EPISODE 367: Federal Sales Experts Eileen Kent and CACI’s Erich Wiemann Offer Ideas to Capture More Sales

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a replay of the Sales Game Changers LIVE Webinar sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales on May 24, 2021. It featured the Federal Sales Sherpa Eileen Kent and CACI Capture Leader Erich Weiman.]

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ERICH’S TIP FOR EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “Go through your current client list and see if there’s anything else on the pipeline with them. Ask them, who else, where else, what else? That’s the easiest opportunity to uncover deals today, is to go through the people who know, trust and love you today. If they can’t do business with you today, they know someone who does. That would be the first thing I would have you do today.”

EILEEN’S TIP FOR EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room, you need to be able to bring the right people to bear.”


Fred Diamond: We have an interesting show today for the frequent listeners of the Sales Game Changers podcast. Typically on Wednesday I interview sales VPs, people who are leading teams, people who are managing customer relations. Today’s a little bit different, we’re very excited. We have Eileen Kent, she is the Federal Sales Sherpa, and we have Erich Wiemann with CACI, he’s one of their leaders on the capture side and the business development side.

Today’s show is going to be slightly different. Typically, on the Wednesday show we talk about how you’re interfacing with your customers and what type of motivation, how you’re leading your team. But we’re going to talk a little bit more about how you should be interfacing with the customer.

We have two experts here on the federal customer, what do they think? What do they need from you? How can you be more successful? Erich and Eileen, it’s great to see you. Eileen, you’ve been a big supporter of the show for a long time. I want to get started with data.

Let’s just get right into it, you’re a data geek. Talk about data, what role does that play in the sales process to the federal customer? Then Erich, again, you’re a capture leader and you’ll explain what that means and then you’ll talk about your uses of data, how you think the government customer needs it and how you can be a better sales professional or BD professional by using the right data.

Eileen Kent: First of all, when a person is actually going out to go after federal opportunities, they have some ideas in their head of what to expect out there from the small business officers or other people that are saying, hey, the government needs what you sell. What I like to do is go directly into the data, and let’s see if the buyers buy what you sell, from whom, how, what contract vehicles.

The federal government data, Fred, is crazy great because it literally answers every question you really wish you could ask people and it’s available to you for free if you know how to pull the information. It allows you to have an intelligent conversation with a client who buys what you sell, because you can see what they’ve done before.

The power of data and research makes you empowered to ask pointed, direct questions about future opportunities, and it gives you an idea of who to focus on first.

Fred Diamond: Erich Wiemann, explain first of all what capture means. Not everybody understands that. Then explain data and what type of data you use.

Erich Wiemann: Thanks, Fred. Appreciate you having me. Capture is like the program manager for a sales opportunity. Here at CICA we look at big mission technology, expertise, big solution type of things. They’re the Sherpa of driving that opportunity, it’s usually on an 18 to 24 months lifecycle where you started from inception to win.

From a data perspective, we’re blessed to have great data. Most of the large businesses that are out there in the federal space has a competitive intelligence group that mines all that data for us. It’s especially helpful in terms of budgeting, in terms of understanding the customers and what their needs are. At the end of the day, what sells is mission and the why – big fan of Simon Sinek – and it’s all about the why for us. That’s how we get across and drive what we do from a capture perspective.

Fred Diamond: I want to as you both, again, you focus on the federal side. We have a lot of listeners here today. Talk about what is going on with the federal customer right now. Again, today it’s the end of May, we’re getting ready for Memorial Day in a couple of days. The federal customer’s been interesting over the last year, not everybody understands everything that they do.

Erich, why don’t you go first? Then Eileen, I’m interested in your insights. What’s the federal customer look like right now? What are the big challenges that they’re faced with? Again, it’s May, people are going to be listening to the podcast in June and down the road. We’re coming out of the pandemic in the United States for the most part, things are opening up, buildings are opening up.

Talk a little bit, Erich, about what the federal customer looks like right now. Of course, it’s a wide range in many things, defense, civilian, intel. Then Eileen, I want your thoughts as well.

