Federal Business Development (Luke Robertson Part 2) Podcast TranscriptAug 21, 2022
[01:11] Richard C. Howard: Thanks for tuning into part two of our podcast with Luke. This is government sales momentum. Richard C. Howard and Associates. Thanks for watching the video or listening to the podcast. Part one was where we really went in depth on the SBI program, which is a great way if you have a product or technology that can either be modified and sold to the government or is new and you're not seeing RFPs or requirements out there. How do you get that in front of the government and sell it? Fantastic program. I highly encourage you to listen to it. Lucas had such phenomenal success with that program. I have clients that have sold the silvers as well and are in various stages of FBI and STTR. So again, you can reach out to [email protected]. We'd love to talk to you about that, but today's episode, part two of this was okay. So you're a company. Whether you're potentially looking to get a consultant to help you or not, we wanted to give you the steps to figure out how you can really establish relationships with offices. So this can apply to Silver, but it can also apply to regular business development work. Right. Maybe you found a proposal and RFP or an RFI source of salt that you're interested in submitting on. But now you need to figure out, how do I talk to an office that is either issued the source of thought or how do I get in front of the right office about my technology? Maybe you have a new technology or software and you're not seeing the RFPs. How do you first identify those offices that are interested in that and then how do you get in front of them? Because whether it's an acquisitions officer, an operational user, these guys are busy, and sometimes it can be tough to get them to call you back. This is something that we do in our consultancy. Luke does not only as a consultant, but for a company that he works with out of Palo Alto. Just in case we're getting some listeners that didn't see part one, give me a brief introduction on you and then we'll take it from there.
[03:12] Luke Robertson: Glad to be back. This is great. Luke Robertson, I'm a director of strategy and business development at a telecommunications software company based out of Palo Alto and also an independent consultant. And my background is I was on active duty Air Force for about 15 years. I went to the Air Force Academy and then flew Air Force jets for the majority of my career. Taking only a hiatus to learn Arabic and go to Middle East for a long period of time and working in downtown Saudi Arabia or downtown Riyadh there in Saudi Arabia and foreign military sales program. Hanging out with the senior Saudi leaders every day and selling military products and services, so that would be back, I guess.
[04:04] Richard C. Howard: Yeah, I know we just went through this. If you want a more lengthy introduction, you can go to the last one. I met Luke, actually, in Riyadh. We were running a division up there that one of the things we did was we ran the foreign military sales program and certainly even afterwards as I worked through acquisitions and Luke continued to fly and do other things with the military, we stayed in touch until now, working together with clients, helping them sell products and services to the government. So this is going to be kind of free form look versus a set of questions. But one of the big challenges for companies out there is how do I get my product or service in front of the right people in the government if I don't have those relationships, if I don't have those networks? So what I thought we could talk about today is a little bit two fold, right? First is, okay, if you don't have that network and you don't maybe have the funds right now to hire a consultant or somebody that does have that network, what tools can they use? And I'll talk a little bit about that if you have anything to add. Perfect. And where I want to focus with you, Luke, is, hey, okay, how does a consultant or how does somebody like you use their network? How do you go about finding the right people? And maybe how can that apply to me too? How can a business owner use some of that? Just some quick tools that an office can use or an agency or a company, whatever.
[05:29] Richard C. Howard: Okay.
