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Sue Schweim Tellier has oversight for operations, business to government (B2G) marketing and proposal management. She specializes in marketing organizations to government. Sue effectively identifies their marketing differentiators and positions them in front of the public sector audience.
JetCo is a consulting firm that helps companies sell and market to government. They provide clients with proactive strategies and reactive solutions.
MO: How has your background and experience contributed to the development and success of JetCo?
Sue: I worked in public procurement as a state level supplier diversity and marketing director. This position was a vast departure from the marketing career I anticipated, which was somewhat more glamorous and exciting than public purchasing. My boss at the time was Michigan’s Chief Procurement Officer, and he teed the job up as a challenge. He kind of double dog dared me to find a way to get vendors more engaged in bidding on state solicitations.
Once I accepted, I became convinced that I had the best job in state government. My job was to train companies how to bid on state contracts in a way that made them more competitive and more likely to win. In one year, we reached more than 4,000 companies with training and outreach. We saw many of these companies go on to become successful state contractors and grow, which was incredibly gratifying.
My experience working within the public sector procurement environment brings deep insight for marketing to our audiences. It also gave me a unique level of respect and empathy for public sector purchasing professionals. My colleagues were hard-working, dedicated public servants – and after every solicitation, someone was mad at them. Public sector buyers work in a fishbowl environment unlike their private sector counterparts. Their worlds are often affected by the political realm around them; their ultimate leader is a political appointee and legislators have occasional interest in bids. This leads them to follow very specific promulgated rules and to document every step in order to have a defensible award decision.
Our understanding of the public sector culture helps us qualify prospects. Today, we thoroughly vet every prospect before we accept them as a client. We have confidence that we can help each client sell to government…. We know that each one has the infrastructure, the culture and the tenacity to be a government contractor.
MO: Who do your clients tend to be? What does a typical project entail?
Sue: Our clients are typically second stage companies that have already made the decision to sell to government and need additional capabilities, capacity or both. Our clients are experts in their industry, have been established with progressive sales for at least five years, and they are not whiners. This is very important. None of our clients are whiners. Government sales and marketing is hard. Sometimes it is frustrating. Sometimes, a great bid with a competitive price doesn’t win. We push our clients to pick their battles cautiously and learn from both wins and losses.
MO: What are some ways that selling to a government audience is different than selling to a business or the public? What makes this type of transaction unique?
Sue: As an audience, government buyers tend to be highly rule driven and risk averse. They have to be, because they work in a fishbowl. They are spending taxpayer dollars and they want to avoid being a headline for making a stupid decision.
Selling to government requires patience and persistence, and it is not for whiners. Selling to a government audience requires targeted win themes that instill confidence and reliability. They want to know they can count on their awarded vendors for a seamless transaction. They also need bidders to answer the questions asked, instead of the questions they want to answer.
Once awarded a contract, compliance is absolutely paramount. They have to have a compliance matrix or plan in place so that they exceed expectations with contracting officers.
MO: How have you managed to use negative feedback to your advantage?
Sue: We listen to both clients and contracting officers, even when they say things we don’t want to hear. We have become obsessive about developing processes that ensure every team member has a consistent, proven guidebook to follow. This guidebook changes each time we have a negative encounter. We can’t fix everything, but we can weave communication into our processes so that expectations are established and transparent. We also measure absolutely everything, so when people don’t give feedback, the numbers can.
We listen to clients to hear both direct and indirect feedback; we allow this feedback to serve as our gauge for how well we are communicating and serving clients. Sometimes, this is based on what clients tell us they need from us, and sometimes it is based on areas of confusion that we have identified. Government sales seems foreign and unintelligible to many of our clients, and it is our job to translate. If clients don’t understand something, we figure out how to better communicate. One of our wise employees offered a singular reminder of this that has stayed with me. She said, “We cannot control how other people act, we can only control how we respond.” This translates into our client services; we can control how we communicate and how we serve people, and we base that on both what they say and what they don’t. We appreciate client feedback and we need their involvement in order to continue growing and improving.
We listen to contracting officers so that our proposal management process keeps strengthening. We have an amazing proposal management team. A-ma-zing. However, we can always improve. Whether we win or lose a bid, we request s debrief with a contracting officer and we LISTEN. No defensiveness can be present in those conversations. Sometimes we could have given more description of the solution, better delineation of win themes, or more specificity on personnel qualifications. In any case, these conversations are not about being right. They are about learning.
MO: How have you managed to build JetCo without any debt?
Sue: We made a decision, planned for it and grew methodically and deliberately. We didn’t start the company with glamorous office space, mahogany furniture and a large team of people. We started as a home based business with two full-time and a handful of part time independent contractors. We had a solid business plan and a well-planned budget. We didn’t exceed the budget. We still don’t. Today, our strategic planning is more powerful and our budgeting is more accurate and skilled. It is easier now than it was in the early days of our company, and we remain committed to planning and deliberate execution.
We also made a decision early on to save 5% of gross revenues every month to build our capacity and our financial veracity. Today, every hire is made with the confidence that we can properly invest in that person’s talents and career development. To be honest, this is the most tedious, time-consuming and important aspect of our success as a company.
MO: What’s the most exciting thing on the horizon for JetCo?
Sue: Growth. We have deliberately invested in infrastructure so that we can manage growth while serving our existing customer base.
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