Seven ways to improve your sales to state CIOs

By Ryan Nelson, Market Intelligence Manager

State and local legislatures are having a good year. Flush with cash from the federal funding, most states enacted budgets with an increase in spending and revenue for FY2022. According to a recent conference of market analysts and government leaders, states project general fund spending of $1.02 trillion, a 9.3% increase compared to 2021. The education outlook is a bit more cautious, showing a trend of delayed spending of federal funding in K-12 districts. Nonetheless, there is a projected additional $3.5 billion in e-rate funds for 2022 and 2023.

During the recent conference, Jim Weaver, Secretary for Information Technology/State CIO for North Carolina was interviewed about how vendors can better position themselves and present information to decision-makers. Here are some of his top tips:

Taking all of this into account, what do vendors planning to sell into the state and local market need to know? The sales approach to state and local decision-makers is different than the federal market, and vendors should be prepared to make adjustments to their approach, to ensure a better chance of success.

1. Understand the state’s strategic plan. Every state has a strategic plan. Before you engage, know how your products and services will help them achieve their particular goals. Do not ask what an agency’s “pain points” are, or “what keeps you up at night?” You’ll find yourself being redirected back to the strategic plan.

2. States are changing the way they consume info. A crisis is an opportunity to influence change, Weaver said, and that has been true with the pandemic. What’s important now are case studies and the applicability of the study to the particular agency being courted. Messaging has to be eye-catching and visionary, but still based on what’s being done at the strategic planning level. Also, Weaver emphasized being engaged in the procurement process; vendors who aren’t already engaged in the process will most likely not get a lot of traction.

3. Consider video to provide content. Because so many agency procurement professionals are inundated with reading matter, Weaver strongly recommends video; if there is an opportunity to interact, even better. Case studies also carry more weight than white papers – especially if the case studies are tied into your video content.

4. Prospects will check with their peers. If a vendor names a given agency in their sales outreach, it’s likely that the prospect will reach out to that agency to find out how the solution worked in their case. State CISOs are all trying to solve the same problems, so they frequently engage with each other – sometimes as often as daily.

5. Networking events are still an important way to gather information. Misery loves company, Weaver said, so networking and interacting via digital government channels are important. Broadband, cyber and digital issues are everyone’s problems, and collaborating through events is a good way to address those problems.

6. StateRAMP is important. It is critical for vendors to become StateRAMP certified. As emerging marketplaces change, Weaver noted, agencies have to streamline procurement and take advantage of cloud-like activities. (For more information on StateRAMP, read our previous blog “StateRAMP is here to stay. Are you ready?)

7. Don’t be generic. Procurement is a relationship business, Weaver said, which means it’s important for representatives on either side of the fence to know one another, and to have a shared comfort level for engagement. A vendor’s innovation has to be tied to what the agency is trying to accomplish with its strategic plan. (As an aside – if you get a meeting, have an agenda specific to that agency, and be prepared to share it in advance.)

As important as these tips are to get a foot in the door, what’s equally important is how good the service is after the sale.

Across the board, vendors should be a resource for deployment expertise, not just a sales force. Many agencies feel challenged by ongoing support of cyber and similar products. Technology moves faster than most agencies can keep pace with. While modernization efforts are important to an agency’s overall mission, some are working with systems that are as much as 40 years old. They’re not prepared to build out new systems because that’s the direction that the industry would like to follow.

Taken together, these seven simple steps will help improve your sales success at the state level.

Need help with growing your SLED business? Learn more about how immixGroup’s Market Intelligence team can help you.

Want to keep on top of trends in the government marketplace? Subscribe to immixGroup’s Government Sales Insider blog now.

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