EPISODE 551: Selling to State & Local Government and Education with Splunk’s Mary Lou Prevost

Subscribe to the Podcast now on Apple Podcasts!

Become a member of the elite Institute for Excellence in Sales (IES) and take your sales career to the next level!

Purchase Fred Diamond’s new best-sellers Love, Hope, Lyme: What Family Members, Partners, and Friends Who Love a Chronic Lyme Survivor Need to Know and Insights for Sales Game Changers now!

[EDITOR’S NOTE: This podcast was sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales, and featured an interview with Mary Lou Prevost, VP of State & Local and Education Sales for Splunk.]

Find Mary Lou on LinkedIn.

MARY LOU’S TIP: ” if you’re looking to get into SLED, the opportunities are tremendous. A game changer in selling is, it’s not about what you want to sell, it’s what your customers need. Keeping the customer’s goals in the forefront of your mind, that is always going to be the best approach and in delivering the types of service that are needed. How do you make them a success? That usually works the best. 


Gina Stracuzzi: I am super excited to be talking to Mary Lou Prevost, who is from Splunk. Mary Lou has a 20 plus year career at the state and local level, which I find fascinating. I can’t wait to hear more about how she got into SLED, what keeps her there and the tip she may have for women who would like to get into that area. Welcome.

Mary Lou Prevost: Thank you so much for having me here, Gina. I appreciate it.

Gina Stracuzzi: Thank you. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself, other than what I just mentioned, your 20 plus year career? How you maybe got into sales, did you study sales at school? Did you think you’d be selling? Tell us a little bit about how you got to where you are?

Mary Lou Prevost: I graduated college and I started in inside sales. Had a mutual friend that got me my first interview and got that break, but started inside sales. Within a matter of months, promoted to outside sales and never looked back. Started in the trenches developing leads and what we call dialing for dollars.

Gina Stracuzzi: I remember those days [laughs]. It seems like so far away.

Mary Lou Prevost: It was really early in my career where I was handling both commercial accounts, as well as state and local. I really found that working in state and local government was far more mission oriented. It wasn’t just about building profits, wasn’t just about your speeds and feeds. When you start to get into the greater good of what you can accomplish in SLED, very mission oriented, that have impact and true outcomes for the residents of that state or that jurisdiction, it’s extremely rewarding. I made that decision pretty early in my career, that I enjoyed that type of work. I felt that there was so much that the companies I worked for with the technology that we had, the good that we could do. Haven’t looked back.

Gina Stracuzzi: That’s amazing. I like that actually, because especially early in sales careers, it can often feel like you’re just selling paper clips to people who don’t necessarily need any more paper clips. To do something of real value, to be working in tandem with organizations that are trying to build better educational systems, that kind of thing, how rewarding? That’s amazing. Tell us a little bit about the clients that you’re working with now, and how your SLED career has grown over the years and the types of clients you’ve worked with.

Mary Lou Prevost: Absolutely. I cut my teeth in this market in California, working with the state government there. From there, was promoted to run the western US, kept getting larger. Now I’m on my third US practice, working with SLED. SLED, its State and Local Education, if people aren’t familiar with that acronym. The types of projects we have the opportunity to work on from my time at CA was identity management. Then at Palo Alto Security, and then Splunk is largely security as well. Through my career, security has been a very big part of what we’re doing. When you think about access to systems as COVID hit, being able to go fully remote.

Making that type of a transition safely. Where we have ransomware attacks, we have different insider threats. It’s significant. That’s been a big part of it, the security side of it. Now also the opportunity to really work on outcomes. When you think of, let’s say your academic medical centers, making sure their systems are up and available and secure. Those are critical. I’m working with a lot of the R1 research institutions. There’s a lot of people that want that data, that innovation that’s being produced out of our universities. Being able to secure that type of information is so critical. During COVID, that was even where a lot of our research was occurring. There were people that wanted that. It was important that we didn’t have data showing up in other places outside of where it ought to be.

Gina Stracuzzi: I can imagine. That raises the good question, you gave us an explanation of the acronym SLED. Have you always worked at the university level with that?

Mary Lou Prevost: I just mentioned that about education, but no. The majority of what I’ve done is with state governments coming up with creative ways of helping them be more efficient and use technology to produce better outcomes for residents of the state or jurisdiction. It’s working across all of it. At times, bringing them all together. It’s working with one state where we ended up taking a whole state approach that ended up encompassing both education, local government and state government. They become very inclined when the different government fundings allow that to occur.

Gina Stracuzzi:  I imagine that it does vary widely from one state to another.

Mary Lou Prevost: Absolutely.

Gina Stracuzzi: In the DC metro area, you often have these initiative that can go across all three states, well, two states and their capital. Those kinds of initiatives are really interesting when they do cross different states, and then at the university level, when they use resources from different states, and I know my husband works on a contract just like that. Have you had that where you’ve had to work across state lines, or is it usually just in one at a time?

