on your solution? This is not meaning to put you on the defensive, but in a recent visit to the Department of Homeland Security’s office of acquisition, the senior official asked basically this very question? It is a simple and efficient way for them to evaluate your offering quickly. That’s all. Be sure your answer (and your firm’s offering) is compelling.
6) Personnel – sales and business development are not for everyone. It requires a positive, passionate, persistent pursuit of a long term goal with lots of short term successes along the way. You must choose who you listen to and who you’ll ignore. Sometimes you know a client’s problem better than they know it; in other cases, you’re kidding yourself and should be more honest. The list of nuances is long and challenges even longer. This takes professional stamina yet can be fun for the right person!
My opinions here are not intended to be preachy, but simply a reminder to myself and others, that for such a challenging endeavor, we must be really good at what we do. Anytime a market is billions of dollars in size, we’re forced to be the best we can be. This is the nature of a capitalistic society. So this is a call to superior execution of our intell community business plan and execution for fiscal year 2011. I hope my readers of this blog have benefited from my ideas! I look forward to your comments.
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