By Sylvia Montgomery
Funny thing about myths and urban legends: repeat them enough and they begin to sound like the truth. For example, take the myth that companies can’t learn anything meaningful from decision makers in the government.
Just yesterday, I was having a conversation with a prospect looking to expand in the Federal public sector. I asked, “Have you considered conducting client research with current and past clients and maybe even some of the ones that got away?” The response I got was, “You can’t talk to the government!” At that moment, the myth surfaced its ugly head.
Picture two scenarios. Scenario 1 – “Beltway Bandit” firm finally gets the appointment its been seeking with the program manager. Meeting starts, introductions are completed and Beltway Bandit firm says to program manager, “As you can see, we have great people, deep expertise and unique processes that can solve your problem. So, can you tell me a bit about what’s keeping you up at night?”
What happens next with the government program manager can only be described as the typical glazing of the eyes and twitching of the neck. Beltway Bandit typically then launches into a dissertation on how their firm can help with just about anything they need. Meeting ends and Beltway Bandit leaves with a big ego for just landing the key meeting. For the program manager, it’s just another contracting firm that doesn’t get it.
Now, Scenario 2 is pretty different. Same firm, same program manager. Once the introductions are complete, the Beltway Bandit firm says to the program manager “We found your recent briefing on XX to be quite candid and it really helped us understand the parameters of your mission. From the GAO reports we’ve researched and studied, we see that there are other triggers that could potentially impact the requirements. We helped another department with a similar problem a while back, so we understand the types of challenges you are facing. Additionally, we’ve had some internal discussions and we identified some ways we can help you achieve the mission. We’d like to share these with you.
What happens next with the government program manager is quite different. The program manager leans forward and says, “I’m intrigued. Tell me more.”
What just happened? Scenario 2 is an example of genuine consultative selling (external focus on what is happening with the prospect). Scenario 1, on the other hand, is completely focused on the firm pitching the business (internal focus). Obviously, I have simplified the pre-engagement timeline and conversation protocol, but hopefully you can appreciate the difference in approach.
Over the past 2 and half years, Hinge has focused on understanding what is happening in the minds of buyers of professional services. To understand the buyer’s mindset, we’ve conducted extensive interviews with CEOs and senior executives of professional services. We learned that firms that focus on delivering end results rather than dwelling on their qualifications tend to grow faster.
These firms also understand the needs and priorities of their target clients. Successful firms understand their buyers because they conduct regular, systematic research on their clients, prospects and “ones that got away.” This research is not your typical client satisfaction survey, but instead focuses on meaningful selection criteria, visibility in the marketplace, referral potential and perceived competition.
So, next time you hear that decision makers in the government “won’t talk,” consider the value in knowing your buyer.