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EPISODE 145: Best Practices in Sales to the Government Featuring Leaders from Microsoft, Saleforce, Oracle and MAXIMUS
This episode featured a panel discussion with four leading sales executives in the Federal Market. You can find of them on LinkedIn below.
My co-host is Jeffrey Wolinsky, WTOP and Federal News Network.
Fred Diamond: Today’s show brings together sales leaders from the industry’s top suppliers of technology to the Federal Government. We’ll talk about their strategies to impact their government customer’s missions. Jeffrey, why don’t you get us started?
Jeffrey Wolinsky: If you think about the Sales Game Changers podcast, 75% of the folks that have been interviewed on it are selling to the Federal Government. When you look at the opportunity the companies like yours have, there’s 92 billion dollars that the government spends on IT products alone, a lot with companies like yourselves. You think many of you are companies publicly traded, large companies that want sales now and often times when people think of a “sales show”, they think about us focusing on what we do.
The reality is that in the majority of these podcasts people have talked about what the customers do, so I want to start talking about the customer, the Federal Government. We know a lot about it, there’s RFPs and there’s a lot of transparency. There’s also a lot of bureaucracy, there’s a lot of acquisition policy, there’s a lot of different things you have to deal with. I’ll start with Christine coming from one of the largest if not the largest publicly traded company that reports results on a quarterly basis. When you talk about your sales team having to meet numbers but deal with the government process, what is it like in setting up your team to deal with the uniqueness of the Federal Government?
Christine Barger: It’s a great question. Quite frankly, we do struggle with that internally because we are cyclically based and fiscal year based with regards to results as we report to the street. I think it’s really important to make sure that all my sellers always stay focused on the customer, keeping the customer at the center from the mission perspective. The way that we seem to coach our people is to make sure that they stay focused on the mission and help align to customer priorities whether that falls inside or outside the fiscal year, the chips may fall but we always make sure that we keep the customer at the center.
With regards to investments and other things that come in and out of my business from a corporate perspective, it is challenging to make sure that corporate understands the federal priorities and how that business runs and how it is remarkably different to the commercial business and that’s an ever-changing, educational process at least for me in my business. I don’t know if my colleagues feel the same way.
Jeffrey Wolinsky: Tamara, Joe, on that, when you think about in many instances the other part of your company, the commercial side, you might offer incentives or things that make a customer buy now versus just buy at some point. I don’t know that that is something that matches with the government sales process, how do you guys deal with trying to move that sales process along at your speed rather than at the speed of government, if you will?
Joe Markwordt: I really don’t think we can move it along at our speed. I think the point is made that we try to focus on the needs and the mission of the customer, I agree with that 100% but it’s really about working with the customer, understanding their requirements and trying to get to the point where you get an agreement that your product or service is the right product and service and just keep enough pipeline there that you can manage revenue quarter to quarter. It’s a challenge to try to use incentives and things like that to move along that process so most of us have learned that you just have to have a pretty robust pipeline to manage your quarterly and annual revenue.
Tamara Greenspan: I would add that we normally hire folks that have been in a career in a Federal Government both inside and out, and they’re familiar with the process. The need to accurately plan or schedule especially with communications through their management so we can accurately communicate back to the mother ship because that is important. The sale cycle is long, we all know it and we shouldn’t be short-circuiting that by saying something’s going to happen when it’s not because, back to Christine’s original point, it is about the customer, delivering what the customer needs and establishing that long-term relationship with the customer to meet the mission.
Allison Patrick: If I could just add, I think MAXIMUS is a little different on this panel among everyone else because we are a services provider, not a product-based company. While we’re quarterly oriented as well in terms of posting results and publicly traded, your question going full circle was how do we organize a sales team. I would say services, we really are in it for the long haul. We partner and marry up in our sales team to the agencies and have sales representatives who have a real deep understanding of the agency’s mission, their goals, their priorities and I think that’s the only way in the services business to be different and successful because our folks are almost an extension of our customers.
Fred Diamond: You’ve all had great success, decades of success in some cases serving this federal marketplace. You’ve obviously seen changes that have happened over time. What are some of the major changes that you’ve seen since you started in sales over the years till today that have impacted your sales efforts and your team’s sales efforts? Joe, why don’t we start with you?
