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EPISODE 235: Economic Development Leader Victor Hoskins Details the Monumental Sales Effort that Brought Amazon’s HQ2 to Northern Virginia
VICTOR’S FINAL TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “First, if you listen to the client you can’t lose. A lot of people do not hear the pain points, a lot of people do not pay attention to the client, they’re so busy selling their product they’re not listening to the client. The client has a need, find that need out. The client has pain, find that pain point and cure it. And second, you do nothing alone. Sales is a team sport. “Do not go out alone, do not pitch alone because you need somebody observing while you’re working and you need somebody working while you’re observing.”
Victor Hoskins is the President CEO of the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority.
Prior to taking over this role he had a similar position with Arlington County.
On today’s program, he details the steps he and the team took to win one the biggest economic deals ever seen.
Find Victor on LinkedIn here.
Victor Hoskins: It was a big sale, biggest in the history of Economic Development at least in my industry.
Fred Diamond: Why don’t you get us started? Again, we’re thrilled to have you on the podcast, I’m thrilled to talk about this particular sale but tell us a little more about you that we need to know.
Victor Hoskins: Probably one of the things that I think is important is that I spent half my career in a public sector and half my career in a private sector. When I was in the private sector I worked primarily for real estate development and real estate finance companies and actually, I had found one company with a group of guys called Urban America, a very successful Wall Street real estate investment company. Then I came back to the public sector, I came out of managing consulting, went back into public sector about nine years ago. I’ve been back in the public sector which I consider sales of a different type, selling places as opposed to selling a transaction for the last nine years and it’s been wonderful and I love it.
Fred Diamond: Again, you’re the President CEO of the Economic Development Authority. We have people listening all around the globe, what exactly does an Economic Development Authority do?
Victor Hoskins: Primarily what an Economic Development Authority does in most jurisdictions is provide the business team that actually sells the place to companies in order to build their economy. In many cases, many of these organizations like in this case, we specifically sell international and national clients. We go after corporations around the world and we have offices in Bangalore, in Berlin, in Seoul, in London and in Los Angeles. We have teams out there that are helping us get leads and then we try to bring those leads physically here or in many cases we may go out and pitch them and then get them later and basically sell them on our quality of life and a great place to do business.
Fred Diamond: We’re going to talk about how you brought Amazon to have their HQ2 and again, it was a huge deal. We talk to Sales Game Changers all the time, I would probably classify this as a home run.
Victor Hoskins: [Laughs] thank you.
Fred Diamond: When we were talking before the show you told me there were close to 240 jurisdictions that were looking to bring Amazon to have their HQ2 and eventually got narrowed down to 20 and of course, now they’re building it down in Arlington right on the waterfront. First of all, tell us about the scope of bringing Amazon for their HQ2 to Arlington and then we’ll talk about the sales process. It’s quite a fascinating journey to have gotten them here.
Victor Hoskins: Their original proposal started off surprisingly at 50 thousand new jobs, 4 million square feet and I think it was $5 billion in total investment. That was their original proposal. Ultimately, it ended up 25 thousand jobs that can go up to 37,500, $2.5 billion dollar investment and a 4 million square feet. It ended up being half of the original proposal but the original proposal was huge. Anyone that’s in Economic Development that is trying to build their economy and diversify their economy wants a company like Amazon. Amazon is probably the ultimate diversification company and its growth has been meteoric, there’s no other way to describe it and everywhere that it is right now, it continues to provide a diversity of jobs for that economy.
That’s why it was so attractive to the jurisdiction so 238 proposals actually went in, I’m sure more than that tried to get a proposal together but the proposal was not easy to do, it was a difficult one. Actually, we did a proposal for all of Northern Virginia, we did it as a group and this is one of the things that I want to emphasize, we did it as a team. You used the phrase ‘home run’, one hitter hits the home run but the team wins the game and this was all about the team, and the way that we looked at it was that we were going to pitch all of Northern Virginia as a place. It included four jurisdictions, it included Fairfax County, Loudoun County, Arlington County and Alexandria. A lot of people do not know that we actually had four jurisdictions in that original proposal.
