So we have a new President! How's that affecting your federal marketing?
As early as a week after the inauguration, lots of business owners I talked to were upbeat. Others, though, told me they were struggling with how to keep building relationships, especially with relatively new contacts. At least one of my clients experienced a sudden, dramatic change in their federal marketing calls.
"Conversations we had before the holidays, with people who were positive and upbeat, have turned grim or just shut me down," said Brian. "In the agency where we're focused – and it's a high priority agency for expansion by the new Administration -- there's so much uncertainty. People are saying 'I'm unable to commit; I can't tell you anything; I'm concerned about my position; we're waiting for directives and budgets.' Other places, all we hear are crickets."
"How do you think Federal employees are doing right now?" I asked.
"It's really emotional out there," said Teresa. "A Federal program manager I was talking to just broke down and sobbed in the middle of the conversation. She was scared that her job was going away.
"Should we even make marketing calls right now?" asked Terry. "I don't want to waste my time and money, and I don't want to pester or offend these people I'm trying to get to know."
What if you didn't think of it as "marketing"? But just as "staying connected with people"? Should you keep in touch when things are rough? Uncertain? When nobody can tell you anything and there's no perceptible upside for you?
Be the warmth you want to feel in the world.
Your federal buyers have never needed you more. Not because of what you sell, but because of who you are. Especially because you're not going to be selling anything for a while. You're just going to show up, and care, over and over. First: remember that there's no such thing as "selling to government." Governments don't buy things. People do. First of all, remember that they're human beings. The vast majority of the people you talk to are passionate about carrying out their missions. They are doing the best they can, in sometimes confusing conditions.
Second, in times of tremendous change, the atmosphere within the agencies is no less polarized than it is on the street. Everybody's got an opinion...but Federal employees also have responsibility to carry out policies and programs they might personally disagree with. Passionately. Maybe on something that leaves them pondering the Constitution. My job doesn't carry that responsibility. But their jobs do. Think that might be stressful?
Some govvies are elated by the election's outcome, and happy to talk about that. Others have seen a lot of Administrations come and go, and will tell you straight out that things carry on. Ask them for their perspective. Chances are, they're eager to tell you. Still others have not been through a change of Administration, let alone one that seems, to many, this dramatic. They're still in shock, and feel they can't speak what's in their minds and hearts to their colleagues.
If the conversation they have with you is the only place they feel safe sharing their fears, in confidence, then you've made a profound difference.
"People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."
~ Maya Angelou
Sure, if the RFP is on the street, it's still not kaffeeklatsch time. But if that's not the case, and your federal contacts sound on edge, what can you say? What can you ask?
For a start, do less talking. More listening. Especially now, but always.
Here's what we did.
- Have conversations with empathy. Ask, "How are you doing? How are the people around you doing? How are people supporting each other? What's the mood like?"
- Focus on how they feel about their mission. Ask things like, "What projects are you most concerned about being able to deliver right now? If we've got a link or a resource that can help, I'd like to share that with you."
- Offer something informative or innovative that shows something interesting. We came up with a fun idea for one of my clients to showcase a recent project. And there's always cat videos.
I checked in with my clients a week later: How did those approaches work out?
"That was really helpful," reported Teresa. "Even the people who were formal and cautious warmed to me. They really appreciated that I called. I really focus on checking in with them, and let them know that I understood they weren't going to have any new information. Most people relaxed a little and were even willing to suggest a good time for me to get back in touch. Our call program is back on track, and I have a whole lot more positive energy to keep going."
Sure, if you can get on site, you're each paying for your own cup of coffee. But now more than ever, stay in the game. This is yet another opportunity to build trust: one small conversation at a time. One compassionate conversation at a time.
This is when fourth quarter close actually starts. Months before the money's running out. When you're not selling anything at all.
Related: More about what trust is, and how it's built, from Dr Brene Brown.
Carry on. Make it real. Bring your humanity. We have more in common than we have differences.
Don't believe me? Take three minutes for this video, All That We Share, and tell me that again. It is ENTIRELY suitable for work. In fact, this might be the very thing you share with your Federal contacts, too. (Remember not everybody can receive email with links, so ask first; you might have to share it via gmail...)
I'm Judy Bradt, CEO of Summit Insight. I work with people who want to grow their federal business: prime, sub, or both. If you are ready for the high road (and the fast track) to become top of mind with the federal buyers before requirements hit the street, let's talk. You could be on a whole new trajectory in days. Call me at (703) 627 1074.