Joe Markwordt: I think social media has really changed things and I think it’s changed it for the better in a lot of ways. Our customers have vast networks now that they can reach out to to get information on products, information on pricing. When I started in this business many years ago, the consumers weren’t as educated as they are now so they can reach out, they can use their contacts, they can share information across agencies which 10, 15, 20 years ago, that just wasn’t there. I think it’s really good for the federal consumer because they’re much more educated and as long as we focus on their requirements, I think they can make better decisions.
Fred Diamond: What about you, Tamara?
Tamara Greenspan: It flip-flops back and forth over the years. I’ve been at Oracle almost 30 years now and it’s changed. The industry has changed and we’ve transformed ourselves when we go to integrated and that’s what the government is looking for. Now with cloud, I think it’s interesting because we’re going back into more of an integrated solution but we’re also exposing the government to more commercial like practices. With cloud, for the first time it really is going to allow the uptake of that process because a functionality is released on a quarterly basis, this is for most of our product companies and they’re actually going to be able to be more innovative and deliver capability to the services.
Christine Barger: I think I’m most excited about the increasing amount of transparency that’s coming out of the government. What I mean by that specifically is the principles around the PMA and the ability to go ahead and actually consume that information and make it relevant for our sellers to go ahead and provide value back to the government. It’s been amazing for us to go ahead and retool our sellers to think in a different way outside of cloud, outside of product, outside of what we’re going to deliver to them really articulating and translating how our products provide value to them in those three specific areas that they’re looking to transform the government. It does a great job of making sure that we get grounded in the customer’s mission and that we’re aligning our resources to go ahead and attack that to help them be successful.
Then taking that a step further as a business partner to the government to go onto websites like performance.gov and check in with the results of what they’re able to accomplish based on the specific priorities that they set forth. I’m really excited about that and it’s been transformational, at least in my organization, to make sure that we are checking down on the mission every single day with the customers.
Fred Diamond: I want to follow up on that and I’ll ask this question for you, Allison. What are some things that you’re actively doing, that you’re telling your sales team to do to stay in line with the customer’s mission to understand that and to ensure that you truly are a great partner?
Allison Patrick: Absolutely. I think the most monumental change that we’ve seen in the federal market has occurred over the last decade and that’s a decline in budgets year over year. That has certainly forced our sales team to be partnering with their customers in the agencies. The civil servants are doing a magnificent job of doing more with less and that is across the board in the Federal Government. It’s remarkable to see aging technology being shelved and modernization occurring across the board, the use of digital innovation. The sales team is armed with solutions and they’re daily working with their customers on brainstorming, how can in the long-term the customer be modernizing, taking huge systems and scaling in a different way and what are the road maps to get from here to there. I think the partnership model works best certainly in solutions and service delivery, that works well for us.
Fred Diamond: I’m going to follow up with one last point on this topic before I hand it over to Jeffrey to Joe. Again, Tamara is with Oracle, Christine is with Microsoft and Allison is with MAXIMUS. Salesforce is the new kid on the block, essentially. Of course the company is hugely successful, you’ve made a lot of great inroads. What are some of the things that you’re doing now to quickly get in partnership with your government customer?
Joe Markwordt: I have a little mantra on my team is we need to know the customer better than they know themselves. We really need to understand the customer’s business, it’s not about our technology, it’s about the requirements and the business needs of the customer. I’ve really encouraged my teams to be students of their customers. If you know your customer, if you know their business, if you know what their business problems are, it’s a lot easier to communicate with them and to get to a win for the customer.
Jeffrey Wolinsky: When you think about the customer, often times people that aren’t in this industry say “the Federal Government” and it’s all one big thing for them, maybe the common tax payer somewhere in America thinks that. What we know is really there’s thousands of different organizations inside the Federal Government. There’s cabinet level agencies, there’s all kinds of different aspects of this. The marines themselves have 6,000 different titles that people go under, this isn’t like maybe some of your colleagues that might manage the healthcare vertical or the oil and gas industry or the finance vertical. When you think about the business that you run, are you more focused on going deeper inside of one specific agency that you have a track record with or are you more interested in saying, “How can we add logos or flags to our list of clients?”? Joe, do you want to start?
Joe Markwordt: When I hear that question I think it’s really important for everyone to understand that the federal marketplace is not a vertical marketplace, it is many verticals. For example, I manage the healthcare portion of the fed-civ portfolio, we’ve got someone that manages the financial services piece of it, we have another group managing the independents, we have another group, the law enforcement because it is made up of verticals inside of verticals. I’m probably safe to say that most of the large organizations, that’s how they’re organized.
