learning and networking game

Federal Sales is a Contact Sport—Do You Participate in the Learning and Networking Game?

Do you participate in the learning and networking game?

I recently attended a contracting summit run by the Defense Leadership Forum, where I provided a high-level educational session called “Following the Funding in Federal Sales.” The opt-in offering supplemented an agenda largely focused on the contracting component of federal sales.

Coincident with the summit was a trade show environment where companies could have a booth, and food and receptions were presented among the booths after the programming.

Summits like this one take place around the country throughout the year. They tend to attract companies that are relatively new to the federal market or who are interested in branching out to a particular customer. In this case, the summit focused on the US Air Force, but it was not entirely limited to US Air Force needs.

Many attendees were not new to federal sales and were hoping to connect with government officials or individuals with potential businesses they might partner with. They recognized the value of meeting with customers of opportunity.

Observing employee behaviors

At this particular summit, I observed some behaviors that you might recognize in your own employees. If you recognize these behaviors, you should talk about and address them.

  1. People simply cannot be without their phones in hand. Individuals operating booths and audience members during the programming presentations are easily and readily distracted by their phones.
  2. Attendees sometimes spend a lot of time sitting—in the audience, outside the main room(s) where the programming occurs, at their booth, or in common areas in the venue. What are most doing while sitting? Holding their phones, of course.
  3. Spending time and meals with people they already know.
  4. Coordinating dinner or golf plans at the expense of meeting new people, attending programming, or visiting other booths.
  5. Many people are uncomfortable simply introducing themselves. When they do, they often miss the opportunity to capture another person’s attention. The vanilla hello, what brings you, where are you from banter doesn’t make for a memorable connection.

Most are too bashful in talking about their company and why it’s so great. I have commented on these types of behaviors in other writings. I bring them up again here so that leaders might start the conversation with their employees. How are you being represented at industry events? How do you know?

Back to my opt-in class, I was surprised at how few chose to attend my session. Surrounded by hundreds of attendees who were purportedly on the scene to improve their business, I expected a program titled “Following the Funding in Federal Sales” would attract interest. A minority chose to attend.  When you or your employees go to a nice geographic destination for a trade show, do you take all of it in?

My observations of industry executives over many years have long confirmed that most don’t understand the funding of their contracts the way they should. My academic research of defense executives confirmed that many lack awareness of essential process elements, limiting their effectiveness in pursuing federal sales. The money part appears difficult to learn, so we stick with what and who we know—RFPs and our existing network. Or we keep looking at our phones.

We hear of “The Valley of Death” at every turn when discussing R&D budgets and the challenging transition to a program of record for which funding is budgeted. The President’s FY24 budget is again late. Reportedly it will be to Congress by March 9th, a month after it was due. Are you facing a valley of death? Do you see a way out?

My best clients have a good idea of what that yet-unseen budget has in store for them. Few at this conference had the same insight. It’s a shame. Letting the complexity of the process paralyze your movements is a defensive posture.

Resilience in business requires that you do those extra things, sometimes many, many times, in order to reach your objective. Resilience in business is much more than repetition. There is no “rinse and repeat” model that will sustain you in federal sales.

Federal sales is a contact sport. What sort of contacts are in your engagement plan this week?

I’m on Capitol Hill every week this month. Will I see you there?

Are U.S. Federal Sales Opportunities out of your reach?

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