Erich Wiemann: Two points on that.  Obviously, we’re coming out of COVID, I will say that the last 14, 15 months have been extremely difficult in terms of getting access to customers. Some have done better than others, GSA FEDSIM, they’re doing really well in terms of interfacing with industry. Then you have some of the IC kind of clients that have been more difficult and challenged to deal with because of the restrictions that were in place in terms of SCIFs and being able to work and having honest conversations with them.

Secondarily, from a DoD perspective, I’m mostly focused on DoD and I will tell you that for Department of Defense, it’s the pivot to the national defense strategy 2 plus 3. Great power competition is huge for them right at the moment and that pivot from going against violent extremist organizations into great power competition with Russia and China, etc. That is what I see, at least on the DoD side.

Fred Diamond: Eileen, how about you? What is going on in the federal government right now? You work with a lot of companies, you help them get up to speed and trained to sell to this marketplace. What are some things that you’re seeing?

Eileen Kent: I hate to say it, but it depends. It depends on the person and what their roles are. If they’re in contracting, they’re facing fourth quarter busy season. Starting in July till September 30th, they need to spend the budget for 2021. And because they’ve been off site, maybe they’ve been working out of their homes in a separate site from the office, all of a sudden, the money might start to release.

Because everything’s been focused on responding to the pandemic as fast as they can, but they also have to take care of regular business every day. Spending the money by the end of September is very important to contracting, so they’re a little, probably, overwhelmed with lots of projects that are coming across their desk. So they have to spend the money.

In terms of project managers, once again, it depends on the situation. Cybersecurity has been a major issue. Also, making sure the vendors are going to be CMMC certified, that’s been a whole conversation that’s been happening lately as well and an issue that’s been coming down the pipeline.

In terms of just meeting goals overall, you’ve got your stakeholders, your directors trying to keep everybody focused on taking care of those missions. You have different layers and different players that have different motivations, but they’re all basically trying to be able to get those budgets on time, done, spent so that they can focus on 2022.

This next quarter’s going to be really busy posting opportunities and then getting them awarded so they can start new projects. At the same time, they’re finishing up stuff maybe they haven’t been able to finish because of the pandemic, because they were pivoting and working on something else. It is right now a little messy, but they’re going to get back into their everyday thing, especially at the end of this year.

Fred Diamond: Erich, you want to comment on that?

Erich Wiemann: I was going to add to it, it’s especially important for those that are in the product market space. I think that you’re going to see a significant, in Q4, bump up in terms of that productivity, exactly what Eileen was talking about.

Fred Diamond: For our listeners, Eileen mentioned the federal fiscal season and the government has to spend their money by September 30th, so you see a large portion of their budget being spent. I want to follow up on something you were talking about, Eileen. Again, we have a lot of sales professionals listening to today’s podcast and our webcast.

Let’s talk about the mindset of the federal customer. You started to allude to that, and you’re right. Just to say ‘the federal customer’ doesn’t make sense, there’s various levels, there’s responsibilities, there’s contracting, there’s program, project, etc. But help us understand, for the people listening today, what is going on in the mind generally?

I understand what you’re saying about quarterly, and Erich made a great point, we’re coming out of the pandemic so things are shifting a little bit. But help us understand, maybe each of you take two typical government positions that the people watching today might be selling to. Give us some insights into what their life looks like, what’s going on, what are they concerned about? I’m curious what you’re going to say. Eileen, why don’t you go first? Just take two random positions that people watching today will sell to and give us some insights into what’s in their mind.

Eileen Kent: If it were an IT person, a program manager, a project manager, obviously, the very first thing that’s on their mind is please, god, don’t let my system get broken into and this become a massive breach of data and the public sector learns about it. Cybersecurity, I would say, was top of mind because if that lands in their personnel file that something went wrong on their watch with their vendors in their project, that’s going to go on their permanent file.

So they’re going to be leaning on their vendors to make sure that, this is a vendor talking, “I’m here to help you follow protocol, make your job easier and make you look good. Whatever that takes, whether I bring in other teaming partners or we have subject matter experts or we have solutions, we’re here to support your efforts to make you look good.” If we can really be behind our project managers and program managers to get them what they need as quickly as possible on time and within budget, that’s what we need to do as vendors.

