Making IT happen

What New Federal IT Sales Reps Need to Know: Understanding the Federal Culture

Welcome to part one of our nine-part blog series, where we help new federal IT sales reps just like YOU, navigate the “need to know” of the federal government.

In case you need a refresher of the topics we plan to cover, check out our welcome post.

If you recall, you just landed a job at a well-known IT company that sells to federal government. In an effort to ease your nerves and to learn more about your new career, we threw out some of the key things that we felt were beneficial for new federal IT sales reps to know. We briefly covered Government 101 in our last post but to fully understand the federal culture and how it operates you need to have a clear understanding of federal IT roles and the details of who you’ll interact with as an IT seller.

You wouldn’t go on a road trip without a map, and you shouldn’t try and start a sales cycle without a holistic view of who you will work with. The IT representatives you will be speaking with, each support the unique mission of their respective federal agency. Because the different roles within the federal government procurement world have very specific functions and scopes of authority, knowing that landscape will be key to your success.

Office of the CIO (OCIO)

The office of the Chief Information Officer (CIO) is at the top of the sales cycle food chain, but that doesn’t mean you should contact the CIO for every sale. The primary role of the CIO is to set long term IT goals for the agency and to focus time on consolidation or money saving and spending efforts.

A CIO also has to ensure that the agency is in compliance with Congressional Directives and exceeds the latest IT standards set out by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

While a CIO won’t want to be involved in small quantity license procurements, you might be working with them on larger deals. If an agency is looking to implement an enterprise-wide solution, the CIO will want to be in the mix ensuring that your solution aligns with the agency’s IT strategy.

IT Division Director

Much like the CIO, at the heart of the IT Director’s role is an increased focus on efficiency. However, they go about it with a technical expertise. If you can’t prove to the IT Director that your product or solution fulfills a need, then you can kiss your sale goodbye.

Most IT Directors typically have three main criteria that must be met before going forward with your solution.

  • Does this solve a technical or business problem?
  • Can it increase overall productivity?
  • Does this save my department money?

As the resident sales representative, knowing ahead of time the questions and expectations the IT Director has for your product is critical. Having solid answers to these questions will help convince the IT Director and increase your chance of winning the award!

Here are some ways that you can go about discovering the answers to these questions:

1. Know your product

The most effective way to understand and be able to answer the three questions posed above, is to have a very deep understanding of how your product solves problems, increases productivity and provides auxiliary benefits. I’m sure you’ve heard before “that rep really knows her stuff.” That’s where you want to be in terms of knowing what your product does.

2. Know your competitors’ products and how they compare

You’re in the business of promoting your own products and you can come off looking bad if you bash the competition. However, factual comparisons of your product versus the competition are fair to bring forward. Gartner has the Magic Quadrant that compares competitive solutions. Being able to share how your product is superior by use of this information only heightens your credibility.

3. Know if your product offering provides auxiliary benefits

Oftentimes, beyond enabling the customer to save money, your product likely offers features the government may consider to provide additional benefit. You can discount your price to meet the savings goal, but sometimes you can lock the sale down by highlighting the other non-financial benefits.

Contracting Officer (KO or CO)

The Contracting Officer, also commonly known as the KO, is the most important person you will interact with other than the CIO. This is the person who will, on most deals, make the final decision whether to award to you or your cross-town rivals.

The Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), the system that governs the acquisition process of government agencies, details the role of a Contracting Officer succinctly:

FAR (48 CFR) Part 1.602-2 "Contracting officers are responsible for ensuring performance of all necessary actions for effective contracting, ensuring compliance with the terms of the contract, and safeguarding the interests of the United States in its contractual relationships."

Simply put, the KO’s have the required authority to commit the government to a contract, as provided by the head of their agency. Even if you are able to convince an end user and IT Director that your solution satisfies their requirements, the KO is going to make the final call.

What are KO’s looking for in Contracting for IT software? What are their goals for their agency’s acquisition?

End User

All sales cycles begin before you, the seller, is even aware. The cycle begins at a pain point, when a program has a need and they go in search of a solution. For the most part, this pain point arises with the end user (the person in need of your solution) and the contracting process begins. If you’re able to identify the needs among the end users, then your sales process will have a logical progression.

Needs vary and change all the time, so you should stay up to date on who might need what and when.

This starting point has the potential to change if the procurement is larger, in which case you may be working directly with IT directors or CIOs. In these cases, you might be providing enterprise-wide solutions which represent a much wider scope than the individual license purchases.

An essential aspect of your new job as an IT seller to the federal government is to have a firm understanding of the federal IT landscape, and the responsibilities of each person with whom you will interact.

We hope this blog serves as a helpful guide to the categories of people you will interact with and how they fit into your process! We hope you will continue reading with us in this series. Our next installation will cover the federal budget and it is guaranteed to provide you with additional valuable information to make your career a success.

Happy Selling!


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