The proposal that won was actually a joint team proposal from Alexandria and Arlington, we actually did a proposal site together. What we found was that working as a team does a number of things for you. One, it gives you a lot of players on the field at the same time and #2, it gives you really different perspectives on the same problem. Then probably the other team player that I have to mention which was just incredible was the state of Virginia, Virginia Economic Development partnership led by Stephen Moret, he’s the CEO there. He just did a brilliant job of really helping us develop the strategy, we worked with not just our teams but McKinsey consultants and some marketing consultants actually put out package together which ended up being a 250 page, double-sided, full bleed beautiful document that had more information on this region than had ever been assembled in one place ever. For us, it was not just an exercise of making a proposal for an opportunity for a company but also really helping us understand how we work together as an environment, as an economic entity for Northern Virginia.
Fred Diamond: Let’s talk about this from a sales process. Obviously Amazon’s been around for over 20 somewhat years, everybody knows about their growth, everybody sees the Amazon Prime trucks driving around. How did the notion start 5, 6 years ago that Amazon was looking to build a second HQ? How did the team first become aware of the fact that there was this opportunity?
Victor Hoskins: It was very unconventional for our field. Normally these things are done very quietly, you’re approached by a site location consultant or a real estate developer or broker or even a company directly, you work with them on one-on-one for a while finding sites, discussing those sites, looking at opportunities, putting together an incentive package, that’s the normal process. This was very different, it’s the first time I’ve ever seen this before in history, they actually advertised that they were going to do this and they put it on their website. Of course, you put something like that on a website, everyone sees it and it went around the country pretty quickly. It was very unconventional in that two things were different. One, it was publicly put out there, this was September, 2017. It was publicly put out there but also the local jurisdiction was actually in control of who really applied for the opportunity. Usually it’s the developer or it’s the broker but in this case they actually put the jurisdiction in control because they were looking for incentives as part of it because it was such a big project. That was very different from normal.
Fred Diamond: What did they do? You said they published it publicly, did they put out an RFP?
Victor Hoskins: Yes, they put out an RFP and I think the RFP was 35 pages or so, if I recall correctly and detailed questions, we responded with this 250 page document and I’m sure many jurisdictions did the same. You had to ship it and you had to ship a number of copies, I forgot how many copies we had to ship but once that process was over, it did follow a little bit like our normal process which is shortlist. They got 238 applications, they reviewed all those applications and then I think it was late January of 2018 they announced, “We are looking at these 20 jurisdictions.
Fred Diamond: 238 jurisdictions ranging from New York City all the way through…
Victor Hoskins: Kokomo, Indiana [Laughs] there were some small places in there.
Fred Diamond: You’ve done great work prior to this with the District of Columbia, you’ve done a tremendous job bringing a lot of business into the district. Tell us what’s the thought process internally as they’re considering 238. You’re saying to yourself, “We’re going up against Kokomo and…”
Victor Hoskins: And New York.
Fred Diamond: And New York. A lot of times we hear from the Sales Game Changers where people get over confident because, “We got the proposal, we know we have a great product to offer here.” Tell us about that stage as you know you’re competing with 237 other entities. What is the feeling during that point and from a sales process, how are you going about it?
Victor Hoskins: The feeling is anxious, everybody is anxious because we knew that a lot of people would go after it but we never imagined it would be 238. We didn’t, that was not in our imagination, we were thinking maybe 50, 75, outside maybe a hundred but that was a number that we had never imagined in our mind. Emotionally, that’s how we were feeling but what we were doing was we were really thinking of our strategy because if you’re going to win in sales at this level you have to have a strategy and our strategy was a pretty straightforward one. #1, we wanted to make sure that we answered every question directly. We had a team that answered questions but then we had a review team that reviewed the answers to make sure that the answers were direct to the questions that were asked and if we felt like there was some information that could augment that answer, that team added it.
