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The Power of Lobbying in Federal Sales

I am often asked, “How do you do what you do?”

When I speak at events or talk about my business, I’m not shy about sharing the successes of my clients, of which I play a supporting role. While respecting the privacy of the client relationship, the successes of many are actually hiding in plain view for all to see. I merely report the news, so to speak—but in doing so, I am able to take audiences behind the headlines.

I like to test audience knowledge about lobbying. Most audiences overestimate the number of federal lobbyists by a factor of ten or more. In defense, there are fewer than 1,000 lobbyists representing defense companies. Against an industrial base that numbers over 350,000 companies, a small number of companies are taking advantage of a tool within their reach.

I will typically refer to the 3-Ring® Circus of Federal Sales when describing the coordinated actions that allow for preferred outcomes in Washington, DC. Using examples where clients secure funding or provide useful information to inform policy, the audience often begins to settle in and recognize the complexity of the dance that they perhaps haven’t understood.

The role of lobbying in informing policy and shaping budget decisions

We’re at that time of year when the FY24 budget request will be delivered (again late) by President Biden to Congress. Having taken over two years to develop, Department of Defense officials are generally convinced they have arrived at the department’s best, or at least most practical, budget numbers. Congress will summon officials to sit before posture hearings where said officials will defend their inputs, rationale, and decisions.

In many cases, industry took advantage of opportunities to help inform and shape the budget request. By providing information to agency officials, proposing the realm of the possible, or challenging fundamental assumptions, industry can and should do all it can to help defense officials make sound programmatic choices that industry can later implement.

The budget request is, by its very nature, a political document. It reflects the ideology and priorities of the President and his party. Those two ingredients, ideology and political priority, can spoil the purity of the decision the budget request reflects.

Now that the request is with Congress, and Congress hears the rationale in testimony, there is another opportunity for the industry to weigh in and make its case for particular decisions. Lobbyists help share credible and relevant information across the three rings as the budget outcomes are ultimately decided. Lobbyists communicate with industry partners, agency officials, and congressional staffs and principals.

After a talk, I am nearly always approached by executives who have been in business development or leadership roles for years and recognize, “maybe we should talk about my situation.” 

I don’t try to convince others of the merits of lobbying. I know the subject matter so well, its history, its place, and its value, that it bores me to hear someone blame “lobbyists” for all that is what’s wrong with Washington, DC, and the decisions that are made.

The most successful companies in federal sales rely on lobbying as an essential tool in their public sector tool kit. Congress also understands the need for lobbying and has written the laws of lobbying policy (The Lobbying Disclosure Act and the Honest Leadership in Open Government Act) to assure transparency and fair play in its use. 

Whether a company chooses to lobby is indeed a choice. 

How I collaborate with my clients

Back to the opening question, “How do I do what I do?” Here are the steps I collaborate on with my clients:

  • I orchestrate a message
  • I identify who needs to know, who should know, and who cares
  • I deliver the message in a proper sequence
  • I engage others to complement the message to enhance its effectiveness and reach

Are you striving to be among the most successful companies? Let’s discuss the opportunities.

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