Note: This post was authored by Jeremy King, Managing Partner of Benchmark Executive Search. We asked Jeremy for his views on the top ten considerations a CEO should give when considering penetrating the federal space or scaling up a federal organization – bg.
Top 10 approaches to either penetrating or scaling your federal organization
- Retain an expert….. If you have a commercial software/hardware product and believe it would solve a federal mission problem, (dual-use technology) invest in an expert to confirm your suspicions or those of your investors. Don’t hire a full-time sales executive or rep yet. Rather, retain a SME for at least 3 months. There are many former government officials who now run successful consultancies. They have the clearances and access to walk the halls, and most importantly, open channels to the decision makers to ask the tough questions. Among the experts are: Alan Wade (former CIO at CIA), Fran Landolf (former SIS at NSA), Bob Flores (former CTO at CIA), Bob Gourley (former CTO at DIA), Jill Singer (former CIO at NRO), etc.
- Don’t depend on a large systems integrator….. The problem with this traditional approach is that the goals are not aligned. The SI’s want to sell more “butts-in-seats” and unless your game-changing technology allows them to push more bodies then you will be wasting much needed time and resources with little hope of ever seeing much revenue.
- Find an alternative channel……USG agencies are now seeking a direct channel to innovative technologies. With ODNI’s push for an apps-store in the IC cloud, more and more of these point-solutions will be offered to end-users on the ICITE desktop. There is evidence of this trend here: (link to PPT). In this presentation from the outgoing CTO of the CIA, Gus Hunt, whose presentation to industry was called “Riding the Technology Wave.”
- Find an early adopter….. If you retained a federal expert to help you spec out the landscape and he/she confirms you have a better mousetrap, which an agency might buy, then get in front of an agency representative and find a champion.
- Don’t SELL your wares…… First listen and find out what hairy mission problem(s) your technology may solve and customize it towards their needs. We have seen too many small companies try to give the same pitch they give to their commercial customers and that usually falls on deaf ears. Do your homework and make sure your first opportunity in front of an agency addresses the pain they are feeling. If you don’t strike a chord right away and entice them to determine how to “apply” your technology, you have already lost. Prove your wares first…….if you have something unique that better solves their problem, then don’t try to stand on ceremony and charge the most you can. The more important aspect is letting them pilot or try out the technology to prove the efficacy of it. Successful early adopter, referencable pilots are far more valuable than early revenue.
- Hire a full-time Sales/BD exec to cut through the labyrinth of smoke and mirrors……If you have confirmed an agency is interested in your wares, then it’s time to bring in the big guns. Federal works top down; starting with a lower-level sales rep knocking on doors is usually a slower way to a sale. Find a proven, experienced senior exec that has an established reputation and rolodex to work top down and also bottom up. Work your network of investors, advisors, service providers and hired consultants first. If that doesn’t net you a good match, then:
- Pick up the phone yourself and play headhunter…….Find a competitor with a federal expert you want, or go to LinkedIn and send a note like this: I’m CEO of XYZ co. with game-changing technology of XX and based on your impressive background and knowledge of YY space, I was hoping you would take a 5 minute call to hear how our technology can solve ZZ problem at AA agency. We need a pro like you to help us build a great federal success story and lead to successful exit. What day/time works for you?
- Recruit a Federal Advisory Board…..Find the most respected experienced folks you can. Don’t be cheap and expect them to offer free advice and provide your website with federal credibility. Either pay them for consulting, or offer meaningful equity/options in your company. They have spent years understanding the space. Don’t look to them for BD help, but for the unique targeted insight they offer and advice on how to best position your product. You get what you pay for. If that doesn’t net you an A-player…
- Hire a headhunter……Find a firm that specializes in the federal space. They will have a far deeper network and bench of talent than any single company/investment firm can access. Since all headhunters do is develop relationships with the best talent, they are trusted agents to the talent, and skilled ambassadors to their clients. Matching the skills- set with company need is the easy part, nailing the fit (chemistry and culture piece) and closing the candidate is always the most important and hardest part.
- Don’t quit……if you believe (and experts confirm) you have something that could advance the federal mission, then don’t get discouraged! It typically takes a company 2+ years to post their first sale. Uncle Sam may not be your favorite uncle, but he is certainly your richest uncle.
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- Top 10 approaches to either starting or scaling your federal organization - December 12, 2013