202 Advisors / Partners 'None of us is as smart as all of us'

Federal - Why the 'left coast' often fails in Washington sales


Being a 20-year veteran of the federal IT sales market I have learned a few things about companies and what they think they can do by entering the Washington DC market. Great companies have come to DC and left DC. There is a reason some stay and a reason more go. In that time, I have seen many seasoned commercial software companies that wanted to get a piece of the federal purse. Unfortunately, it is not that easy for one person to take on that “tip of the spear” role alone, without ending in a less than stellar blowout.

Finding a willing, able and experienced federal sales person is easy. They all know someone who knows someone that can help to open a door, especially if armed with a “state of the art” solution that meets the criteria for success at the agency they are trying to educate. Most of the companies that come to DC forget that doing business with the feds is a different type of animal than commercial. A different game requires a different game plan.

“Must haves”

Staffs change with administrations and there are really no addresses to find the right people to go after, so if you are not a federal person then you will fail. The first thing all companies do is get a headhunter that deals with federal talent. Everyone uses the same ones and there are typically pools of people that make the rounds every time someone retires, moves on or gets the axe. For a small to medium sized company that wants to do business with the feds, there are certain “must haves”

1. Channel partners – you have to have them to get market share
2. GSA schedule – must have either a channel partner of a GSA schedule
3. Federal compliance - for example, in cyber-security, NIAP
4. Target federal organizations – civilian vs. DoD
5. Long sales cycles – 12 to 24 months before revenue, preceded by many meetings, proofs of concepts and trials
6. A unified pitch and collaterals that speaks to the marketplace

Companies new to the fed marketplace often count on just one person to accomplish all of the above, with a failure rate of over 85%. In truth, one person cannot set up all of the above effectively in a 12 to 24-month time-frame and companies cannot wait, especially where simply following the commercial game plan in federal, so they either fire the current salesperson, hire someone else, or leave federal altogether.

Formula for success

I created 202 Partners to offer a solution, an alternative to that cycle of failure. Team-based selling has always been part of my success and 202 was created with that in mind. As someone embracing humility from a young age, my successes over the years have been due to the collective power of the smart folks with whom I have engaged. In turn, all the people engaged share in those successes. 202 takes humility to the next level with the client’s mission always in mind. Each of the 202 partners has a mission specialty that helps drive the client’s overall mission. We call these “swim lanes” and when we engage a client, all the lanes are engaged in parallel, with no one trying to swim “widths”

202 is a team of specialists rather than just an individual. Our engagements are performance-based with “skin in the game”. Hiring 202 Partners allows you to have a 90-day window to validate whether or not your product and services are going to be embraced by the federal government, building on the general case of new products and new markets (previous blog post) in our specialty areas of cyber security, mobility and cloud.

What are some of our swim lanes?

Relationships – We have relationships in the DC area that are very deep and wide. C level execs with the federal government, the DoD and those of equivalent stature with companies and partners that support the missions of our federal customers.

Sales & Market Positioning – As seasoned federal sales leaders we know what the feds want to see and what they need to have. If the feds don’t understand the product or solution or do not have a need for it then your company is dead in the water.

Compliance & Architecture – Our team has all the expertise and certifications needed to touch and engage the fed infrastructure and make sure everything scales and meets SLAs, whether it be cyber-security, mobility, or getting a cloud environment FedRAMP certified.

About Peter Laitin

Prior to founding 202, Peter held executive sales and management roles at Thursby Software, Good Technology, Verisign and RSA Technologies, with a strong focus to security, DoD and Federal clients. He holds a BS degree in Marketing and Public Relations from Ashford University and also a BA in Political Science from Indiana University.

About 202 Partners

202 Partners is an American consulting partnership based in Washington, DC. We specialize in highly regulated enterprise software sales and business development in the areas of cyber-security, mobility and cloud for DoD, civilian federal, finance and healthcare enterprise commercial organizations. 202 was founded as way for seasoned and start-up IT companies to take advantage of mature tactical and technical advice in emerging technology, early markets and in dealing with the Federal Government. Learn more at 202partnersllc.com.


New product B2B software sales different in kind


Hiring 202 Partners allows you to have a 90-120 day window to validate whether or not your product and services are going to be embraced by the market.

New products, new markets in enterprise software

Startups, and mature software companies launching new enterprise software products into new markets have a lot in common, especially where it’s emerging technology and early markets.

Examples include:

- Classic startups with strong ideas and engineering looking to launch, grow organically or get to or expand from a “series A”
- Mature companies looking to “pivot” or “restart” with a new direction
- Mature West Coast companies looking to launch into the Federal Space
- Mature international companies looking to launch in the US

By new products, we really mean new - new engineering work, or a disruptive twist or re-packaging of on an old formula, not simply the next update to an existing line of business. By new markets, we mean a market where your company is new, or if truly innovative where you are creating a new category and in all cases challenging “big box” incumbents and their partners, from journalists, to analysts, integrators, channels, customer executives, to staff with proprietary certifications.

Picking the right model

Just about everyone knows how consumer products are brought to the market, especially with crowdfunding, web sites and apps. It’s the stuff of movies, popular TV entertainment and get-rich-quick “click porn” across social media sites.

Many industry veterans are familiar with execution-focused sales models for mature products in mature markets, with visions of commoditized inside and outside reps with quotas, established collaterals and scripts punching data about X calls, Y meetings and Z closes into well-oiled CRM systems.