Jeffrey Wolinsky: When you look at MAXIMUS, for example, Allison, B-gov would report that you do a ton of business with health and human services. Are you looking in the sense of health and human services if it by itself would be probably a fortune 10 company? Would you focus your team on, “Let’s grow our business there” or, “Let’s take what we’ve done there and show that to other government agencies”? When you use that strategy, are the government agencies able to see “proof of performance in this one place equals something that we can expect in this other place”?
Allison Patrick: Absolutely. Our capabilities and our quals do translate across the Federal Government. We do a lot of work with health and human services but we also are very strong at the IRS, for instance, and tax modernization in addition to law enforcement agencies, Department of Homeland Security. That being said, we also have teams of experts who understand that what one program may be at the health and human services does not exactly drop into DHS by any means. Every solution has to be tailored to the government’s needs and be a very specific offering which is why I think federal sales is unique and is very complex, and requires teams of subject matter experts that understand the government’s mission.
Fred Diamond: With all the challenges that have happened in this marketplace over the past number of years, there’s been continuing resolutions, shutdowns, budget delays. What keeps you excited about this particular marketplace? What are some of the developments that have inspired you? Tamara, how about you?
Tamara Greenspan: My team and myself focus on the Department of Defense, so we’re basically patriots and we’re committed to the Department of Defense. Many of the folks on my team are former military civil servants and we’re dedicated to the mission. I think you need to be mission focused to have the knowledge. Back to the comments of my colleagues, you have to have the depth of the knowledge to provide solutions to the government and you actually have to understand all the processes. It’s very important that you’re dedicated and entrenched in that environment. That’s what makes us all successful, is because we are dedicated to the mission and wanting to actually help, and we’re actually helping ourselves because we’re all part of this country. People are more mission-focused in our space.
Christine Barger: I think I’m most excited about the uptake in interest in security and the discussions around that and to watch the landscape change across the government about how they look at security, how they define it, how they’re going to embrace it in order to protect this country. It’s been the building block of all our solutions at Microsoft and the willingness to go ahead and engage in those types of deep, meaningful discussions around security has been really enlightening for me and provided and entre for us to talk very deeply and meaningfully about their business and how to propel that forward.
Fred Diamond: When we come back from the break, we’ll ask some specific questions about what your team can do and what your marketing team can do to ensure your company’s success in selling to the Federal Government marketplace. This is the Sales Game Changers podcast, special episode in partnership with Federal News Network.
Fred Diamond: Welcome back to a special episode of the award-winning Sales Game Changers podcast in partnership with Federal News Network.
Jeffrey Wolinsky: It’s been said for every Sales Game Changer there’s a marketing game changer at the company that has helped facilitate the process of putting leads in the pipeline. When you look at a federal marketing division, a big part of what the marketers to from the federal government perspective is events and customer interaction. Tamara, I’m going to come to you because Oracle recently held your federal forum. I think you mentioned that 1,600 government guests participated at the Reagan building. When you think about that from a sales perspective, what is your expectation first of the people on your team and how they should be interacting with the customer at a large event like that?
Tamara Greenspan: It was a really great event, it was our 11h, I believe. It was at Downtown DC and it’s a great venue for my sales team to invite their customers and to escort them through the day. We have our big commercial events in California once a year and across the country we have other corporate events which our federal customers do attend, but this event is focused just on the federal government which is exciting for us. The messages and the initiatives are tailored to the federal market space, so it’s a great opportunity for my team to actually escort their customers through the day, to walk them through what’s of interest to them but also to talk about some of their business needs and actually map it to that as they walk through the entire process. Great opportunity for that and to learn more about maybe what a customer needs and how we can help.
Jeffrey Wolinsky: Salesforce does Dreamforce. When you think about who’s responsible for making sure customers get to these events, often times here at Federal News Network WTOP our marketing clients say, “We need you to drive people to these events.” Is your expectations that the salesperson is qualifying who the marketing team drives to those events or vice-versa, that the marketing team drives people there and the salespeople then take it from there? What’s the expectation?
Joe Markwordt: It’s a partnership, it’s both teams working together. One point I wanted to make about this because I think a lot of folks that aren’t familiar with the federal marketplace really don’t understand that especially for technology companies – maybe we’re born in another part of the country, maybe out in California – they want to get into the federal marketplace but all their marketing is designed for commercial companies. The folks that are actually doing federal marketing for technology companies have a challenge to translate the commercial branding and marketing into the federal lexicon.
