GM blog graphic July 3

Are You in Autopilot? The Balance between Speed and Strategy

Some Things Can’t be Rushed

I often see companies attempting to move too quickly through the federal acquisition process, believing their own “special” relationship or unique understanding of the situation makes them different. My business thrives because I know how to help companies see pathways that generate quicker outcomes, often 12-18 months quicker.  I understand the environment and help companies move boldly, but by using subtle actions and techniques in doing so.

There are parts of the process that must be passed through, not around.  Knowing when to use a proverbial jumper wire to short-circuit the redundant parts of the process is the key to moving quickly in federal sales.

When I first learned to drive ships, I had a big leg up on my contemporaries because I understood the concept of relative motion quite well. As a competitive sailor in high school and college, I understood the effects of wind and current, and how those variables affected the movement of boats in the race. Most junior officers learning to drive a ship apply textbook understanding of engine controls and wind up delivering too many engine commands in a row. Such a rapid flow of engine orders doesn’t allow a ship handler to see the effect of each order.

For ships of varying sizes, from 4,000-ton frigates to 9- and 10,000-ton cruisers and destroyers, the speed of response to engine orders differs. Layering in the variables of wind and current assures that no two maneuvering evolutions will be exactly alike. One must give the order, wait a beat or two to see the effect, then proceed to the next order.

Similar requirements apply to landing planes albeit at a much faster pace. Pilots of tactical aircraft landing on an aircraft carrier at high speed make hundreds of corrections in the final phase of flight before actually landing. So numerous are the factors in this situation that an external observer on the deck of the carrier offers helpful feedback to the pilot via radio. This Landing Signals Officer (LSO) is better positioned than the pilot to see the effect of these minor but critical last-second corrections to the profile of the plane.

I was operating a new-to-me boat this past weekend, a hefty center console with large twin outboard motors. In a larger and heavier cruising boat, I could set the autopilot and drive through the sea state—the boat will track down the familiar magenta colored line. However, this smaller boat requires a bit of finesse to maneuver through waves, balancing speed and angle of attack into each wave, in order to make the desired course over ground. The magenta line in this case is a guide.

In each scenario above, the variables of the environment matter considerably. One learns over time how to apply different techniques to different situations. Yes, there are textbooks that describe certain phenomena, but one must hone their own skills to know when and how to adjust the textbook methods to each environmental situation.

It is no different in selling to the federal government. There are known conditions: needs, a budget, requirements, an authorization, an appropriation, a contract vehicle, a contract award mechanism, a purchase order, federal acquisition regulations, and myriad other policy conditions. Some are lucky in federal sales. Some use the method they know or have seen work before.

My research of defense executives drove home a concept for me that I suppose I understood on one level, but was still surprised to confirm. Nearly all defense executives have honed their knowledge through on-the-job training (OJT). That doesn’t mean the same thing as having honed skills to the point of expertise. 

As you look around your team, do you see expertise unfolding? Does the team work smart with appropriate effort? Are they attuned to the correct environmental variables?

Or do they work hard, grinding to the same playbook the team uses each time? Do the environmental conditions support the use of a jumper wire to short circuit some parts of the acquisition process?

I recently read a book by Dan Sullivan and Benjamin Hardy called, “10X is Easier than 2X.” The premise is about letting go of 80% of the things that amount to churn work, and focus on the 20% that you are best at. By letting go of some things, and stepping back, one can better understand the effects of the changes and actions being applied to a situation. The results are much more profound and come with much less effort.

I say I read the book. I actually listened on Audible. Between each chapter, the two authors apply further examples of the material in each chapter. It was so good; I went back a couple of weeks later to listen again.

Do you have a magenta line you follow?

Do you have an LSO speaking to you by radio?

Are you grinding?  I love to ask executives during Sentient Strategy sessions how much sleep they got last night. Sometimes we don’t recognize that we are grinding.

Are you counting the days until a vacation, or perhaps retirement? That may be an indication of grinding.

Federal sales is a complex process. But it is not hard. I’ll repeat that. It is not hard. Some make it hard by not applying the right expertise to their situation. Expertise does not have to be grown organically. It can also be brought in and applied like fertilizer to a tired organization.

Close your eyes. What’s the first image that comes to mind after reading this?

The feedback I get from these newsletters is always encouraging and inspiring. Each week, people write back to me and I read and respond to each of them. I’m grateful for all who read so faithfully. I hope you are taking at least one thing away, whatever that is for your situation. As I said, no two sets of circumstances are alike.


Don’t miss the opportunity to learn what actions you should be taking now to secure critical federal spending obligations.

Save your seat and I will see you on the 12th!

As an added bonus, I will be giving away signed copies of my books, Pitching the Big Top: How to Master the 3-Ring® Circus of Federal Sales, and Million Dollar Influence co-written with Alan Weiss, to all attendees! One attendee will also be selected at random to receive a complimentary one-hour deep dive into their company’s federal sales engagement plan.

See you on the 12th!

Webinar reminder June 12

Register for my How to Finish the Fiscal Year Strong! zoom session here.

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