Mary Lou Prevost: Right now, a good example of that is the infrastructure bill that passed. The IIJA and with that, it’s actually mandated and it’s creating collaboration between the state and tribal nation when it comes to cybersecurity data. They won’t have to come up with their 10% match in the first year if they are collaborating with another state or tribal nation. We are working as a country to take a much bigger approach so that we can try and stay in front of the bad guys that are trying to monetize our school systems, our states, our local and county.

There’s stats out there that state that local government or state government is paying 10x that of what commercial is paying. It’s just become our target. It’s so important that we put the systems in place that can combat that type of activity, and protect the data of the students, citizens to create that trust in government services.

Gina Stracuzzi: That’s a lot of responsibility that that company takes on when trying to help them do that. Let’s switch gears a little bit and talk about what opportunities you see for women who might be considering moving to SLED, and where you think maybe some of the biggest opportunities lie.

Mary Lou Prevost: It’s so important that I put together sales teams that reflect what our customers look like. What I mean by that is just creating that diversity in your sales team, that is the reality of the people that we’re selling to and working with. There’s tons of opportunity, because the diversity is great. I’ve not felt some of the challenges that you might see in other places. It’s very welcoming to a diverse population, we’ll put it that way, working with government and with education.

Gina Stracuzzi: If someone was wanting to move into SLED, let’s say, and perhaps they’re working on federal level contracts at this point, what would you recommend that they do to get in front of hiring managers that could take them in that direction?

Mary Lou Prevost: Having that strong sales background is what’s key. Finding a technology that appeals to you. You can see the application in state and local government working network. I’m a big fan of LinkedIn. Using LinkedIn to start to figure out, “Okay, I see this role is open, how do I figure out who the hiring manager is? Who do I know in my network that I can start to work toward that?” Or taking a guess and reaching out right through LinkedIn. I’m a big fan and I’ve found people through LinkedIn, people have found me through LinkedIn. Big fan of using that social media connection outside of just working with recruiters and those kinds of things.

Gina Stracuzzi: That’s good advice. Your position is primarily in cybersecurity within SLED, is that correct?

Mary Lou Prevost: Actually, it’s everything. It’s one of the bigger areas that Splunk focuses on. When you think about data, we can turn data into outcomes. I’ve been involved in law enforcement criminal cases where we can take the cell phone data, the GPS data, and we can put the criminal right at the front door, and they’ll punch in the code. That turned out to be the murderer. We will get into those types of cases. We become the NOC and the SOC. If you’re trying to figure out where things are happening, you’ve got to know your systems where they are available.

Your application performance. We can traverse the entire network from security data all the way to operational data. Then taking pure data use cases where student outcomes, we can figure out who’s at risk. Where do we need to intervene? When you think of Splunk, you’ve got to think about data, and how you can use data to produce information to help make changes that can affect outcomes.

Gina Stracuzzi: I love the true crime piece. You hear so much of exactly that, using cell phone data, which it’s more reliable than it used to be. For a while, some of the information that would come as a way of data, from what I understand, wasn’t necessarily as pinpointed as it would sound. You would hear about things hanging off cell phone towers and all that. It wasn’t as accurate as it is now. I understand from what you said, you can put people right at the source of something, which is pretty amazing if you stop and think about it.

Mary Lou Prevost: If you’re going to do a crime, don’t do it holding your cell phone, it’s all I can say [laughs].

Gina Stracuzzi: There’s cameras everywhere now. I don’t know how anybody can get away with anything. That’s often the joke of people a little bit older that, “Thank goodness that all this wasn’t around when I was in my 20s carrying on,” because you got away with a lot more than you do now. Are there trends in SLED right now that you are excited about that you think is the future of where it’s going?

Mary Lou Prevost: I definitely think there’s a constant focus on modernizing and optimizing systems. Turning government into Amazon-like services so that you are constantly pushing forward how the citizen is able to interact. There’s definitely a trend to have even voice automated. Whatever it is that you need that you now have your audio activated type of receipt of government services, that’s definitely a big push you’re seeing out there.

To make it so much easier to interact. Working to create no wrong door, so that as an individual, if I’m vulnerable, then what are all the services that I’m eligible for? Right now, often you’re going to have to wait multiple lines. Let’s allow a citizen to see all the things that they’re eligible for so you can put a better safety net, to help that individual get back to a productive spot. Those types of things, very citizen focused or resident focused, I should say.

Gina Stracuzzi: I would think, at the state and local level, you got a chance to be a bigger part of what’s happening. Whereas sometimes at the federal level, you’re just one of many. A little more seen, I guess, is what I would think with your clients.

Mary Lou Prevost: When you think of state and local government, it’s the federal government 50 times over, and then you take it to the county level. I’ll get LA County, then there’s 115 cities within that. It’s massive. When you say more seen, I’m not sure. It’s a very large market.