I know probably for everybody on this panel that grew up in this business, we’ve worked for companies that were just starting to move into the federal marketplace and the marketeers that come to work for the public sector organizations spend a lot of their time taking the commercial branded marketing materials and refashioning them so they resonate with the federal marketplace. For example, Tamara’s talking about marketing events that are targeted to the federal marketplace, when the folks show up, they need to be hearing their language, they need to be hearing their value propositions. It’s a real challenge for the federal marketeers but I think in all of these organizations these folks do a really great job with that. That’s their challenge, though.
Jeffrey Wolinsky: I think that’s a great transition to Christine in that if you think about people understanding a product, there’s no product probably that people don’t have an understanding of more than Microsoft. When you look at the way that your salespeople help to market what you want to sell to your customers and/or what the customer might need, how do you translate, “Here’s what Microsoft is saying in the media or the public space, here’s what we should be saying to government”?
Christine Barger: We do spend a lot of time with materials coming out of Redmond and making sure that the relevant pieces of information that need to land with the customer are translated into their language. We do that in a couple of ways and it is a challenge but we found that the most impactful communications are the ones that are translated appropriately so people feel like when they’re showing up in a room or being talked to on a podcast or they’re watching a webcast or whatever it is, that they’re speaking to the actual audience that it’s relevant to. We like to do several different pieces of marketing and it is a partnership with our folks, and we do have a social component of that.
We also have a broad based component of that but we’ve also found that we’re starting to do some more focus groups with 10 to 12 like customers in a room where there are some thread of commonality across a vertical, where folks can come in and actually start to do some groundswell themselves sharing best practices and hearing from their peers about how they’re leveraging technology in order to meet their mission goals. In some senses, from a marketing perspective you don’t think about that as a marketing tool but you actually have folks in a room together sharing best practices, probably the best type of case study and referencing that you can get across the market. It helps them to drive cross-departmental and organizational communication as well.
Fred Diamond: I have a quick follow up to that. We talked about meeting customers in events and Christine, you just talked about bringing customers together in a focus. I want to ask you all about engagement with your customers now, physical engagement. Security has gotten really difficult to get into buildings so the challenge Joe mentioned before about social media where your customer now can go to the internet and get a lot of access to information. I want to talk about how you instruct your teams and yourselves about meeting with your customer. Do you rely on the phone? How do you try to get physical engagement with your customers? Tamara, why don’t we start with you?
Tamara Greenspan: That’s a great question, that’s back to basic sales 101 for my team and I, it’s the personal engagement, creating that relationship because the goal is to have a long standing relationship with your government customer. The government tends to be in place for a long time, they may move from different agencies or services, especially the civil servants, but they’re invested in the government business. Creating that long-term relationships is really only done in person. Going to meetings, basically welcome people in, they do get bothered by all of us sometimes. We have a lot of people on this stage that are trying to call in a customer but if you have a value proposition and you have a reason and you’ve done your homework, they will see you.
Also, I wanted to add another great venue to achieve customer interaction is that some of these trade associations like AFCEA, like ASMC, these associations where they do government to industry exchange, that is a great opportunity for our sales teams to engage with the customer and to hear what their points are. Many times they’ll tell you what they need from industry so your teams can go back and do their homework and then set up a more personal call.
Jeffrey Wolinsky: I want to bring Allison into this conversation. You’re sitting with Microsoft, Oracle and Salesforce and here you are, MAXIMUS, a massive company but not the consumer brand recognition that those folks might have. When you think about a salesperson on your team or a business development representative trying to get an appointment with a new customer at the government or at one of your prospect agencies, what are you doing to differentiate yourself?
Allison Patrick: MAXIMUS really is different on this panel than my colleagues representing products. We’re a solution services company, so we often times are the consumer of the product vendor’s marketing attempts. We sit literally side by side with our government customers and we are designing the solutions that they need and that incorporate some of the best products that are out there in the market. In terms of events often times we are attending, we’re at the Oracle events, we’re at the Microsoft events or the Salesforce events and we’re actually attending with our customers supporting our customers in designing those solutions.
With regard to personal interaction, most of our business is done inside the agencies. Literally we are seated side by side with our customers, it’s a hand and glove relationship for the most part. Certainly when we’re breaking into new space or new agencies we have the same challenges of how with security, do we get in the buildings and get those relationships going. I would just like to echo Tamara’s conversation about being at the trade associations, so as a board member of the Armed Forces Communication and Electronics Association, AFCEA, board member of the Air Traffic Control Association, it all goes back to how you really embed yourself in the dialogue, in the conversation with your customers and own their mission as if it’s your own.