Many such veterans have worked at “big box” vendors like Microsoft, Oracle, Cisco or Symantec, completed business school classes with case studies around companies like GE or P&G, or they just googled it!

The challenge of all of this knowledge is that it doesn’t necessarily fit the new product and new market area. If it did, the failure rates of startups, folks trying to establish in Federal, launch in the US, or just get new products out the door would not be so high.

In truth, the Microsoft or Oracle of 2015 are nothing like the scrappy players they were two generations or 40 years ago, when they were struggling to compete with the giants of the day -- DEC, Sybase and Informix (DEC was the genesis of Windows NT, Sybase became Microsoft SQL server and Informix lives on inside IBM)! The mountains of data available for GE and P&G, easily amenable to number crunching and analysis, just aren’t always available in this specific arena.

In the business book industry, “In search of excellence” was great for the 1980s, the far more insightful “In search of stupidity -- 20 years of hi-tech marketing disasters” was already out by the mid 2000s and Kindles today are filled with “airport business classics”, from “0 to 1”, to the “Hard thing about hard things.”

In academia, Harvard Business Review, called it way back in 2006 in a great article called the “Sales Learning Curve”, making clear the important distinctions between launching and later managing the scaling of a product with an en established product-market mix.

The proof point that many companies confuse these distinct sales scenarios can be seen every day with the same outfits hiring and then firing sales and marketing VPs, directors and reps every 6-12 months, quietly missing goals, or having product management as an afterthought, not realizing that they weren’t hiring or leveraging bad or lazy people, just not getting the right types of people in (and the wrong types of people out of the way) for the specific needs of new products and new markets.

To use a military analogy, special forces are small, elite teams that can get a specific job done, or soften up hard targets so that conventional forces can move into to carry out bigger tasks like holding towns or airfields. Similarly, it takes specific skills to launch new products that are different in kind than simply executing an established sales model.

Once the product-market mix is there and the chasm is being crossed, conventional models begin to come back into play.

How can 202 help me?

We aren’t business professors, with deliverables of classes and papers, or consultants looking to maximize billable hours and write reports, instead we focus on execution within the specific niche of new products and new markets, especially in the areas of cyber security, mobility and cloud.
Rather than bringing book learning and theory to the table, we bring specific expertise and experience, with a performance-based and deliverables focus, typically in the areas of:

- Review positioning and roadmap
- Review pipeline, sales process and tools
- Review existing customers, proofs of concept, pilots and success criteria
-Focus on feedback

- Create or update marketing collaterals and engage media partners
- Web, documents, videos, white papers, ROI calculators, social media, marketing campaigns, conferences, events, analyst and investor briefings

- Build prospects and partners pipeline from our existing networks
- OEM, Carriers, Managed Mobility Services and Systems Integrators
- Government, Healthcare, Finance & International Customers
- Channel Partners for GSA, 8A and access to specific markets
- Emphasis on logos, usable quotes, referrals and most especially feedback, not just P&L
- Assess compliance with relevant security standards and ability to scale

About Simon Hartley

Simon is a founder of 202, a specialist in enterprise software sales, marketing and product management, focused at the confluence of cyber security, mobility and cloud for DoD, civilian government, finance and healthcare verticals with seasoned and start-up IT companies. He is a veteran of four startups and four multinationals.

About 202 Partners

202 Partners is an American consulting partnership based in Washington, DC. We specialize in highly regulated enterprise software sales and business development in the areas of cyber-security, mobility and cloud for DoD, civilian federal, finance and healthcare enterprise commercial organizations. 202 was founded as way for seasoned and start-up IT companies to take advantage of mature tactical and technical advice in emerging technology, early markets and in dealing with the Federal Government. Learn more at 202partnersllc.com.

"Renaissance" v's "Coin Operated" sales

Always Be Closing (intelligently)

HBR has a great paper on the “
sales learning curve” and the kind of “renaissance” sales required for emerging technology and early markets v’s the more “coin operated” sales of mature products in majority markets — “here’s your sales formula, 20 enterprise accounts and $2 million quota’”.

202’s focus is squarely in the “renaissance” category of sales, marketing and product management, building offerings up to a point that traditional inside and outside reps can be brought in to work an established and constantly updated go-to market formula with success.

HBR Brief
When a company launches a new product into a new market, the temptation is to ramp up sales force capacity immediately to gain customers as quickly as possible. But hiring a full sales force too early just causes the firm to burn through cash and fail to meet revenue expectations. Before it can sell an innovative product efficiently, the entire organization needs to learn how customers will acquire and use it, a process the authors call the sales learning curve: The company--marketing, sales, product support, and product development--and its customers transfer knowledge and experience back and forth. As customers adopt the product, the firm modifies both the offering and the processes associated with making and selling it. The more a company learns about the sales process, the more efficient it becomes at selling, and the higher the sales yield. As the sales yield increases, the sales learning process unfolds in three distinct phases--initiation, transition, and execution. Each phase requires a different size--and kind--of sales force and represents a different stage in a company's production, marketing, and sales strategies. Adjusting those strategies as the firm progresses along the sales learning curve allows managers to plan resource allocation more accurately, set appropriate expectations, avoid disastrous cash shortfalls, and reduce both the time and money required to turn a profit.