EPISODE 650: Selling New Technology into Public Sector with Mattermost Sales Leader Barry Duplantis

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Today’s show featured an interview with Barry Duplantis, VP and GM, North America Public Sector, Mattermost.

Find Barry on LinkedIn.

BARRY’S ADVICE:  “The top priority for me is how are we creating pipeline every day? What are the motions to create pipeline? What are the actions that marketing and the sales team are doing to create pipeline? Because we all know the sales cycle in public sector can be a bit wobbly at times, where either things come really quickly or they take a long, long time. It’s about understanding as you build a pipeline, what are the priority opportunities that you really need to double down on and go after?”


Fred Diamond: I’m excited. Today we’re talking with Barry Duplantis. He’s the VP and General Manager for Public Sector at Mattermost. We’re doing the interview in the late fall of 2023. Barry, of the 650+ shows that we’ve done, many of them have been with public sector sales leaders. I do the interviews based out of Northern Virginia, not too far from Washington DC, but we have listeners all around the globe. Since I’m based in DC, we’ve had great sales leaders from companies like Amazon. I know you worked at Red Hat at one point. We’ve had the great Paul Smith and some of the people, Lynne Chamberlain, who worked in his organization have been on the show. Talk a little bit about public sector. Well actually first, give us an introduction to Mattermost. Tell us what you do.

Barry Duplantis: Mattermost is a collaboration platform. It’s very similar to Slack or Microsoft Teams. The difference between the two is that we are an on-premise product, so we can deploy inside of any cloud. It makes us pretty attractive for regulated markets who want data sovereignty but also want to have control over messages that are going out. We’ve seen a lot of activity and traction in and around that space with respect to folks using WhatsApp or Signal, and the government pushing away Mattermost as an alternative to that. But we also have the workflow management along with the channel set’s pretty powerful. We’re seeing in the regulated markets, to include the federal space, there’s a lot of interest in the product set right now. I wanted to mention this again, my track record of working with open-source companies, Mattermost is an open-source company like the previous ones that I’ve worked with before.

Fred Diamond: One of the great things about open source is that it’s been so aggressively and rigidly developed. I have to imagine that open-source technology like yours is much more secure than some of the proprietary tools that you mentioned in the beginning.

Barry Duplantis: It’s really about having eyes on the product. Before you go to GA, as you go through your security processes, there’s eyes on the code. Then we have backstops so that we leverage HackerOne as a white hat hacking platform to look at certain attack surfaces to make sure it’s even further secure. As we move more into the government space from some of our commercial customers, security is paramount. We always have to make sure that we’re keeping an eye on that and spending time to make sure that the platform is secure for operating in the environments they’re operating in now.

Fred Diamond: Not everybody listening is familiar with public sector. Tell us who you sell to. Who does your team sell to? You don’t need to mention obviously specific customers, but in general, who do you sell to and how do you sell to them?

Barry Duplantis: Our largest customer today is the US Air Force. We came to the US Air Force through Platform One, the software house out of San Antonio, during COVID when they went to remote schedules. Microsoft Teams served a little bit of a purpose, but for operational collaboration, there was no tool available. That grew into Air Mobility Command, which Air Mobility Command, no matter whether or not you have COVID or not, they still have to deliver supplies globally. They’re always busy. The use case and challenge they had is not being able to operate downrange and having a way to talk back to the AOPs at Scott Air Force Base. They leverage Mattermost for the ops to edge mission profile, being able to use a mobile device at the edge. They could be in Bamako, Mali, and get tasked to fly to Qatar. They’ll get their flight plan through Mattermost and they could sign their flight plan and be on their way.

That was really the original use case where it really blew up. Recently we just did a case study with Mobility Guardian in the Pacific, where Mattermost was heavily used there. That word of mouth spread, which is helpful when you’re a small startup. We have other agencies that are using Mattermost. We have a lot of the use cases we have as a technical developer use case, we have a cyber use case, and we have a mission-oriented use case for ops to edge. Those are the use cases where we’re seeing different customer profiles look at Mattermost for those different use cases.