Fred Diamond: Cybersecurity comes up all the time and as a matter of fact, we had a show a couple weeks ago where we had two CIOs. We had the great Steve Cooper, the original CIO at DHS and we had the CIO of the Patent and Trade Office, and that was their first answer. Because the only thing you see in the news, really, as it relates to government related to this is, of course, some of the very high profile.

Erich, how about you? Talk about some of the people that you interface with the government. What are some of the things that are going through their minds? What do they think about as they’re, in theory, driving to the office if we’re back that way or walking downstairs to the office? What are things that concern them?

Erich Wiemann: I’m certainly thankful that things are starting to open up now and it’s going to help us out in the long run. From a DoD perspective, the mission is what drives everything. There are still a lot of people deployed around the world in some bad places and companies like CACI are helping support them, but the mission is always first.

It was a big shift, especially in some of those SCIF type of environments to figure out how to adapt to the social distancing guidelines, etc., to still affect that mission and not have a drop-off in the critical needs that our IC and DoD have.

From my perspective, the mission hasn’t changed. That is still first on their minds. I’m not really into the cybersecurity side of defense for what I do here at CACI, but our mission customers are still at it. Again, there’s a lot of bad guys out there that they’re trying to deal with, bad actors.

Fred Diamond: We have a question coming in here from Leonardo. Leo asks, “Talk about how to keep success in the government.” That’s an interesting question. Let’s talk about renewals, of course, being on the capture side, that’s a huge thing. One of the great things about the government is there’s contracts for them to buy from. Either it’s an independent contract or it’s an omnibus type of thing, but you want to keep repeating those and you want to be the incumbent, you want to keep winning.

Eileen, why don’t you take that one first? Talk about some of your ideas. It’s not just about the win, it’s about getting revenue and making sales through the contract you won for, hopefully, forever, or at least as long as the contract terms go. Hopefully you get some renewals.

Then Erich, you work for one of the largest systems integrators government contractors on the planet. I’m interested in how you focus your organization to ensure that you’re staying in the account, you don’t get shut out and you know what’s going on.

Eileen Kent: You must train your project managers and program managers that are on site how to build their book of business. They’re the frontlines and they need to take their earbuds out of their ears and listen to what’s going on around them, because there’s pain everywhere.

If you can offer help on the ground while you were there in the office, maybe they have a situation where you need a subject matter expert that’s outside your business. You go to the sales team and bring that person in and maybe have a one-on-one with them.

But usually, customers are expressing pain, especially when you’re sitting there and you’re hearing it. Just like a doctor, if you heard someone in pain, wouldn’t you want to help them? Either I can help you or I can find you a specialist. But if we stay engaged with our clients and offer the help, our project managers bring the offer of help.

Then we bring our sales experts in like Erich to say, hey, Erich, we have a situation here where a client needs an expert. Let’s have a sit-down with them and come up with some ideas for them. If you’re supporting your end users on the ground and you teach your program and project team members to pay extra attention to that, you’re going to keep building your book of business for years and years.

If you don’t listen, you don’t pay attention, you stay to yourself and you put a little sign on the back of your chair saying ‘do not disturb’, that’s not going to go well. You have to be engaged with your clients all the time on the ground.

Fred Diamond: Erich, give us your thoughts on that. CACI, essentially, you’re in the repeat contract business. Talk a little bit about some of the practical things that you guys do that you recommend other people that are with these contracts.

Erich Wiemann: I actually just came off of a capturing and we’re awaiting award, hopefully, on a piece of work that is a franchise contract for us. The #1 thing for a recompete, A, the chairman CEO’s guidance is 100% win rate from a recompete. At the end of the day, if you don’t win it it’s usually because you were fired and you were doing something wrong. So, #1, you’ve got to execute flawlessly. If you don’t execute flawlessly, it’s an uphill battle.

Outside of that, I totally agree with what Eileen is saying. It’s all of our jobs, regardless whether or not we’re in the line organization or whether or not we’re in capture or BD, we’re all in the BD role. We’re all about maintaining, sustaining and growing the business, and you can’t do that if, like Eileen said, you’re just huddled in your cube somewhere in your office. You’ve got to get out and you’ve got to meet with your customers, you’ve got to hear them, you’ve got to understand it.