[05:30] Richard C. Howard: The first thing that I always tell people is most important thing is who buys what you sell, right? So that goes to whether you're selling it services. But in this case, we're talking about a new technology, right? So if you are modifying a technology so if you've built a new camera or a new cyber security software, even though that particular technology, you might not be seeing forecasts for that. You could see how the old purchases were made, right? So I could show you right now you could go to a USA spending Gov., which is free, or Sam.gov or FPDs used to be FPDs, but you can look at who was making purchases within a specific NAICS code, North American Industry Classification code, PSC code which is a little bit more specific. Or in some cases there are systems you can use where you can type in keywords. And so typically what I will do is I'll go back to the past five years and I'll look at what are the big agencies that are making purchases from there. I just keep dialing it down. Okay. Is it Air Force? Who in the Air Force is purchasing cyber security software? Oh, it's Lifecycle Management Center. And it's AFMC or Air Force Material Command. Meet them. Lifecycle Management Center. And then you could keep going. Dialing it in. It could be C three Inn. It could be a specific office within C Three in Nam. These are a lot of times free resources you can use to dial that in and then that's a great way to find offices and to start looking for connections, looking at the contracting officers, working on certain projects. If you have no network and no relationship that is a way you can do that. There are also some paid for systems that you can use. Certain ones I've used throughout the years like Bid Search or you've probably seen gov tribes going to pop up. If you are googling and searching for stuff and you'll find that they'll give you a little bit of information, then you got to pay for it. There are much more expensive ones that I won't start naming names, but if you want to spend 1520 plus a year, you can start paying for more expensive services as far as providing you with information and research. So those are just some of the tools you can use now in addition to that. Some great ways to make those connections and feel free to weigh in here Luke is. Hey. If I'm doing a search, if I know it's Lifecycle Management Center. Air Force. Since I mentioned them earlier, or C Three in NN. I can go to the small business offices. Websites associated with those and I can find events that are happening. They are going to have symposiums and they're going to have industry days and they're going to have things that you can register for and attend. And when you attend those you could be attending with program managers and acquisitions officers and users and they're going to be much more first of all, you can ask them direct questions in a lot of cases. Sometimes they provide you an email list. And I can tell you that if you attend an event with someone in the government, they're going to be a lot more likely to respond to you when you're asking them questions to set up a meeting. And it's especially with I can speak with the acquisitions guys. It's incumbent upon them to communicate with small companies and to set up. And I spent a lot of my time in business development meetings with small businesses, medium sized businesses, and the big like the OEM. Luke, I've been talking for a while, jump in ideas about tools you can use. Aside from paying somebody with a network, what would your recommendations be?
[08:57] Luke Robertson: So in many ways, I think the path that's the most obvious is one that is of great value as well. So most government organizations are huge organizations where you've got, you know, whoever is using the product is not the same person or office organization or even in the same state as whoever has the money to buy it. When you're searching through these resources that Ricky mentioned, you're looking at that office that has the ability to buy it. But that office doesn't necessarily know that anyone needs it. And so it's a complex process of pursuing the office that has the money, has the purse strings at the same time as getting the government to government connection going on with somebody who's going to use it to also be kind of not pressuring, but to be, I guess communicating the fact that this is a need to that office. Many small businesses when they begin, begin with, well, who needs it? And this is a really, really important you want to know who's buying it, but you also need to know who uses it, who needs it.
[10:14] Richard C. Howard: I would ask one thing to that is this is a really good point in the government because there's complexities, right, because you're right, a lot of companies will say who's using it and they'll think, hey, they must have the ability to buy it, not realizing that they have no idea how to buy it or no authority. So you have users like you mentioned, you have acquirers, which are the organizations putting companies on contract. You also have requirement generators, which is the third piece which I just want to touch on because a lot of times the way it works is you'll have the user, let's take a flying squadron that says, hey, I need a particular software to help with my ex mission planning. And then that needs to make its way up in a lot of cases to the requirements generator. That, Colonel? That's the Pentagon, right? Or even Lieutenant Colonel. That's a pen. Maybe, I don't want to get too far into that, but someone either running an acquisition program or in charge of generating requirements for the organization and then you have the acquisition shop. So in a lot of times, a lot of cases, it's incumbent upon a company to educate all three. Right? So just want to throw that in exactly.