Fred Diamond: What are some of the biggest challenges when it comes to public sector sales, specifically for emerging startups? There’s quite a few. How have you been able to overcome them during your time at Mattermost?

Barry Duplantis: I tell you what, startups are always interesting, because you’re walking into a space that is dominated by large systems integrators and established technology companies. That is a challenge in itself. The technology has to be compelling. There has to be a market fit, and there has to be a unique problem you’re solving to really gain traction. But the problems I see, or the challenges I have is that you have a smaller sales team, smaller marketing team. You have to be scrappy. It really is about being surgical. You have to think about, where can I get the most bang for the investment that I’m making?

I can’t go to every trade show. I can’t go to all these events. What are the places where we see the most traction? Where are the places where our champions are spending their time? To overcome that, it’s about understanding where you have traction and where you have targets. I use that term a lot. Where do we have traction? What targets can we establish based off of that traction? Where can we springboard into the next thing? That’s how I generally overcome the challenge of the small team, that’s how we look at being surgical, and it’s about traction and targets.

Fred Diamond: Along those lines, one of the things for people listening is, the public sector marketplace, particularly federal, is unique in the sense that your competitor today could be your biggest partner tomorrow, for a whole bunch of different reasons. Maybe you’re going into a contract that’s established, whatever it might be. Talk about some of the other pieces of the public sector sales efforts that you do. There’s a lot of teaming. What are some of the other things that you do besides direct sales to gain traction with some of your accounts?

Barry Duplantis: Look, it is a game of building relationships and partnerships. You have to have it. It’s sometimes almost strange bedfellows, sometimes it’s co-opetition, but there’s a need, they see a need, or the end customer sees the need. Sometimes you may get stonewalled by an integrator, but the end customer says, “No, no, this is what I want.” I think the challenge sometimes is, where people get hung up is, do they build, do they buy, and do they partner? Those three things happen, and it’s a matter of who wants to do either of those three options.

I think the integrators like building, because it makes it sticky. I think the software companies like us want people to buy our software because for open source it allows you to be more flexible. A lot of the things that I see is really about building those relationships and understanding the dynamics of the build, partner, or buy. Those all have a different workflow and different tasks associated with it.

Fred Diamond: For people listening, I want to let them know you were a veteran, thank you for your service. Talk about how that led you to becoming a sales leader and how it’s helped you in public sector sales. What’s interesting, like I mentioned in the beginning of the show, a good portion of the Sales Game Changers Podcasts that we’ve done have been with people who’ve been selling to public sector for their entire career. I found they’re usually one of two. Either they’ve had a family member, maybe a father or something like that, who was active in the military typically, or maybe one of the civilian agencies, and that led them to wanting to serve. Or they’ve come up through the ranks as a war fighter or as a veteran, and once they’ve retired at a certain point, they’ve then moved into sales. Tell us a little bit about your story and how being a veteran has helped you with public sector sales.

Barry Duplantis: I served quite a few years in US Army Special Forces. I was involved in quite a few different operations. I’ll just go back to the startup world. I think being on a Special Forces A team and operating the way we did is very similar to how you operate with a startup. Everybody has to pull their weight and add value. I liked the mode of the startups, but getting into public sector sales, this is a later and technical career life.  One of the things that helped me is because I’m starting a second career after almost 17 years in the military after getting hurt, where I had to start over.

I’ve been a product manager, I’ve been a support manager, I’ve been an engineering manager. I’ve run customer success. I’ve been a BD director in public sector. As I rolled into this role, it was good for me to have the experiences that I had where I understand engineering processes, I understand how to support products, I understand all these different things, and I think it makes me a better public sector sales leader because I’ve had those experience. I’ve just not been selling the whole time. I think I’m a little more thoughtful when it comes to being a veteran and understanding the mission. I think as a veteran, when I look at a customer, I don’t look at the dollars. I look at what is the mission? What problem are we solving for them to complete their mission? For me, it’s always mission first. If you do that well, you’re going to be successful in delivering product to the folks that need it.