From a second perspective, you can’t have incumbenitis. What I mean by that is you can’t just assume that what you’re doing today is what the customer wants or what they need. You need to be out in front of it and having these conversations. At least from a CACI perspective, capture gets involved really early in recompetes to be that honest broker, to go in there and have discussions with the customers and really drive to understand, are we performing well? If we’re not, we have time to fix it.

Then what is it that you are looking for from a future state from your perspective? On my last deal we had great conversations with the customer in terms of understanding that pivot from when they were going from a violent extremist organization focus into the national defense strategy of the 2 plus 3. That was a big piece of why we have those conversations, because we can then drive a solution that meets their needs from now and in the future.

Fred Diamond: Erich, we have a follow up question here from Lou. Lou asks, “Erich said 100% win rate. Are there any bad federal contracts?” Why don’t you take that question? Then, Eileen, I have a slightly different question for you. The question I want to ask you after Erich answers that question is how can companies get in trouble selling to the government?

And I don’t mean legally, I mean from a sales and business perspective. I don’t mean anything unscrupulous, anything related to that at all by any means. But we talk about the market, it’s Fortune 1, it’s the biggest market on the planet. Its mission is something that it’s all about helping people in the world be peaceful and successful.

I’m interested in your thoughts after Erich answers on what you want to avoid so you don’t get into this space and it becomes the worst thing your company ever did. Erich, question for you. Are there any bad contracts or is every contract a good one?

Erich Wiemann: I did say 100% win rate, but at the end of the day, we have fiduciary obligations to our shareholders to look at the business case. In some cases, that business case is just not there for us and maybe it doesn’t warrant the return on sales that we’re looking for, or the direct labor or whatever the case may be. That analysis has to be done in accordance with our capture processes and there has been business that we’ve walked away from.

I think largely, less so nowadays, it was definitely big when sequestration was occurring and there were a lot of LPTA type of environments. Some contractors less so at CACI, but I’ve seen some other contractors dive to the bottom and do some really aggressive things. Then when sequestration gets lifted, they regret and that creates bad performance, it causes recruiting challenges and maintaining your workforce, high attrition, etc.

So yes, there are bad contracts and you have to do that business case analysis to see whether or not that’s in line with your company’s strategy and whether or not you want to continue down that path.

Fred Diamond: Eileen, you’re the Federal Sales Sherpa. People come to you looking for ideas, they discover the marketplace and it’s like, “I’m going to go after this.” Someone in corporate says, “Let’s go after the government, they’re huge” or whatever it might be, and people make mistakes. Talk about some of those things. What are some of the things that can lead to trouble for companies that pursue the federal space?

Eileen Kent: Some of the beginner mistakes is thinking that if you go from small business event to small business event, small business meeting to small business meeting, meeting every small business officer in the government, that they’re actually making real sales calls to them.

Because all they’re basically doing is dropping off their capabilities and their list and registering at their site and they’ll never hear from them again. You’re basically filling their good faith effort file. I call it reverse trick-or-treating [laughs], you’re basically giving them the candy that they need and they say, “Thank you very much” and off you go.

Focusing on a handful of agencies who buy what you sell, specific agencies, maybe even down to three to start with. Meet with their small business officers, and then you’ve got to find the end users that buy what you sell. If you’re selling IT, program and project managers. If you’re selling facilities, you want to go to the engineering department and energy.

Also, signing up for multiple associations. Go to the associations where your end users are hanging out. If it’s facilities, it’s going to be Society of American Military Engineers. If it’s HR, you’re going to go to SHRM. If it’s IT, there might be something that’s very unique in the DC area where all the IT people are hanging out. Overspending on too many associations is typical.

Also, I want to back what Erich said which is what we call buying the business. Going in and undercutting the price so ridiculously low that you go out of business in the meantime. Don’t kill yourself on these low prices. If you can’t stay in business at these rates, don’t win those contracts.

Fred Diamond: That’s a great point. As a matter of fact, I worked for Apple Computer at the beginning of my career and I was one of the second round of employees in Apple Federal and we had this joke. We won three contracts and the joke that we had was Apple wins three contracts, goes out of business, because we were being extremely aggressive.