[11:21] Luke Robertson: Clearly, it's a very complex process, and really a successful company is going to be one that's going to make it easy for all these different players within the government organization to see the value and to be able to have that value already and clearly articulated so then they don't have to figure out amongst themselves how to articulate your value to each other. One of the primary things to do is to find those organizations that will actually use your product you mentioned before, like some kind of, like, mission planning, flight planning software. Well, who would need that? And when you reach out and you find some flying squadron and you talk to some lieutenant or some sergeant or some captain or even some lieutenant colonel there, just know that that person can't buy it. But what that person can do is they can advocate that they can be the poll function there in the rest of the government. And this is a really, truly critical piece, especially if what it is that you are building is not fully baked in terms of what the specific needs are of the government organization. Civilian airlines have airplanes, and military have airplanes, but they're very different in the way that these operational missions are run is very different. So therefore, the software that would be supporting them could potentially be the same engine, but it might need to be modified in some way. And how does it need to be modified in order to meet the military's needs? Probably the best place to start would be honestly talking to the end user, and many of these folks are willing to pick up the phone and talk to you. It's just a matter of getting to know who to call. When you get a hold of somebody, is this person qualified to give you even the information? Not that it's like classified or secret kind of stuff, but rather is the person that you're talking to in a position like whatever they tell you, is this likely to apply beyond just their own personal experience? It's very important to find somebody within these end or user organizations who can be kind of advocate and ally and that coach as you approach the government.
[13:49] Richard C. Howard: I've got to imagine, Luke, that the question on everyone's mind is, okay, great, how do I do that?
[13:57] Luke Robertson: There's so many different ways, and this, honestly, I think, is where relationships really do come in the military. I keep referencing the air force because that's my own personal background. Although the military, the government in general is very similar, in some ways it's huge, but in other ways, it's a pretty small community, especially when folks start getting up into different ranks. I went to the air force academy, graduated in 2000, and 615 years later, all my peers are lieutenant colonels, and there aren't that many lieutenant colonels still in the air force. A lot of folks got out, and they're flying for an airline. Now they're doing this or whatever, but those that are left tend to know each other. And so if you can find the first one and say, hey, this is kind of where I'm going with this, are you the one that I should be talking to? And the person is like, no, but I can call my classmate, it really starts coming into the relationships in that way. That's a good thing.
[14:55] Richard C. Howard: It is a relationship game. And just being I'm kind of the older guy here, I guess, right? So I came in at 99. So a lot of my peers with that Colonel level now. But you're right, the ones that have stayed in, that's where almost all of them are, right? Colonel, maybe they're lieutenant colonel hanging in there. So finding that one, right. So for me, it's pretty easy to find that one because we can just call people we know, right, but for a company that doesn't know anyone at that level right. And this could be, by the way, if we're talking about a different organization, you're probably talking about a high-ranking GS, like maybe GS 14, GS 15.
[15:30] Luke Robertson: You.
[15:30] Richard C. Howard: Target GS 13, NHO three, NHO four in a different organization. But how do you recommend that they may approach somebody that they don't know or an office that they don't know?
[15:43] Luke Robertson: Cold calling is a tried and true tactic. Certain personalities kind of do a little better at it than others. LinkedIn, obviously, is just like an amazing resource when it comes to finding somebody.
[15:57] Richard C. Howard: Not to cut you off, but people have reached out to me on LinkedIn while I was still a program manager in the Air Force and have generated meetings and discussions that way both ways too. I've also gotten discussed with people I don't know on the government side through LinkedIn.
[16:13] Luke Robertson: And one of the best ways to find the people who are on LinkedIn is in terms of regular research online. If you find an article about a military organization that achieves some tests or some milestone or they've got some interesting things going on, a variety of industry publications reference this and they often quote Colonel so and so, who is involved in this particular program? And you're like, oh, well, maybe I can go find him. Usually those guys are reachable. It's a real human. And you can Google their name and up come their bio, and then you can see like where they're currently at. And then you can even call the operator of that base and try to get an appointment called the executive officer. Basically, they're the folks that manage the schedules for the Colonels and the generals oftentimes will put you on someone's calendar, even with a cold call to the assistant.