Legacy-wise, my dad was a cop. He wasn’t a veteran, but he served. My brother is a serving Army officer. My son’s a serving Army officer. There’s a bit of legacy in the family. When I look at, again, how we’re developing products and getting those products offered up to these customers, I keep that in mind because I currently have two family members serving. It’s really important for me to make sure that what we’re doing is truly in this mission-first mantra.

Fred Diamond: Speaking of bringing products to market, Mattermost had participated in what’s known as the SBIR program. First of all, tell us what that means, and then what have been some of the most meaningful results that have come out of the SBIR program for Mattermost?

Barry Duplantis: We’ve been pretty successful in the last 24 months with this SBIR program. The SBIR program is the Small Business Innovation and Research Program that provides dollars, it’s almost like a venture fund for small business to bring emerging technology into the DOD or the commercial space. Generally, how it works is that a customer, or it be whatever branch of the military has a problem they want to solve, and they throw that out there as a proposal and people respond to that proposal. In turn, you have these phases of the SBIR, Phase I, Phase II, Phase III, and there’s a lot of things that happen in the Phase I that never get picked up for Phase II.

What we found and how we were successful is we identified an existing customer that we had, specifically Air Mobility Command, I can talk about them because it’s public. We developed mission critical features that enhanced their capabilities with Mattermost. Because of that, we won four direct Phase II SBIRs in a year, which at the end of the day, those dollars are for development. You’re developing features and technologies for those customers to make their life better as it applies to your product.

We’ve also partnered with our SBIRs. We have partnerships with BrainGu and [inaudible 0:15:04] on a different one with the TAK Server. We found great success using and leveraging that program, one, to create more awareness, but also to grow adoption. I think some people try to do this cold. It really is about understanding who the customer is, what the need is, but also you have to have a sponsor. You have to have somebody at the 06 level or above who really gets behind what you’re doing for the SBIR.

Fred Diamond: Barry, people like to know what’s going through the mind of the sales leaders that we interview on the Sales Game Changers Podcast. When you wake up in the morning, what are some of the first things you think about as leading the sales efforts for public sector at Mattermost? What are your two biggest priorities when you wake up and get started?

Barry Duplantis: The top priority for me is how are we creating pipeline every day? What are the motions to create pipeline? What are the actions that marketing and the sales team are doing to create pipeline? Because we all know the sales cycle in public sector can be a bit wobbly at times, where either things come really quickly or they take a long, long time. It’s about understanding as you build a pipeline, what are the priority opportunities that you really need to double down on and go after? How do you work with the sales reps to make sure that they’re enabled to be able to have those next discussions and move those opportunities along? I think about pipeline as a critical thing. When I get up in the morning, are we creating more pipeline?

As a sales leader, it’s about what are we closing? How much of what we’re doing is getting closed, and what are the steps to close? The third thing is always a challenge, is that I’m always like, we all know when it goes into contracting, it goes into a black hole and you don’t know when it’s going to come out. It’s almost hard from a predictability perspective. I think those three things, outside of being mission-focused, but as a sales leader, I think the number one thing that I’m thinking about, and I’m trying to help, because I don’t have any BD folks, I’m the sales leader/BD guy/veteran/subject matter expert, is really about pipeline creation. That’s the one thing that I think about.

Fred Diamond: One of the things with public sector markets that people don’t realize, people criticize government because of process. But from a technology perspective, government in a lot of ways, particularly federal government, DOD for that matter, is leading the way with so many technologies. How does the emergence of new technologies like generative AI, artificial intelligence, impact public sector sales?