Erich, I want to talk to you about sales versus BD. Interestingly, the Institute for Excellence in Sales, the sponsor of today’s program, we were originally known as the IES and BD, Institute for Excellence in Sales and Business Development, because a lot of people don’t like to say they’re in sales and BD might be a different function. We didn’t want people to be dismissed for what we were trying to do.

Five years in, we just dropped the “and BD”. We just said we’re the Institute for Excellence in Sales, we’re the IES, our website still has BD because we couldn’t get IES. But talk a little bit about sales versus BD. In BD, you go out, you find the opportunities, you win the contract. Do you guys still sell? Or like Eileen said, did you get this contract and orders come in?

Then Eileen, I want you to chime in as well after Erich answers on not just the difference between BD and sales, but what does sales really mean? Because you gave a great answer there to get started.

Erich Wiemann: That’s a good question. To me, it’s almost the same but I will distinguish the fact that I understand that there is product sales that is different from the solution business that I’m in. If you can marry that up together to define what that solution is, and that’s what really good companies do. At CACI, we have an entire products company that we’ve created and built through mergers and acquisitions, and that helps drive our mission technology and helps us build our solution.

We’re tied at the hip, but at the end of the day what is sales about? It’s identifying a customer that has a need that you can fulfill for them. To me, that’s what we do and everyone is responsible for that. Whether or not it’s product sales that’s quick turn or it’s a capture that’s 18 to 24 months long for a billion-dollar opportunity, the process is basically the same. It’s just the timeline that’s different.

Fred Diamond: Eileen, what are your thoughts on that?

Eileen Kent: I feel like BD in sales in my mind is pretty much the same. When I think of a salesperson talking to a customer, they have to develop just like what Erich said, a long-term relationship where that customer feels comfortable enough to start expressing where their pains are, where it hurts. We can look at the data all day, but until we get in the field and we’re talking to people one-on-one and animating them and finding out what their life is like and what their needs are, what happens is we’re getting a story.

If we get a story from them, we’re like reporters. We get the who, what, where, when, why, how of where this client is at, what they’re hoping to accomplish, how they want to make that happen. We’re bringing that intelligence from the field back to the proposal and the management team to develop a solution and a story in the proposal.

In a way, salespeople are like investigative reporters creating a strong relationship with the customer, getting the story and bringing it back. Then when we say capture, we’re really capturing the story and then we’re repeating it back to them in the proposal. And they go, “That’s exactly what I wanted” because you got the story.

Erich Wiemann: From a systems integrator perspective, I will say that BD is exactly what you’re talking about. They’re identifying the opportunity, qualifying the opportunity and then at some point, once it’s qualified and it’s a bonified opportunity that we want to pursue, it gets handed over to capture. Then capture takes and runs with it with their help, so they’re still engaged. I just wanted to add that little bit of a caveat.

Fred Diamond: We have time for one or two more questions here before we ask you for your final thoughts. We have a bunch of questions coming in here and actually, Ricardo says, “Great answer.” I’m not sure if that was directed to Eileen or Erich, but we’ll give you both some shout-outs here.

I know you both don’t have crystal balls, but talk about for a second or two, how will the impact of the pandemic shift the government buyer as a customer? Again, I know you don’t have any crystal balls per se, but what are some of your thoughts on how and if the government customer will change or has changed forever based on the pandemic? Eileen, why don’t you go first?

Eileen Kent: I still think that the opportunity to be able to talk to people in forms like this. In our proposal process or in our sales process, we’re going to have to start getting a little more comfortable about presenting in forums like this with our customer. Because their industry days are probably going to be online a little bit more often rather than in person. You’re going to have to do some negotiating with them online instead of in person.

I think that the mode of communication is going to change a little bit. Still, if you’re in construction or if you have to do fiber optics or something, you might have to go look at the facility to see what the situation is in person. But I think that the addition of meeting with clients, we’ve been meeting with clients this last year on Zoom and Teams and the government sites. We’ve been meeting with them one-on-one.

I think that the getting used to the camera and being authentically yourself and able to communicate clearly is going to be critically important for the salesperson to come.