[17:13] Richard C. Howard: Sure, those are all good ways. One thing I did want to emphasize as well is we'll keep this podcast a little shorter today from the last one. But the small business office can be an invaluable resource, and they come in all different shapes and sizes. Right. Some of them have a lot of pull with the contracting officers on base. Like, if you're trying to influence an opportunity, if you're a veteran owned business and you're looking to make an upcoming opportunity, like service disabled, veteran owned set aside, a lot of times they can really help you with that, but they can also help you set a meeting up with a program office. Right. So if you're in this situation where you feel like you've exhausted your possibilities, you've reached out to contracting officers that are maybe listed on a Solicitation, and you're not getting a response. Maybe you've even attended a webinar associated with an organization that you're looking to go to, and you're just not getting any. You didn't get maybe an email list you could use there. You didn't make any good connections. You're just trying to figure out how to get in. Try the small business office. If it was Air Force, it was Lifecycle Management Center. I would Google Lifecycle Management Center. Small business Office, usually the military and government organizations will have a small business office associated with it down at the smaller levels, not just big. So HHS. Right? Health and Human Services. I can guarantee you the CDC, NIH, I know they do because I've used them. They have small business offices associated with them, and they're there to help small businesses sell to those organizations. You can first see if they have events that you can just sign up for or talk to them one on one. A lot of times you could schedule a meeting with the small business office and you can ask them, hey, how do I set up a meeting with this office? I'm not getting any response. Sometimes they're just really busy. Right. I mean, look, whether you're an operational squadron commander or you're a division chief in acquisitions, your day is packed. You're doing 1012 15 hours days, but you still have that, especially on the acquisition side. You still have the requirement to try to meet with businesses. Right. As time provides. One thing you can do everything's been exhausted is find a couple of other companies that are also interested in the same effort that you are. Right. Especially this makes sense if you're going to partner with them. Right. So you're not necessarily bringing competitors in there, but if you bring four or five companies together and then go to the small and this was actually recommended to me by the small business office. I think it was associated with NIH under Health and Human Services. But yeah, it makes it almost impossible for the acquirers to say. We won't do the meeting if you have four or five businesses that just say. Hey. We've looked at all the information out there and we've got questions. That is a great way to kind of force the hand of the agency to give you that meeting and it also makes you kind of the leader with those other companies you're working with. Okay, good. Any thoughts on tools companies can use? Additional thoughts to use themselves or processes they can use to establish these relationships?
[20:13] Luke Robertson: In the last podcast, we discussed the Silver program in depth. One of the advantages of working through the cyber program is it does provide a huge number of resources in this regard as well, just a straight business development piece. One of the pieces of cyber is to help companies find the government organization that needs their product to their service. And you can go on a webinar and say, hey, this is what we do. And then there will be a guy on the other side who will say, okay, send me an email about that and I'll put you in touch with somebody who might be able to help. And my experience has been that they have always come through with a very good lead. Maybe it wasn't like the final lead that I needed, but I was always able to follow through on the lead that I got from the Silver team to then be able to go and find the resource I needed from there.
[21:10] Richard C. Howard: That is a huge point. Just talking a little bit about relationship game, right? So what you're talking about applies to so many things, right. So if your company actively selling to the government, the companies I know that are extremely successful, what they're doing is they try to meet with their counterparts in the government once a month and hey, here's how our program is going. Obviously this is if you're already on contract, but the last question you have before you end the meeting, do you know anybody else that's looking for our services? Because what Luke is alluding to is you might not have the right POC, but it is small. So if you ask Lieutenant Colonel Luke Robertson, hey, thanks for purchasing our tools to help work on your aircraft. Do you know anybody else that could use this very specific ranch or whatever and I'm going down the tools here, but he's going to probably say, hey, you know what, not me, but my buddy is the maintenance squadron commander over at Warner Robbins and he is somebody you should talk to. That's how you're going to really network and get out there. Final piece is obviously this is a lot of work, right? It's a lot of work because you have to consistently engage. You're consistently trying to expand your network. So a lot of times you're just trying to run your business, which is where a lot of our clients come from, right. So if a client is looking to hire somebody that already has their network and you don't have to break the bank on this either, but for someone like Luke or myself, we can usually reach out depending on where the network is or match a company with somebody that has an existing network. Talk a little bit Luke about the process that you use, maybe some of the wins you've had for companies that you've worked with doing just that, establishing those relationships and maybe not specific to the separate process, but hey, taking this newer technology and finding opportunities that haven't even been advertised yet through a Sam dot.gov or somewhere.