Then we had a consulting team behind us so we could have primary research done which was unique because usually we don’t do that, that was something that we all actually financially contributed to, to pay for the McKinsey consultants and they did a brilliant job. That’s a little bit normal but never to that extent, strategy but I don’t know how many times we’ve done primary research for our proposal. Thinking through the strategy, answering the questions directly but let me drill down a little bit on the strategy. We know that there are competitors out there that are going to be bigger than us, we knew that. We know our competitors that are in the market that normally compete for the same companies that we compete for because we have a certain talent pool here, so what we did is we set them up on a matrix and we said, “What do we think these guys are going to do?”
We laid it out and we concluded that there would be people in this market that would try to buy this deal and we decided we were not buying this deal. This was not about buying this deal, we were not going to be putting down some crazy number on a table because this is not what they were looking for. If you read the RFP, it was clear that that was not what they were looking for, that was important, but it wasn’t the primary driver. We picked that up pretty early as we reviewed the RFP. Then I have to attribute this to the person who really drove it who was the CEO of Virginia Economic Development Partnership, Stephen Moret. He had work in an academic institution and he, like us, knew the problem was talent but he knew the solution so he had a very creative solution.
He told us all, “We really need to back this up with some strong pipeline of talent” and it was an area that I was deep in and he came up with this recommendation of putting a billion dollars into and behind academic institutions that would raise a billion dollars to create innovation campuses that would support the pipeline of Amazon and other companies, not just Amazon but other companies. That was a stroke of genius. Amazon ended up getting directly $750 million in their incentive package for 37,500 jobs but on the other side of it for our entire educational infrastructure there’s a billion dollars in the pipeline available and out of that came two innovation campuses. That was a really important part of the strategy.
Fred Diamond: I’ve got two other questions for you as we’re in this process part right now. Again, we’re talking to Victor Hoskins, President CEO of the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority. We have Sales Game Changers listening around the world to the Sales Game Changers podcast and when a lot of people think of this area maybe they don’t think of Northern Virginia, they think of DC as being the center of government. You know you have this product, tell me about what the product value was for Northern Virginia to go to Amazon because you said 238 companies, originally now it’s down to 20 but did they know? I’m from Northern Virginia, there’s great culture, there’s great universities, you just mentioned the incentive package, there’s great transportation, there’s a great metro system, great restaurants, DC is right across the river, New York is a 3 hour train ride away. Maybe I’m answering your question, but tell us about the product that you had to sell. Again, you’re competing against Kokomo, New York and all these other places.
Victor Hoskins: The value proposition was one that we thought they would embrace just by looking at the RFP. #1, the talent of pipeline and not just here in Virginia but throughout the region. We have 60 universities in this region, there are over 400 thousand people enrolled in those universities and we graduate 90,000 graduates every year, and we have two of the most productive engineering schools in the country in University of Maryland College Park and Virginia Tech. That was a big piece of it, selling that talent and we drilled down deep into the technical fields and how many were being produced and what this additional funding would do, this matching funding for these campuses would do to make that happen.
The other thing that we sold was actually the cultural infrastructure, there are 22 free Smithsonian museums in the District of Columbia and there’s no place else in the United States, and that was primarily our competition. There was a Canadian city and there was Mexico City but basically we were competing against other markets in the United States, no other market had that. In addition to that, Northern Virginia is right on the Potomac River right across the water, one, two stops away from the White House, from Capitol Hill. If you have to lobby, it’s really close and then we have 185 embassies that are located in District of Columbia, there’s no other place like that on the planet.