Fred Diamond: Joe, I’m curious for you as well. You have some younger people on your sales team also, is it easier to bring people to you, can you get through on the phone? What are some of the best strategies that you’re deploying to get through to the customer?
Joe Markwordt: I think it depends on what the relationship is with the customer. We all have very established accounts and customers and getting access to those folks that we’re already in partnership with is relatively straightforward as long as we’re talking about what’s of interest to them. One of the things – and this hasn’t changed in my career in sales – is getting access to the customers about being where the customer is.
For example, if your customer base is at the big FFA show up in Atlantic City every year, you make sure you’re there. If your customers, like for example HIMMS is a huge healthcare conference, a lot of my customers are there so we make sure we’re there for the week. It’s a great opportunity to interface so be where your customer and prospects are, travel in their circles, be a part of their community and you can help bump into them and build relationships with them.
Fred Diamond: You mentioned before one of the main shifts in the marketplace has been the use of social media, so I’m just curious for the panel, how are you using social media to interchange and interact with your customer? What are some ways that you’re seeing, what are some best practices for the audience? Tamara, why don’t we start with you?
Tamara Greenspan: I think social media is used a lot for marketing and also to get some of these events to the trade shows, you see a lot more of associations advertising, showing what they’re going to be discussing, who’s going to be there and again, that drives companies like ours to attend. We want to know who’s going to attend so social media has been great about publicizing that and just the marketing messages. Working in the federal government with procurement you don’t see a lot of that type of activity on there nor do you want to be engaged in that, that’s a hands-off. I don’t recommend my team crossing the line, they need to really step back but to advertise those type of events or interactions or accomplishments is a great way to get those messages out quickly.
Christine Barger: We’re doing a lot with LinkedIn, especially with the newer to workforce people that joined our company, they feel super comfortable with navigating through that tool. We found that if you do your homework, you travel in the circles and then you start to reach out to them proactively with a value proposition that makes sense via LinkedIn we’re using that tool pretty heavily with a great amount of success.
Fred Diamond: Before I turn it back over to Jeffrey, quick survey of the panel, do you LinkedIn to your customers? I’ll start with Christine.
Christine Barger: Yes, absolutely.
Allison Patrick: Absolutely. I have to say that the federal government was maybe slow to adopt, but as we’re seeing the baby boomers begin to retire and the next generation take the reins, I think it’s really exciting. I encourage my team to be social media monsters, there’s no trepidation in promoting the good work that’s being done by our customers and I think the federal government is not often enough applauded for the incredible work that they’re doing. There are so many amazing leaders in the federal government that do the day in and day out of really challenging work. I encourage my team to be social media monsters, to be out there promoting their customers and the good work that’s being done.
Joe Markwordt: Absolutely. LinkedIn in particular and some of the other platforms as well. It’s a way to learn about your customers because most of our customers have social media presence. It’s a great way to learn about them and it’s also a great way to connect with them.
Tamara Greenspan: 100%, I just posted the other day actually because we at Oracle have the privilege of awarding a gunnery sergeant an award for Logistician of the Year at an association and it was an honor. I put it up there and got it out there to show that it was an honor that the association allowed us to be a part of it. It’s an exciting venue and also I’ve been following a lot of more customers on Twitter, they’ve been tweeting out. A lot of the CIO’s will be tweeting out some of their initiatives around cyber and AI and all the new initiatives so it’s neat to see you can actually get up to speed with what they’re doing by following those. Twitter is another one to follow the customers on.
Jeffrey Wolinsky: On the IES Game Changers podcast when we talk about what WTOP and Federal News Network do from a sales perspective it’s three core things that are pretty easy. I want to hear from you which of these things match with your focus for your team. We renew our existing base of customers because people work with us year after year, we grow them through new product offerings that the company has and then we find new customers to bring to that party. When you look at your team, is renew, grow or find the biggest emphasis for what your sales team is working with? Let’s start here with Christine.
