In all things, planning is key. This is especially true when you are building a Federal Business Plan.
Our business is built on developing strategic Federal Business Plans for our customers and we are often asked about our assessment process, so here it is! Below we outline each of the elements we analyze, questions we ask as we digest the data and the brainstorming framework that goes into developing the best path forward. Now, you may be thinking "are they really just giving us their secret sauce?" Yes and no. Our customers are experienced sales leaders and they understand this process, they contract us to develop their business plans because:
- They don't have the time to dive into each of these points to the depth required to make meaningful business assessments and recommendations.
- They are too close to the business to provide a bias-free assessment and analysis of the current state.
- They want to tap into the 40+ years' of Federal product sales experience that our team has used to generate millions of dollars in revenue annually.
Additionally, this plan will guide you on the questions to ask yourself, the elements to analyze and tactics to consider implementing but the outcomes and path forward for your business is entirely based on how you apply this guide. It is important to note that you should rely on multiple team members to lend their perspective on each of these elements and encourage open dialogue around all of the steps to encourage a well-rounded view of your current state and a broad range of ideas for the best path forward. Finally, this is not a one time thing. We strongly encourage clients to perform an in-depth assessment annually and quarterly evaluations to address any major changes to your solution, competition, customer needs, etc.
3 Key Steps To Building A Federal Business Plan
Step 1: Assess The Current Landscape
Brace yourself, this is the longest part of the process but it is the most critical. This is the stage where you critically assess all areas of your current product positioning, marketing and sales strategies in order to paint a clear understanding of your current Federal business landscape. As the saying goes, "if you don't know where you've come from, you don't know where you're going" (Maya Angelou).
There are 5 major business areas you need to assess to sell to the Federal market and we will go into each of them more in depth:
- Federal Total Addressable Market & Ideal Buyers
- Federal marketing approach
- Federal sales approach
When it comes to assessing your product or service solution, start with a few questions:
- What does your product do?
- Does your product need Federal certifications (FedRAMP, DoDIN APL, NIAP CC, FIPS 140)
- What problem does it solve for?
- Why does it offer value for the Federal customer?
- Who uses your product?
- Where can it be used?
- How does it work?
- What are three things you could add to or take away from your product to make it better?
- What products or solutions complement your product?
- How many units did you sell in the past year? The past 5 years?
Let these questions lead you and your team into a discussion on anything and everything as it relates to your unique solution for the Federal customer. This process should be repeated with each of your offerings. If your product catalog is broad, generate a smaller list of core products that are either your top sellers or products you want your team to focus on more in the coming year.
Finally, make detailed notes and even record your product discussions as they may offer a source of new federal marketing and sales content when it comes time to execute your plan.
Despite the unpredictability and complexities of the Federal market, one thing can be said positively about the process, it offers valuable insight into your competitive landscape. Using tools such as Bloomberg Government can provide key insight into bids your competition has won and at what price point. Using an excel spreadsheet you can track the top competitors for each of your product lines. In your tracking sheet include information about their:
- Value proposition
- Past performance
- Pricing strategy (as best you can determine)
- Product add-ons
- Insight gleaned from relevant debriefing calls
While the purpose of this section is to analyze your competition in the market, you will naturally start developing ideas on ways you can stand out against them and ideas for improving your products or positioning and expanding your accounts. Take note of all of these ideas but try not to venture too far down into the execution of them, the purpose of this steps is to keep digging deeper into how your competition is selling their solutions.
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Federal Total Addressable Market & Your Ideal Buyers
In relation to your core products, you need to determine your federal total addressable market (TAM) and your ideal buyers within those markets. It is best to start with your ideal buyer, since this will help give you a stopping point when building your TAM.
Your ideal buyer is a well defined demographic and psychographic description of the person or people who are best suited to glean the most value from your solution. The most effective teams know everything about their ideal buyers which allow them to lead valuable conversations at every stage in the sales process. To build an ideal federal buyer profile, you can run reports on your current customer lists, hold 1:1 customer interviews and run an internal brainstorm session regarding the buyer's journey.
When building your ideal federal buyer profiles, pay special attention to the value these individuals glean from your solution. Each broad type of buyer will likely find different aspects of value but that information will help guide your future sales and marketing content. Additionally, ideal buyers within the Federal market should always include information regarding rank or areas of responsibilities. Since many government bodies follow similar organization charts, knowing this information can make it easier to find people within similar roles at other agencies or branches. Also, if you know that your ideal buyer is the CIO, then you don't need to chart past that office in your TAM below.
We have an entire guide on determining your TAM (What Is Total Addressable Market And How To Identify Whitespace To Increase Your Sales), so we won't go too in depth, but here is the TLDR version:
- Identify your top-level federal territory (For instance, your solution may be valuable to all Federal government or just the DoD)
- Map out all of the federal agencies, departments, bureaus etc. that fall under your top-level category until you get to the offices of your ideal buyers
- Mark each of the buyers you have sold your product to in the past or currently have in your pipeline
- All the areas that do not have purchasing history will become areas of opportunity in your plan
At this point, you thoroughly know your product's value, how your competitors are selling and your areas of opportunity for attracting new federal customers; now you need to analyze all of the activities you currently use to promote your product. Again, this should be done for each product in your catalog and the activities listed below are only meant to start the conversation so don't be afraid to discuss things you may have done outside of this list to either drive awareness to or consideration of your offering.