Barry Duplantis: I think people are trying to figure out how to position AI/ML or even large language models into what they’re doing. For folks that understand the concept, technologies like ours or others need to be able to adapt to enable or actually integrate with specific folks that are developing AI capabilities inside of different organizations. It really is about, for the DOD, is how are you curating data sets? How are you training the model to get the things you need when you need it? I look at it as an operator. I think about, for example, when I had to work a non-combatant evacuation operation in Africa in the ‘90s, the data that I had as an operations officer to pull that together, it took about two to three days going all the different places to gather information to put this thing together.

Think about the same problem set for the evacuation of the embassy in Sudan. Think about having a curated data set that is specific to a target country or activity. Then you’re serving in AFRICOM and you can go, “Hey, AFRICOM, we have a neo. It’s happening.” You can go down to all your J staff, J1 through 8, “Okay, we’re building a plant.” I need you to go to our whatever named AI engine we’re using for that and be able to pull the data from your specific staff section. Like the S1 needs to know the warden system. Or the S4 needs to know ports and airfields that are usable to get in there. If you can leverage, I look at it from Mattermost from a chat capability, leverage the chat, and sometimes I joke around and say we’re the chat in ChatGPT, we’re seeing a lot of connectivity with that.

But being able to put that together and that plan comes together within two hours versus two days, because 80% of the information that you may be pulling, is accurate, but 20% you need to have a subject matter expert question. It is not always perfect, but it gets you closer to that target and it creates decision quality and decision advantage over time. Then you learn from the next operation. I try to tell stories about how to use it, and it resonates with people. But I do think from an AI perspective, software and technology needs to understand how they fit into the strategy for certain DOD organizations or intelligence communities AI roadmap. How do you make sure you’re complimenting that? How do you make sure you’re integrating? How do you make sure you add value to what they’re doing when it comes to AI?

Fred Diamond: You alluded a couple of times to systems integrators and contractors, et cetera. For people listening to the show, one of the big strategies for technology products is to get on contracts. There’s direct sales, but a lot of these contracts are run by the large companies, the Leidos’, Northrop Grummans of the world, et cetera. I have two questions before I ask you for your final action step. How important is it for you as the sales leader of public sector at Mattermost to build relationships with partners, such as systems integrators or value-added resellers? Talk about that question. Then I have one more question about what would be your advice for people getting into public sector sales. Then we’ll ask you for your final action step.

Barry Duplantis: From my perspective, when I look at system integrators, there’s a lot of capabilities in a lot of different systems integrators. You have to determine the systems integrators that fit nicely into your space. There’s certain integrators that make widgets and aircraft parts or parts for a spacecraft. For me, I don’t see partnerships there because they’re just using our technology for, it could be the engineers using it for chat. I look at the systems integrators that are doing more IT specific, more digital transformation. It’s about how do you look at those teams that are responsible for… I’ll look at digital transformation in Zero Trust, who is responsible inside of those integrators that are doing those things? Because from a software perspective, that’s where you wedge in and fit.

Because with integrators, if you’re a startup, you’re just noise until they realize, “Holy crud, we can really use them to accelerate digital transformation here,” and they have to see your company as a force multiplier. Either it gets that more sticky. That’s how I look at it, is like, how can I position us as a force multiplier within systems integrators who are doing specific work that fits our software profile, versus chasing billion-dollar programs that you’re not even registering. That’s how I look at it. What I find is a mix of large integrators who are doing digital transformation, but also medium and small systems integrators, boutique integrators who are doing a lot of good work anyway, who get subcontracted out by these guys. I find those a good mix. That’s how I generally operate.

Fred Diamond: A lot of people say, we use the term Fortune One, public sector is Fortune One. Who are you selling to? We sell to the government. Well, no, you don’t. I like the way you answered that question. For you to be successful, you really need to focus on who could be the most likely candidates who need your specific solution for what their mission is. You talked a lot about digital transformation, et cetera. Barry, one last question before I ask you for your final action step.