Christine Barger: That depends on where the customer is in the life cycle of adoption for our solutions. We tend to look at how we orchestrate and organize our sales force based on the life cycle of what the customer has or doesn’t have or may need or not need. We’ve actually separated our organization out to folks that are what we call cultivate or growers for deployment and we have a whole separate organization now called our Customer Success Organization. Their main mission in life is to make sure that they are using and deploying what they’ve purchased to get value out of it, because we’ve aligned the business objectives to the solution, they’ve now procured the solution and now we need them to get as much value out of it as possible. It depends on the customer environment, but we have folks aligned based on where the customer is in that life cycle at any given time. They’re all super important and I think definitely necessary for success.
Jeffrey Wolinsky: How about at MAXIMUS, Allison?
Allison Patrick: Mostly renew and grow we leave to our delivery teams, they’re on the ground there sitting side by side with the customer and if they’re delivering value then generally there’s a desire to renew that work and that relationship and even continue to grow it. Finding is really what the sales team is all about, it’s looking at the customers that may sit adjacent to where we are currently doing work and we have that good, solid reputation and we’re finding what are the challenges in maybe that adjacent organization and how can we address them.
Fred Diamond: You’re listening to a special episode today of the Sales Game Changers podcast in partnership with Federal News Network. Our guests are Christine Barger, General Manager at Microsoft, Allison Patrick, Senior Vice President of Sales for MAXIMUS, Joe Markwordt, Area Vice President for Salesforce and Tamara Greenspan, Vice President for Oracle. I’m your host, my name is Fred Diamond.
Fred Diamond: Tamara and I, when we did our Sales Game Changers podcast, you’ve been doing the same thing for almost three decades now which you have eluded to. You mentioned on the podcast that you’ve grown up with some of your customers, same way you’ve grown in your career in various levels and have achieved the highest levels of sales, you’ve also seen your customers grow. We also talked before about the shrinking nature and the fact that a lot of government employees are retiring and how that’s impacting the federal workforce. Talk about developing relationships today in that type of a marketplace and some of the factors, some of the things that you’re doing to ensure that the relationships are as strong as possible to help you achieve your goals. Tamara, let’s start with you.
Tamara Greenspan: Thank you. One of the things I wanted to talk about that’s been exciting from the federal government is there’s been a focus on talent management and succession planning that I’ve never seen before. It’s exciting that the government is starting to focus on that because you’re correct, as people get older – not us on the panel, though, we’re not getting older. As people get older and they look to retirement, if they haven’t done that, the succession planning and have a plan, some of the major initiatives you worry about because these initiatives in the government can take a long time. From procurement to full deployment to technical refresh, they go on for a long time so that is a worry.
As you mentioned, one example I gave you was early in my sales manager career I had a technical director, he was mad, he threw us out of the office and now he’s in SES leading a major organization with the defense agency at DLA. It’s interesting because at that level they also move around, so you need to also stay in touch with them. They may move to another executive position with an organization, even they’re crossing more DOD and civilian than I’ve ever seen before in the last 5 to 7 years, but they usually will end up in a place, provide value and also help you guide your career. A lot of these folks have been some of my mentors as I’ve walked through my career and their careers as well. My advice is to always keep in touch with them and to follow their careers because they’re probably going to be in a place that can help you or your colleagues in a different area.
Fred Diamond: You’ve worked at numerous places – Christine and Tamara worked for the most part at the same places – you’ve gone from some great brands along the way as well. How have you been proactive in managing these relationships and especially now where we’re talking about some of the evolution of the relationship?
Joe Markwordt: One of the things that I try to impress upon my sales teams is that we need to focus on the executives in the organization and a lot of us have had relationships with these executives for a while. It’s really the next generation of leaders where I’ve tried to cultivate relationships with two or three layers down in the organization because first of all, these people inform the senior leadership and they will be moving into leadership positions eventually. I’ve seen through my career, to Tamara’s point, folks that have gone the leadership ranks.
If you start with those folks when they’re earlier in their careers, you help them with their careers, you educate them, you provide value to them, folks are going to stick with folks that provide value to them. They’re going to stick with folks that help them to achieve success in their careers. I started in 1984, many of the folks that I originally sold to passed away, I was 24 years old, they were senior folks and I’ve seen two generations of leadership come up through this business. What really impresses me is that each generation is more tech savvy, they’re better building requirement, it’s just amazing to see the talent that is coming in to our customer’s workplaces.