Additionally, your federal marketing collateral, website, booth messaging, emails, and elevator pitch should be focused and driven to speak directly to the federal customer and their unique environments. The federal customer's challenges may be very closely associated to the overall enterprise market but the federal customer has their own unique requirements that need to be well communicated for the customer to associate a solution to their environment. All communication to the federal customer should focus on their challenges. Communication includes the following:
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO) strategy, may include:
- Creating online resources and a strategic linking structure typically facilitated through a site blog
- Tracking page rank and target keywords
- Using schema markup and other tools to improve ranking
- Strategic backlinking to your product page
- Social Media strategy, may include:
- Frequent publishing on key social media sites
- Active participation in social media based groups
- Email marketing strategy, may include:
- Mass email newsletters
- 1:1 nurturing workflows
- Advertising strategy, may include:
- Social media ads
- Google ads
- Print advertising
- Event strategy, may include:
- Conferences you attend or sponsor
- Online or offline events you organize
- Account-Based Marketing strategy, may include:
- Keyword mining RFPs from target accounts to use on your SAM profile, capabilities statement, etc
- Tracking for compelling events
During this exercise, you may start getting ideas of other ways to market your solution, mark them down to further evaluate later in the process.
Federal Sales Approach
The final step in this analysis journey is to examine your sales goals and processes. This stage will require you to take a hard look at your current metrics and foundational sales knowledge, you should understand the following:
- The 18 - 24 month federal sales cycle
- Federal budget cycle and buying cycle
- Total revenue goals
- Existing business revenue goals
- New business revenue goals
- Number of new customers
- Number of new contacts or leads
- Number of web sessions
- Average number of sales and marketing touch-points per closed won deal
- Average days to close
Additionally, you should know how much of that revenue should come from each of your core products and work backwards to understand how many leads, web sessions, etc will you need to get there.
This is also the time to document your sales rules and the technology and processes they have available. Just as you mapped out your customer's journey from their perspective, what does that same journey look like from your sales reps' perspective. If you use resellers or partners to increase your reach, metrics for sales through those avenues should also be recorded.
A little hint as to where this is going, in the next step you will analyze your sales and marketing efforts to uncover areas of friction that make your teams work harder than they have to and often times that friction is in processes and repeatable tasks.
Step 2: Identify Areas Of Opportunity
So you did a lot of work and hard thinking in Step 1, but we did warn you. Things move faster from this point out because you likely have already thought about everything we are going to ask you as a result of your assessment, you just need to put it together.
At this stage you need to examine opportunities to increase product sales, either by adding force to your current landscape or by reducing friction. Opportunities for adding force are anything that can multiply your sales efforts. In Federal sales, common examples include:
- Expanding into new agencies
- Adding complimentary products or services
- Increasing your Federal channel partners
- Hiring a new sales rep
- Testing a new marketing campaign
The opposite of force is friction. In the sales process, friction represents anything that makes your team work harder to produce the same results. The goal of reducing friction is to provide your team more time to devote to the tasks that produce the greatest returns. Examples of ways to reduce friction include:
- Adding technology to automate tasks, processes, etc.
- Eliminating ineffective processes, campaigns, etc.
- Tightening your reps territories
- Assigning tasks based on your teams' natural strengths so they are completed more efficiently (Daniel Pink’s book “When: The Scientific Secrets Of Perfect Timing” is a great research-based guide on how timing can help someone produce their best work quickly)
Once you have identified all of your areas to increase force and reduce friction, it is time to analyze the list and pick the right mix to focus on. It is imperative to critically examine your list in relation to the necessary time, budget and potential return for each item and then choose the items that are best for your business goals.
Step 3: Build Your Federal Business Plan & Do The Work
Projects that are written out and actively managed will be more successful than those that aren't. That being said, it is time to build your plan into a formal document that can be revisited and improved on frequently. Your plan should include:
- The details of your current assessment and the timeframe the analysis was completed
- All of the opportunities your team identified for increasing force and reducing friction
- The specific items you intend to work on, whose responsible for managing their completion, estimated time and budget needed
Once the official plan is agreed upon by all necessary stakeholders, it is time to get to work. Each tactical item should have it's own project management plan which not only manages the steps needed to bring it to reality but also includes the desired outcome of the effort and a clear way to measure its financial impact.
Do You Need Help Building Your Federal Business Plan?
Then request a FREE Consultation from Sanctum Federal! Our team has successfully built several Federal sales startup practices and secured millions of dollars of revenue directly from the Federal market and our mission is to help other organizations do the same!
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