Then we have all these natural resources like rapids, on the northern part of the Potomac River there are actually rapids and down the stream we have the bay if they wanted to sail and then the bike paths. We really took time to build and show the entire environment that’s here and we have a lot of hip things that are going on in DC, H Street, U Street, The Wharf, Capitol River Front, but then we also have things like gaming at Prince George’s County. Because all of these things are accessible to us, we sold it all as one package because we’re a region, 6 million people in this region, 3 million workers, a half a trillion dollar economy, it’s the fifth largest in the country. We have the second largest concentration of tech workers in the United States and the only place that had more than us is New York and actually Silicon Valley is behind us. These facts we all laid out as a value proposition.
Fred Diamond: I have another question back to the sales process before we get to what you had to do when there were 20 jurisdictions. A big part of sales is knowing what’s going on with the customer. For example, if all you’re doing is responding to an RFP, you’re 99.9% sure you’re going to lose. Let’s talk about the relationship with Amazon during this process and if there’s something you can’t say, just don’t say it. Talk about the team’s relationship with Amazon people, how did you interact, how were you allowed to interact with them as you led up to the final position?
Victor Hoskins: In the beginning before we were down to the shortlist it was very limited, the contact was mostly between Virginia Economic Development Partnership’s CEO, Stephen Moret and Holly Sullivan who runs Global Economic Development for Amazon. There were many of us that got into some of those conversations, myself and a couple of my staff like Christina Winn and of course Stephanie Landrum from Alexandria, there were other people that got into those conversations but it was very limited before we got down to 20. When we got down to 20 it began to expand, we met more of their staff, we started meeting their real estate people, we started meeting the people that were involved in the HR, they came and did site visits but before that list of 20. Before that list of 20 it was very limited, it was like 99% sure we were going to lose [Laughs] like you said because you just don’t know until you get to ask questions. The site visits were really the first place that we got to ask more detailed questions and also get a sense of the company because you understand the company from the outside but when you engage with the people, you begin to see the culture and understand the culture.
Fred Diamond: Before we take a short break and listen to one of our sponsors, you’re listed as one of the 20. Tell us that moment, I don’t know if it was an email or it was a press release. You find out that Northern Virginia is one of the 20 jurisdictions, what is that moment like and what were the things you brought together to get ready for the next stage?
Victor Hoskins: This was hilarious. We were actually at an event where myself, the previous CEO of this organization, Fairfax County Economic Development, Alexandria’s CEO, Stephanie Landrum and the Deputy Mayor of Economic Development for DC and the Economic Development Director for Montgomery County were all on the stage together an it came across on a text. It was hilarious because we were all like, “Wow, we’ve made the shortlist!” and what was so interesting was that the guy from Montgomery County was happy because he made the list, the Deputy Mayor of Economic Development DC was happy because he made the list and we were happy because Northern Virginia made the list. It was really a euphoric moment because we felt like we all won.
This is the thing that I thought of and this is how I run these things through my head mostly on probabilities. Our chances were 1 in 20 when it got down to the shortlist but really our chance was actually 1 in 7 because there were 3 jurisdictions and all of the sudden when you throw those jurisdictions, because if they win we would have won. Amazon would bring 37,500 jobs if they complete their entire incentive package to Northern Virginia directly to Arlington. However, there will be another 70,000 jobs that will be generated from those 37,000 jobs and those will be other companies like them, tech companies and then other companies that support them and then all the services that everybody consumes every day, your legal services, your tech services, your dry cleaner, your cobbler – I don’t know if you get your shoes fixed, but I do. Everyone that provides services to individuals, dog groomers, there are 3,000 dogs at the headquarters of Amazon in Seattle, there could be a couple of 3,000 dogs here also so there’s a lot of benefit for the whole region.
Fred Diamond: We’re going to take a short break right now, listen to one of our sponsors. Now you’re one of the top 20 and you said you viewed it as being 1 of 7 chances of winning because of the region and for people who are listening to the Sales Game Changers podcast, DC, Maryland and Northern Virginia are pretty close. You could be within one jurisdiction within minutes or an hour depending on the weather and the traffic but nonetheless it’s one contained MSA so everything’s going on here together and there’s a lot of teaming, obviously. We’re going to take a short break and listen to one of our sponsors. When we come back, now you’re 1 of 20 and now what happens? How does the sales game change? What are some of the things that you need to be doing differently to get the deal? Again, this is the Sales Game Changers podcast.