Fred Diamond: We have time for one more question and I want to ask you both this. Erich, my apologies for not asking you the follow-up there. We talk about the word elite a lot. As a matter of fact, one thing that we’ve been saying on the Sales Game Changers webinars and podcasts is that sales professionals now need to be elite because there’s been a challenge if you’re not elite about even being necessary for your companies.

Give us your answers before we ask you for your final action steps. What does it mean to be elite right now as a sales or BD professional who focuses on the government? Erich, why don’t you go first? Then Eileen, you’ll bring us home. Then I’ll ask you for your final action steps.

Erich Wiemann: Elite is somebody that’s not necessarily following the process, it’s somebody that drives the solution. I think you need the A-type people out there driving it. This is a high stakes business where we’re routinely operating, at least from my perspective, I haven’t had a deal in years that’s been underneath 500 million total contract value.

It’s high stakes and it’s pivotal to the company’s growth strategies. We quite frankly need people that are going to drive results and figure out creative ways to get around these challenges that we’re having with regard to COVID. Hopefully, it’s opening up and sorting out itself but you have to be creative.

You can’t just be a process-oriented person and think that you’re going to be successful. You need to think outside the box, drive the solution and adapt and overcome. That’s just reality.

Fred Diamond: Every Friday we call our webcast the Creativity in Sales webcast, we’ve been calling it that since March of last year because you’re absolutely right. You got to be creative, you’ve got to figure out ways to show value to your customer. We didn’t really talk about that a whole lot today, but that’s something that frequently comes up.

Eileen, before I ask you for your final action steps, answer that question as well. What does it mean to be elite? How can you be elite as a sales professional to the government?

Eileen Kent: First and foremost, you must know the terminology and understand the language that they’re speaking to you. All the alphabet soup, understanding then contract vehicles and the terminology for that. But also, just like what Erich said. I call it being an advocate to the actual program or project manager on site.

They have an idea? Advocate for them. When he says driving, that means take that idea, start to develop it with them, bring in other subject matter experts, come up with ways to close it quickly, quietly, under the radar. If it’s not 500 million, if it’s a million, you could possibly win something that no one will ever see on the street. Helping them with that as well.

Fred Diamond: I want to thank Cox Business for being today’s sponsor, thank you so much to the great people at Cox business.

Let’s bring it home. First of all, before I ask you for your final action steps, I just want to acknowledge you both not just for today’s answers and how you gave such value to our listeners and the future listeners of the podcast, but for all the work that you’ve done for your companies and sales teams. Not just that, but for the government customer.

We had Jennifer Chronis who’s the Public Sector Director from Verizon Public Sector on the show a couple weeks ago and we talked about the customer and what the government customer does for every citizen. Erich, you’re focusing on the DoD and keeping us safe, keeping us out of war and keeping people overseas safe as well, trying to make the world a better place and more peaceful.

All the customers that focus on all the civilian agencies, think about all the government agencies and how they kept us healthy over the last year in the worst pandemic that we’ve seen in over a hundred years. I applaud you both for the work that you do to help companies service those customers so that they can service us.

Give us your final action step, something people can do today to take their sales career to the next level. Eileen, why don’t you go first?

Erich Wiemann: The first thing I would do is go through your current client list and see if there’s anything else on the pipeline with them. Ask them, who else, where else, what else? That’s the easiest opportunity to uncover deals today, is to go through the people who know, trust and love you today. If they can’t do business with you today, they know someone who does. That would be the first thing I would have you do today.

Fred Diamond: Thank you so much. Erich, bring us home here. What is your action step for people watching today’s webinar, listening to the podcast to take their sales career to the next level?

Eileen Kent: I have two, actually. One is you don’t have to be the smartest person in the room, you need to be able to bring the right people to bear. Number two, I would strongly suggest go look on YouTube for the Simon Sinek TED Talk on The Golden Circle and Why. I think that if you spend the 50 minutes, it will really affirm, especially for us and what we do supporting these mission customers in DoD. It really hits home as to how you’re going to be able to sell something, and always starting with why.

Fred Diamond: I want to thank once again, Erich Wiemann from CACI, Eileen Kent, The Federal Sales Sherpa. For everyone who watched or listened today, thank you all so much.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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