Jeffrey Wolinsky: It’s interesting what you’re talking about, Joe, because earlier in the panel you talked about “be where your customer is”. I think for some of the companies on the panel, it’s easy for the customer to understand what you do. I want to bring this to Allison, often times you hear about government customers giving a 30 minute window for that in-person meeting. You set an in-person meeting at their office, maybe it’s at the Pentagon, maybe it’s at NIH, what have you, and you have 30 minutes. What is your expectation of what you or your business development team is doing in those 30 minutes? Do you have a specific set of outcomes you want to achieve during that time?
Allison Patrick: Absolutely. Basic sales training is think about ahead of time when you’re designing those 30 minutes, how would you measure success? What are the criteria that you would use when you walk out of that engagement to say that was either successful or we didn’t hit the mark? Then my #2 guiding principle is listen. Within the first couple minutes they should know who you are and what the objective of the engagement is and then be quiet [laughs]. The federal government really isn’t interested in you coming in and pitching, that’s not the nature of the sale or the engagement, it’s really about learning. Ask some leading questions about what’s keeping them up at night, what are their challenges, what are they concerned about, what’s their vision. Normally you’ll go way past 30 minutes.
Jeffrey Wolinsky: Christine, for Microsoft there are so many products and so many competitors. Do you have a vision of what that 30 minutes might look like for somebody from Microsoft that gets a new appointment or get account that you’re looking to do business with?
Christine Barger: Absolutely. We’ve focused a significant amount of time since I’ve been in role the last 3 years on retooling the way my sellers are interacting with customers. Everything from preparation and the plethora of tools that we now use in order to prepare, driving the rigor around, preparation calls amongst the team that’s going to go into the appointment to make sure your message is aligned with mine, we know what questions we’re asking, we’re agreed upon on the outcome of what we want to get out of the meeting and then that we’re providing value to the customer in some way, shape or form. We’re coming to them with potential ideas and solutions either from other customers that they may need to consider, what other people are doing from a peer group perspective and come to them with some relevant information. Like you said, if you come with value your meeting will always last longer than 30 minutes.
Jeffrey Wolinsky: I want to add to that, one of our cyber-contributors, Sean Kelly, worked at VA as a deputy CISO and he talks about Salesforce’s first interaction with VA. When you think about the 330 thousand people that work with VA, there’s probably not just one person that says, “Yes, let’s spend $10 million with Salesforce.” There’s a lot of influencers to these sales. How does your team, Joe, manage the different influencers not only in the sale but in the entire procurement process?
Joe Markwordt: I think especially in these large agencies that we work in, it’s not like you’re going to one person. There are thousands of influencers across a multitude of opportunities, these are large organizations meaning the VA has 174 hospitals. I think the key is there’s this myth out there that there’s some big difference between selling to large commercial accounts and selling to the government. Both organizations, when you’re going in to do some enterprise transformational sale, you’re going to deal with a lot of people and the key is to make sure that you understand what the requirements, what the hot buns are for whatever that influencer. Technical buyer is going to have a different set of concerns than the economic buyer is going to have, he’s going to have a different set of concerns than the person that’s dealing with security.
Each of these teams are the folks that are dealing with implementation so you have to align and understand what are the folks’ requirements in each of the many different influencers and then it’s a question of how do you pull it all together and get everybody aligned. That’s really a challenge for enterprise selling, is that very point.
Fred Diamond: I want to talk a little bit differently. You’ve given us some great advice about some things that you’ve learned over the years. Because of the changing nature of some of the workforces on your teams, I’m curious about some of the things that you have learned from your sales team. I want to start with Allison, you gave us a great story on your Sales Game Changers podcast about how one of your younger sales team members drew out a picture which basically helped you explain to your customer. I’d like to learn what are you learning from the people who are coming up the ranks on your team.
Allison Patrick: What I have learned in terms of managing a team, we talk a lot about diversity and I think the maturation of how we use that word. For me that means there’s diversity in genders and there’s diversity in races but looking at diversity in everybody’s backgrounds and age demographics, sure gender and race but orientations, geographic locations. For me anyway, I make sure that whenever we have a challenge or we’re designing a solution I bring a real diverse group of diversity of thought around that challenge or issue. That bears out some really fun, innovative, changing dynamics and you do arrive at a more sophisticated solution.
In that example I just made sure I had a couple new college grads and we were churning and grinding away on this really complex engineering diagram. There was – I’ll say this with all due respect – a kid, IV league educated kid sitting next to me and he had an icon drawn on a piece of paper. It was one symbol, he pushed it over to me and he said, “Mrs. Patrick, isn’t that it?” and I went, “Right.” [Laughs] that’s it, in one symbol we communicated very clearly the complexity of what we were trying to do because it was just that simple.