Fred Diamond: We’re back on the Sales Game Changers podcast, we’re talking to Victor Hoskins, he’s the President CEO of the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority and we’re talking about the home run deal which was bringing Amazon HQ2 to Northern Virginia. Now we’re down to 20 companies – I keep saying companies, my apologies.
Victor Hoskins: It’s alright, we sell them like companies, that’s how we look at it, we’re a company [Laughs].
Fred Diamond: Jurisdiction is the right word, right?
Victor Hoskins: Yes, jurisdictions.
Fred Diamond: So now Amazon has said there’s 20 and now it begins to ramp up, now it’s serious. Now it’s like the Kokomos – no disrespect – are no longer considered for this and also, you’re not competing, even though you said before the break that you’re friends with the guy from Montgomery County and DC, even though it’s going to help the region you kind of want it.
Victor Hoskins: [Laughs] Yeah, you want to win.
Fred Diamond: I’m getting the sense from talking to you here, you did so much great work in bringing business to DC to bring it to Arlington and of course now you’re bringing business to Fairfax County. What happens now? There’s 20 jurisdictions.
Victor Hoskins: As you know in sales, you get on this list of 20 and like you said, the game changes because first of all, you have more information. We were more engaged with not just one player at Amazon but multiple players at Amazon. They did a site visit, we took them on tours, we introduced them to people in the community, our leaders, we wanted to give them a taste of our culture because we were getting a taste of their culture just from engaging with them. We brought the developers to the table and interesting thing, one many people don’t know is that they thought we just brought JBG to the table, that’s not true. We actually brought four different developers to the table, one was JBG because they have one large asset in Crystal City but we also brought four different ones which included JBG, Monday Properties, GOAL Properties and actually another part of Arlington County called Rosslyn for another 8 million square feet because the proposal was for 8 million square feet. What we were doing at that point was we were trying to stay on the shortlist and this is all we talked about in my office, staying on the shortlist.
You get on the shortlist, it’s not win it, it’s stay on the shortlist because if you stay on the shortlist till the end, you will win. There’s a quote that I constantly send around to my people, “Steady wins the race” because I do believe that steady does win the race. The other thing that I said to them is, “Okay, stay on the shortlist but also be steady” and steady in a couple of ways. One, sober-minded, don’t get panicky if they ask a question that you don’t have the answer to, we’ll do research to get the answer. Two, answer directly, don’t evade the question. If you don’t have it, say you don’t have it. If you have it, say you do have it, it doesn’t do the plan any good, it doesn’t do you any good to try to hide a weakness.
They ask about some of the things that we’re weak in, we told them we were weak in those things but these are the things that we will do to strengthen them. There were things that we were extraordinary in and boy, did we play those up. Play your aces, I don’t know how many of you played bid whist out there or rummy, but you’ve got to count your cards and you play to win. You don’t put out weak cards when you’ve got to stay in the game.
Fred Diamond: I’ve got another analogy here. Again, when you’re in a sales organization you have a pipeline so for every home run there’s 20 other deals that you need to win so this is the big one and obviously as we mentioned a number of times, it’s probably not even a home run, it’s probably a grand slam, obviously and it’s already begun to provide so much value to the region. Now you’re with Fairfax, you worked with Arlington at the time but there’s probably another hundred companies besides Amazon that you want to bring to the region so how do you stay focused on this one and the other hundred as a sales leader?