[23:05] Luke Robertson: Yeah, so this one is huge too, because competing on the published opportunities that are on Sam.gov requires a couple of things. One, you've got to be able to respond pretty quickly so something will pop up and then usually you've got a week or two weeks in order to be able to respond to this thing. And many small businesses might not be able to write up a 50-page proposal in that amount of time. So it's difficult. So oftentimes the best strategy for success, and my experience has been that the strategy that most often yield that success is when the small business proposes the solution to the Air Force that has never been asked for. And recently I worked with a company that was doing some telecommunications solutions. There is a civilian model that works great in the civilian world. And so we proposed this to the Air Force equivalent organization, to the organizations that we're working with on the civilian side and it became very clear that the Air Force's requirements were just slightly different. Basically they needed a more regularized version with a little bit better range than what the civilian market would bear. What we were able to do then is work with that Air Force organization to kind of define out what their requirements were. It's not like we had to go back and re engineer the entire solution from the ground up because there is some off the shelf components that we could take widget A instead of Widget B and then build a solution that the Air Force needed that actually was not on the market. And so it would be able to then propose this. And now you're not competing with every other company in the world that could assemble this solution. It wasn't a technological breakthrough; it was just a different kind of an assembly.
[24:57] Richard C. Howard: Few changes, a few modifications. And I think that probably would give a lot of hope to companies out there. Just like how do I break into the market.
[25:04] Luke Robertson: How do you compete with the big boys?
[25:05] Richard C. Howard: Exactly, how do I get my solution in there? And I think that what we've done is we've given them a couple of really good methods to doing that. One SBI RSTR, which is a pretty straightforward program. The other one takes a little bit more creativity and work which is doing your own business development and then talking with different units that could use your technology, kind of matching up requirements, generators, users and the acquirers to make a purchase and not even compete with somebody else. This has really been great. Do you have any parting thoughts before we end the podcast?
[25:41] Luke Robertson: Thanks for having me on. I love talking about this stuff. Thanks for listening to me going about it.
[25:45] Richard C. Howard: No, that's awesome. Luke, you're truly amazing at this. From the business development piece, from the Silver piece, even solutions development for the government, which is why we're working together. So for anybody out there that is looking for a little bit of extra help with the business development piece with SBIR or STTR, don't hesitate to reach out. Again, a consultation is free. Dodcontract.com I work with Luke, too, so if you're looking for one of Luke's specialties, we can certainly match you up and get you going. Maybe you're looking for something that we haven't quite discussed here today. We do have a consortium of people that we work with all the different skill sets, and that's really kind of the goal of what we're doing is how do we make it easier for companies to sell to the government to understand it and to find the people with the right skill sets, really to alleviate time and funding on your side. So feel free to reach out and listen up for the next episode. Thanks for tuning in. Awesome.
[26:43] Luke Robertson: Take care.
[26:44] Richard C. Howard: Take care.
[26:46] Richard C. Howard: Hey, guys, Ricky here and hope you enjoyed this episode of Government Sales Momentum. If you did enjoy the episode, please subscribe to the podcast and leave a review. It's very much appreciated. If you're interested in selling products and services to the Department of Defense, I have something for you that you're not going to find anywhere else in the world. The team and I created a program that takes everything you need to win defense contracts and put it into one place. Up until now, only large defense companies and a small amount of people in the know have had access to how products and services are really sold to the Department of Defense. I've taken all of that information and put it in a step-by-step training module that shows you how to consistently sell to the US. Military. If you join our membership, not only do you get the model, but you get weekly sessions with former DOD acquisitions officers for training guidance to answer your questions. In a community of like-minded business owners that want to partner on different opportunities, to bid for subcontracting and teaming, or just to discuss general strategy on how to sell to the DOD. You have access to every course I've created. Every coaching session I've ever recorded in every interview with acquisitions professional that I've ever conducted. And we cover topics that range from defense sales planning and competitor analysis to SBIR and STTR foreign military sales, list goes on. Go to Dodcontract.com if you are interested, and I would love to see you in the membership.
You can also check out my podcast with Oliver Noteware and learn How he closed over 50 DOD contracts. Thanks.
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