Fred Diamond: Christine, how about you?
Christine Barger: It’s been interesting for me because one of the things we’ve done inside of my organization specifically to federal is we’ve implemented a reverse mentoring program for some of our most senior leaders. People that have been in the workforce for a significant amount of time, we take in many new career hires every year, we take in 10 to 12 and as much as they want the mentoring of the senior leadership team, we reach out to them to get mentoring back. It’s simply amazing just to get you grounded in the language, the messages that you send, how they want to consume different information and data in different ways and it’s been eye-opening for me and helped me grow in tremendous ways to make sure that I’m connected with them.
Let’s take that a step further, those millennials are now going into our customers because I think the statistic is like 60% of the workforce in the federal government is going to be retiring in the next 5 years. Now all of the great things that we learn inside of Microsoft we’re trying to transcend them into different organizations within the government and providing reverse mentoring experiences for them to give the government new ideas on how to attract talent. That’s been really successful for us.
Fred Diamond: Joe, how about you? What’s been going on Salesforce in that regard?
Joe Markwordt: I can say that on my team I obviously have got a much younger team working for me. I’ll be hitting 60 in a year and a half so I’ve been in this business for a long time. The thing that amazes me about the folks in my team, the younger folks is how savvy they are with technology. I think I’m pretty good with technology, I’ve been in technology my entire career but the kind of tools they come up with, “I found this ad on the internet.” “Where’d you come up with that?” “I was out.” It’s just really interesting to see that they’ve been raised with iPhones and social media and they’re so comfortable with it, and I’ve learned a lot from them about how to better connect with my customer by watching the tools that they’re using. I’ve learned a lot from my team about engagement in the 21st century because that’s what they do. That’s who they are and it’s fantastic to watch that.
Jeffrey Wolinsky: We’re coming soon to the end of this. We’d remiss to say we’ve talked so much about the customer – customer in this case referring to the government, but as sales leaders we’re just leaders in general, we have two customers: the people that work on our teams and the clients that we serve. I want to conclude with talking about how you keep the best talents on your teams and best practices as it relates to engaging with the people that work for you and making sure that they feel support both from you but they also see opportunity for advancement and things that they’re interested in having as part of their career. Tamara, can we start with Oracle?
Tamara Greenspan: That’s a great question. At Oracle we’d spend a lot of time investing in our people with a training plan. Back in the early 90’s it was pretty loosey-goosey and now it’s very structured. We have a very structured training plan and we have an ongoing training plan. I think it’s important, people think, “Training is going to be a waste of my time” but when you actually go into this training – and we do it quite often – you actually get something out of it every time. I personally am a big fan, I get some nugget out of a leadership training plan or a complex training plan or some of the other people in the room because usually they’re in classroom styles.
You always get something out of it and I think if you take the time, invest in your people, listen to your people so when you’re in these venues you’ve got people in a room some for two days, listen to what everyone has to say. Everything’s for purpose, if they say something or people want to learn something, actually take action on that. What I’ve learned is do it and take action and move on.
Jeffrey Wolinsky: You make a great point on the listen, that came up multiple times in the panel. I want to go to Christine, you have a hundred people on your team, I believe. Listening to a hundred people A, is hard but B, just because you listen to them doesn’t mean that what they say is actually practical in a Microsoft world. How do you take that listening and make sure that people are heard but it doesn’t mean that you have to do what they say?
Christine Barger: That’s the masterful coaching piece when you’re talking to people and how to maneuver through what’s important to them and what’s the impact to them. Typically when people make suggestions, after you peel back and we have a coaching methodology that we use at Microsoft which is super effective, we call it the Crayon method. Once you use the Crayon method, the initial suggestion that people typically make on the other end comes out to be something completely different and you’re able to coach them along in the meantime. I would just conclude with saying that we’re trying to build a thank you culture in my organization, it’s all about thank you. We try to make sure that we appreciate and extend appreciation on the smallest things all the time, not in a disingenuous way but in a way that makes people feel valued and they want to contribute to the success of the working station
Fred Diamond: I want to thank our guests today and I want to thank my co-host Jeffrey Wolinsky with WTOP News and Fed News Network. Again, our guests were Christine Barger, general manager of Microsoft, Allison Patrick, senior VP of sales for MAXIMUS, Joe Markworkt, area Vice President of sales for Salesforce, Tamara Greenspan, Vice President for Oracle.