Victor Hoskins: That’s an excellent question because all of us have relatively small sales team for the type of work that we do and we had 8 salespeople basically in Arlington so we shifted the load around the office and I actually ended up recruiting people from my other teams. I also had the tourism team which was 10 people, I had an arts and culture team which were 19 people so I had all these different teams. Some of them temporarily picked up some work that supported the business investment side because we just didn’t have the capacity so we expanded it by cross-training people.
One of the key things were my leadership, Christina Winn was just incredible, she was my Director of Business Investment, she was brilliant in how she executed this. She balanced the load between her team, she saw people couldn’t do a certain task, she moved it to another person, she told me what she needed in order to get the job done and I delivered it. There’s a long process of just getting through the next set of questions, by the way, because they had another hundred questions and we responded with… I’m trying to remember, I think it was about 11 hundred pages if you include all the appendices. It was a long document to answer all those questions coherently and with multiple teams because we had all of a sudden universities involved, we had Virginia Tech involved, that was a different conversation, we had George Mason University involved, we had the State of Virginia Economic Development Partnership involved, we were doing it together with Alexandria so Alexandria and Arlington involved.
You have multiple teams, you have all of this information pouring in and actually, we all had communications teams so we had at least 3 communications teams at the table at one time all the time so all of that was going on simultaneously. Keeping it in order and keeping it coherent and again, being steady and always realizing that you want to stay on the shortlist and that meant answering everything directly and delivering coherent answers.
Fred Diamond: I’ve got another twist for you here before we get down to the award. Again, it’s high profile and now it’s getting exciting, I’m sure that there were people who didn’t want it to happen. You have that in companies too where someone’s like, “Do we really want this deal? Can we handle it?” A company might win a huge bid, it saps up all the resources and all those types of things, again it’s a very public thing, obviously Amazon is such a huge company and citizens, New York won and then they turned it down.
Victor Hoskins: Then they lost, yeah.
Fred Diamond: They turned it down which was unbelievable, nonetheless. Talk about that for a second or two, you’re trying to win this deal, everyone who’s working for the Economic Development Authorities and the state and the EDP, this is like a win-win-win, Virginia Tech and all the universities.
Victor Hoskins: Governor’s office, Commerce department, everybody’s on it.
Fred Diamond: No way this isn’t going to be a win, but there are people who are ignorant,, maybe they don’t know all the facts, maybe they’ll take a certain stand for whatever the reason is. As the sales leader in the whole process, how do you handle that knowing that “steady wins the race, we want to win this thing because we know it’s going to be a big thing”? Was that a big deal? Talk about that little twist.
Victor Hoskins: One of the negative positives about Arlington was that before I arrived there in January 2015 which was two and a half years before this competition, they had lost over 34,000 employees because of sequestration, low utilization of office space, changing GSA requirements, it really hit them hard. Crystal City was hit the hardest and Crystal City had the highest vacancy rate which was almost 30%. For people out there who don’t know commercial real estate, that’s really bad. Their history vacancy rate for the county for almost 20 years was 10% so they went from 10% overall to over 21%. Just that had made everyone aware that it’s important to get companies in town.
There were a lot of people that might have been upset about it that weren’t upset about it because they realized that actually, a lot of small businesses had disappeared, hundreds and hundreds of them had disappeared out of Crystal City that were supported by all those jobs that were there. Bringing those back was important and there was a lot of empty office space, literally millions of square feet of empty office space let alone there were vacant lots that they could build on, so there was an advantage in that. Almost the disadvantage became the advantage. Let’s talk about the elected side, the elected officials, we kept them constantly informed because there were some people that were sensitive to it. You may not know much about Arlington but it’s a very engaging county and the other jurisdictions that weren’t here, there were elements that were outside of here that didn’t want it to happen. They were trying to pierce our goals, they were actually trying to derail what we were trying to achieve so that process, we really counteracted it with information.