Public sector is a humongous marketplace. Again, I’m doing today’s show based out of Northern Virginia, not too far from DC. Everywhere I look within five miles of my house, there’s all the big technology players, and everybody from the IBMs, to the Microsofts have huge penetration in the marketplace. What would be your advice for someone getting into public sector sales? Again, you served for the Army for 17 some odd years, and then you made the second career transition. But if somebody is getting out of college, or if they work in enterprise technology and they want to move into public sector, and they do, what would be your advice for them, first thing to do to get successful?

Barry Duplantis: Being an enterprise sales rep in this space, you have to be pretty savvy. Coming off the street, I have a couple of cases where I have some Green Berets that came from my space who know how to pick that up and really run with it. I do think that the starting point is I see folks working with larger software companies as a BDR or SDR learning the market. If you’re technical too, I see folks getting in the technical space as a solutions engineer or architect. I see those people transition to sales also.

Sometimes it’s better to go big with a larger company, because they have processes, they have MEDDPICC very defined. They have all these things that you need to learn from. Plus, I think cold calling builds a little bit of credibility for yourself as you go forward. It’s almost like auditioning for if you’re an actor, always auditioning and you’re going to get a refusal, refusal, refusal, but you’re going to get one and you’ll land it. I do think that that’s a great starting place, but I think it’s important to find technologies that you really align with. I think about this too. I’ll talk to my son about stocks and picking stocks and things. Pick a brand that you invest in. Pick a brand that you buy. If you want to go into sales, pick a technology or a solution or something that you’re interested in as your second step. Because maybe your first one, you just come in and you’ve got to knock out what you have to knock out, but always chart a path.

I see people going in and working in emerging technologies, there’s always going to be something new, and there’s always going to be something there. Then if you have a bit of experience, then startups will start looking at you if you have a little bit of a good track record. But it’s about building a track record early on, I think, with larger companies before you step into other things.

Fred Diamond: Once again, I want to thank Barry Duplantis for being on today’s Sales Game Changers Podcast. Barry, I want to thank you again. First of all, I thanked you a couple times for your service, but I want to thank you for talking about some topics we haven’t spoken about before. I was a marketing consultant for a long time before I started the Institute for Excellence in Sales, and two of the companies that I was the outsource marketing VP of went through the SBIR program. It’s something I really haven’t thought about in close to 15 years. But it brought back some good memories. STTR was closely associated with that as well. One of our clients went through that. I like the way you described it, it is a good way to start getting some traction.

I like the way you also talked about ways to possibly start your career in sales, especially in public sector. It’s been described in the past on the Sales Game Changers Podcast as the NFL of sales. Every big player, it’s a very challenging customer. You gave a great answer where you talked about you could be doing all of the right things and then you get into contracts, and then there could be global challenges, of course, that affect where money is going. We’re all familiar with the term continuing resolution, of course, which rears its ugly head every once in a while. As rewarding as a marketplace as it is for sales professionals, it’s also a challenge, but it’s also one that if you’re passionate and committed to, can really provide a tremendous career. There’s tens of thousands of people who can attest to that.

Give us your final action step. You’ve given us so many great ideas. Give us one specific thing people should do right now after listening to today’s Sales Game Changers podcast or reading the transcript.

Barry Duplantis: Pick a topic that you’re interested in, learn something new every day. I’m always learning, and I think it’s really important for you to go deep on a topic. Knowledge is power. I always look at that as my thing, and maybe I didn’t hit the mark, but that’s what I look at. I learn something new every single day, and if it’s something that I’m interested in, I go deep on it. I try to be able to articulate that, what I’ve learned, especially if it helps the team. But there’s always something you’ll learn, especially in DOD, whether it be a new unit, or a new policy, you have to be curious. It goes back to being curious. Always be curious about things. For me, I’m constantly curious and I’m always thinking about things that I could do better.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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