Gina Stracuzzi: I’ve just learned something there because you think the state level of something, and it seems like it would be in many ways a smaller market than the federal but when you stop and look at it the way you just described it, it actually probably is much larger.

Mary Lou Prevost: By revenue, by entity, by every aspect, it’s larger, much larger.

Gina Stracuzzi: What would be the motivation for someone to devote their career to this? If someone was thinking about coming into the state and local level markets, what would you say to them would be a great motivation for doing that?

Mary Lou Prevost: When I’m interviewing people, I’m looking for people that are mission oriented, that are passionate, that really want to see a mission through. The sales cycles are long, we’ve got long budget cycles. Many states have a biennium, meaning that they’re budgeting every other year. When you think about having to get a project on, the idea, the concept, and then get it written into the budget, and then be able to actually close yourself, we joke there’s people that live and die in government sales cycles. One of my largest sales, I had two children during that sales cycle. It’s not for the faint of heart. You have to be committed and be a visionary, a long-term thinker.

You’re constantly having to think three years in advance, and always looking at, where do I need to land with my products so that I can expand across this larger program that’s going to get rebid in XYZ time? You have to do your homework.  It’s not about what you want to sell, it’s how can you have an impact? How can you help your customer have that impact and reach their mission?

Being able to challenge them to say, “Look, if you thought about doing it this way, and by the way, if you did, you can work on this funding source, that funding source, and use this contract over here.” You have to help lead in this market. In order to do that, you really got to be understanding it, ready to be a student of the game. Understanding what’s happening in your jurisdiction, what they’re trying to accomplish, and then how your technology can help them be successful.

Gina Stracuzzi: In addition to selling skills, what are some of the most beneficial skills to have? One of them sounds like it’s passion for helping people and being part of the team of growth. Do you need to be passionate about politics too? Or is it better if you’re not?

Mary Lou Prevost:  I would to say, to a degree. You got to think, in a state government you can have a political party change every four years, right? You have to check your own politics at the door, in my mind. At the end of the day, what’s the best for the residents of that state? Really put that hat on and to lean forward on what makes sense. How can I help deliver the programs that makes sense for the residents of that state? If you keep that in mind, and I do my best to try and check my politics at the door. At the end of the day, politically, what I think may or may not have any bearing on the activity that we do, what’s most important is what are the impact? What are the services that need to be delivered and having the best impact and the best outcome to the services?

Gina Stracuzzi: Something you said there just made me wonder two things when you talked about how long it can take to bring things to fruition, and it’s not for the faint of heart, and then a change in political parties that can happen maybe in the midst of things. Have you had projects derailed when there was a change?

Mary Lou Prevost: Absolutely. That’s one of the hardest things in working with state government is that every four years you can have that change, and when that change occurs in a governor’s level, so often the state CIO and a lot of the top roles all change. The plans that they had get altered. Some carry forward, some do not. You have changes in the ledge on what they will fund and what they won’t fund. You do need to be a student of the game as far as knowing where they are in the cycle. If you are at the beginning of a governor cycle, great. We can probably get a lot done. If they’re in the last 18 months, they’re lame duck. If you don’t think they’re going to be reelected, then it’s really hard for them to push anything through. It trickles all the way down.

Gina Stracuzzi: I can imagine. You’re right, it’s not for the faint of heart. I love that you have stuck with it. You are Professor Emeritus of the game, as you say. I applaud you. Let me ask you about what’s happening inside of Splunk. In terms of the SLED area, are you looking to hire more people? Are you growing this division?

Mary Lou Prevost: Yeah. I’ve got a handful of roles that are open. Gary Steele, who is our CEO, does his weekly in Town Hall, and recognized the 52 people that we hired this last week [laughs]. You’re hearing about cut offs, layoffs, those types of things, then knock on wood, it’s not here. As a company, we’re growing. Then you think about the need for data, and what data can be used to create decisions, it’s tremendous, the opportunity, so it makes sense. We are definitely growing.

Gina Stracuzzi: If you’re listening and you’re interested in SLED and you’ve got a selling background, then definitely reach out to Mary Lou. You have given us so much to think about, and as certainly you’ve taught me a great deal about this particular sector. I appreciate that tremendously as I’m sure our listeners do. We always like to leave those listening to the podcast with one piece of final advice that they can put into place today. Maybe if it’s someone considering SLED or already in that, what might they do to enhance their career, or take it to the next level, or companies? What would you recommend?

Mary Lou Prevost: I would say, if you’re looking to get into SLED, the opportunities are tremendous, you just got go search. That’s pretty easy to identify. A game changer in selling is, it’s not about what you want to sell, it’s what your customers need. Keeping the customers goals in the forefront of your mind, that is always going to be the best approach and in delivering the types of service that are needed. How do you make them a success? That usually works the best.

Gina Stracuzzi: I guess then if you’re not doing that on a regular basis, maybe stop and review if you’re pushing what you’re selling versus listening to what they need.

Mary Lou Prevost: Absolutely. Words to live by here in sales.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.