Any time there was an objection that came up, we just addressed it directly whether it was true or not. We just dealt with it directly. The great thing about it is that almost everything that they brought up was not a real big issue, like transportation. They were saying transportation was going to be a problem, well ridership was down 29% in Crystal City, excuse me, the metro, subway, they’re built, it was empty. People were telling me they were really enjoying riding in their cars by themselves. Look, that’s not a good thing. The region got together to finance metro maintenance and improvements but the bottom line was that all these objections that came up, we just dealt with them directly.
Fred Diamond: Before we talk about the final award, you raise an interesting point there. For people listening to the Sales Game Changers podcast, the DC Metro Region, Fairfax County is a growing area. We’re doing today’s podcast interview in Tysons Corner which is right smack in the middle of Fairfax County, there’s a new metro going through, it’s been going through for a couple years now, there’s nice buildings, condos and office buildings pop up. We’ve got to bring in economic development to the region to fill all these offices and to give people jobs and have young people move in and all those things. How much pressure was there on the team to win?
Victor Hoskins: Quality of life is a big deal and you can’t have a quality of life without revenue. I went through this in the District of Columbia, there were a lot of development projects that we did in District of Columbia that totally transformed the city, the Wharf city center, shops at the Dakotas, Union Market, H Street, these projects transformed the city and they delivered revenue to the city. That city has had nothing but surpluses for the last decade. My first year finished in 2012, they’ve had nothing but surpluses since 2012 so for the last 8 years they’ve had nothing but surpluses and they still argue about surpluses but you’re going to argue about something, so isn’t that what you want to argue about? That’s why we need growth, because that growth really provides, for example, in Fairfax County 53% of the county budget goes to our great schools. We have the most fantastic schools in the entire country.
As a matter of fact, when we were in Arlington County we were selling Fairfax County schools and frankly, they are pretty amazing, the #1 school in the United States, Thomas Jefferson High School is here in Fairfax County but you can’t have that without having growth. The counter-argument is decline because there is no stable state. We are a market-driven economy, you’re either growing or you’re shrinking, there is no stable state. Anybody that says that doesn’t understand economics so let’s look at Detroit. In the 1950s Detroit was at the pinnacle, it was the #1 in technology in its field, it was producing more cars than anybody else and I think they were growing sorghum and soy in Silicon Valley. Fast forward, look at today. One grew, one declined, which would you rather have? There may be a lot of problems with growth, there may be complexity with growth but the bottom line is that decline is worse, decline is more difficult and that’s really why you need the growth. You need the growth to fuel your quality of life.
Fred Diamond: Let’s get to the end here. Again, 20 jurisdictions and you won, you were one of two jurisdictions that were awarded their second HQ. What is that like? How did you know, how did you find out? Again, you talked about getting a text when you were one of those 20 but how did you find out that Northern Virginia is one of the two finalists and what were some of the things that led to the close? We don’t really talk a lot on the Sales Game Changers podcast about the close because so much of it is the process. You talked about steady wins the race, a lot of what the key messages from the Sales Game Changers podcast is preparation, it’s planning, it’s continual learning, those types of things. It’s not about pushing something at the very end, but let’s talk about the last mile, if you will. Talk about some of the things that happened before they made their announcement from a sales process.
Victor Hoskins: A couple of things happened. We had expected them to go from 20 down to 5, that would have been a normal process in our field. They didn’t they never did that but we made some assumptions and we all have relationships in the real estate market as well as the Economic Development environment and we talked to each other and I think people eventually figured out, we figured out without any direct answers, just because of activity we figured out roughly who the five were. We knew one was New York, we knew we were in it and we knew others were in it, I won’t go through those but we had surmised that these are our real competitors. We started forming our position towards the end that last mile against those competitors, how we match up against those competitors and how we exceed those competitors in most categories.
There was really what I would call a last minute positioning. Think of it as the two minute drill of football, I used to play football, we had a two minute drill and whether you were behind or ahead, if you had the ball at the end you were trying to score a touchdown, that’s what it was all about and that’s where we were. We knew the weaknesses of our competitors and we knew our strengths so we were playing those really strong. The second thing was that Amazon was very clear, “Do not reveal anything that they’re doing with you” and no one did. Like I said, no one told us anything directly, we figured things out indirectly and whatever came out in the media had nothing to do with us, we made sure of that. We signed a confidentiality agreement and I got to be honest with you, I think that meant a lot to Amazon, I think for that for them demonstrated the integrity of the organization and the individuals that they were dealing with and we held true to that.
The only people who were informed at any level other than our team directly that signed the NDAs were really the elected officials because they are responsible for the jurisdiction so we had to inform them, but that was done in closed session. I think the positioning of us against who we figured were the other five competitors, continuing to keep our elected and stakeholders involved as much as possible and as informed as possible, that’s what we did towards the end. The last couple of weeks, we were sweating it. There were people saying that we haven’t heard anything, we’ve lost and I said, “You know what? It’s not over till it’s over. When the last singer gets out there and belts out the last lines, then it’s over. We haven’t heard that so let’s just believe that we’ve won until someone tells us otherwise.” We were stunned [Laughs] literally stunned.
Fred Diamond: We talked today with Victor Hoskins on the Sales Game Changers podcast. Victor, two last questions, sum it up. From a sales perspective, tell us the three critical things why you won, why it was a home run, why the deal came to Northern Virginia.
Victor Hoskins: #1, we listened to the client. If you listen to the client you can’t lose, a lot of people do not hear the pain points, a lot of people do not pay attention to the client, they’re so busy selling their product they’re not listening to the client. The client has a need, find that need out. The client has pain, find that pain point and cure it, that’s #1. #2, you do nothing alone. Sales is a team sport, I tell my people all the time, “Do not go out alone, do not pitch alone because you need somebody observing while you’re working and you need somebody working while you’re observing.” Team is probably the second thing that I would say is extraordinarily important. The third is really understanding that you will fail if you do not maintain your pace. If you slow your pace down, if you change your gate you probably are going to lose because as I started, steady wins the race.
If you are steady, I don’t know if you’ve ever run a 440, it’s a long race. The most important thing in a 440 is actually the steady pace for the entire time, not that last 110 kick. Everyone thinks it’s the last 110 kick, it’s actually what you do before you get to that last 110 because you may not have any fuel left because you put too much into your pace but being steady is extraordinarily important. Those are the three most important, I think.
Fred Diamond: Victor, I want to thank you again, this has been a great insight into a huge deal and tying it back, I appreciate you taking the time to tie it back to the sales process. Again, we have Sales Game Changers listening around the globe, this has been a great story. Why don’t you give us one final thought? Again, we talked about Amazon and that was a big deal, it’s probably one of the biggest in your career if not the biggest but you’ve brought hundreds of companies to the DC region. Of course, you also created a successful company as well. Why don’t you give us a final thought to inspire the Sales Game Changers listening to today’s podcast?
Victor Hoskins: If you can learn to collaborate either strategically or directly with people who appear to be your competition, you can overwhelm the real competition and I believe that’s what we did in in Northern Virginia by coming together in a collaborative team, I think that’s really how we won. Someone asked me before, “Victor, what did you think was the most important thing in the whole process?” and I told them the collaboration between all levels, between us, the state government, the other jurisdictions, the private developers, the investors, everybody all the way up and down the scale.
We made sure that there was smooth relationships and if there was a problem, we put it on the table and discussed it. If there was a conflict, we put it on the table and discussed it. You can’t have collaboration without some discomfort, collaboration isn’t automatic, it’s not even natural. [Laughs] I mean I try to pick a movie with my wife, that’s a difficult thing sometimes and that’s just two of us who’ve known each other for years, difficult to collaborate on which movie we’re going to see. Can you imagine how difficult it was to collaborate on a $2.5 billion dollar, 37,500 with two billion dollar and a half a billion dollar innovation campus? It was pretty difficult but if you can do that, you can do anything.