Myths of Selling to Government

Cold Calling Doesn't Work. Your Personal Brand Does.

May 05, 2021 Rick Wimberly Season 1 Episode 12
Myths of Selling to Government
Cold Calling Doesn't Work. Your Personal Brand Does.
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode of Myths of Selling to Government, we take on the myth that cold-calling is king. It's not. But, content is, particularly when spread under your personal brand. 

If you do it right, you can be a rock star in government sales. 

We provide four steps for building your personal brand, then specific actions for spreading the word. If you follow the steps, you can have prospects come to you! 

Some of you aren’t going to like this episode. We’re going to take on cold calling.


Hi, and warning: Some of you sales managers are not going to like this episode. We’re going to try to talk people out of cold calling. You might wanna skip this one…unless, you want to learn more about what the enemy is doing. 

Myth number two of our seven myths – cold calling is king. Fact number two – content is king.

As sales managers ourselves, we understand the conflict surrounding cold-calling.  There are, after all, some redeeming benefits. For less-experienced salespeople, it offers the opportunity to overcome fear or anxiety while developing and polishing a concise “pitch.”  It’s a good way to weed out ill-suited candidates.  It gives neophytes who know squat about a product something to do, other than manage fantasy football.  It certainly allows new salespeople the experience of persevering through rejection.  And, as a rite of passage, it builds character while bonding team members together through adversity. 

Cold calling is not, however, the most efficient and effective way for mature salespeople to drive business over the long haul…particularly in the government space.


So if cold calling is out, what is in?  

Ever want to be a rock star?  As a musician for most of his life…and a good one, I must add…Lorin will admit the thought has certainly crossed his mind. He still talks about his high-school talent show like it was yesterday.  Mullet haircut.  Sleeveless muscle shirt (minus the muscles).  Parachute pants.  Cheesy guitar crackling through a yard-sale amplifier.  Strutting and screeching the lyrics to ZZ-Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man”—completely inaudible above the booming drums.  He claims the crowd loved it. No doubt, he did. He just knew he was going to make it big. 

Later in life, Lorin was a muckety muck at the largest music licensing organization in the world.  (We are based outside Nashville, remember.) It was where he learned about the actual making of a rock star.  He came to realize the glamour, hype, media attention and buzz were not showered on artists simply as a reward…but instead were elements of a deliberate approach aimed at convincing the public the artist was deserving of star treatment.  It was not solely the effect of stardom; it was part of the cause.  

Record labels are masters at building momentum. Pairing a new act with a hot seller gives the fresh artist instant credibility.  This may entice music lovers to sample the artist’s songs, follow them on Twitter, Instagram, Tik Tok…talk about them with friends, and play their music on paying sites… But, record labels won’t even talk to an artist until she’s done a lot of work already building her brand.

This same principle applies to you.  You’re responsible not for just selling your company’s stuff. You are also responsible for selling YOU!!  Your experience!  Your expertise!  Your time! 

When you realize you are CEO of your own brand, you begin thinking differently.  You start creating ways for prospects to be attracted to you…rather than chasing them around like a love-sick teenager.  You become a sales rock star riding a wave of momentum.

Though it’s not likely you’ll be a global sensation overnight, creating substantial personal momentum is achievable.  There are four steps. One <swoosh> define your unique personal brand traits…or PBTs. Two <swoosh> pair your personal brand traits with content….three <swoosh>, cultivate a network of influencers and communicators, and four <swoosh> commit time to spreading the word. Basically, the same things musicians do, if they want to rock stars do. Let’s break them down.

The first step, figure out what about you is valuable.  We’re not talking about what makes you employable.  We mean what’s valuable and unique about you in relation to what you’re selling? Are you a technical genius?  Do you have presentation skills that make people swoon?  Do you have many years of experience in your industry?  Do you write well?  Any of these things can be used as a foundation for building your personal sales brand…your Personal Brand Traits.

Personal brand traits are unique abilities, personality characteristics or qualifications that make you stand out.  In the same way a well-defined “unique selling proposition” helps sell products more effectively, so do clearly articulated qualities build a personal brand. They help you sell yourself.  

Consider traits that are valuable to your prospects.  Labeling yourself as the Genghis Kahn of sales negotiations might help land you another selling job, but probably will not help you build an attractive reputation with prospects… or reduce your reliance on cold-calling.

What do you do once you’ve figured out your Personal Brand Traits? Stay tuned, and we’ll talk about it after a quick break.

<spot>. (Stop/start recording here)

We were talking about personal brand traits, and what to do with them. Once you’ve identified the compelling properties of your personal brand, it is time to figure out how to leverage them. You start with content. Yes, content. Content is really what’s king…not cold calling.

To us, content means information that is valued and consumed by your target audience.  

For example, if you write well, find ways to use this to build personal notoriety and credibility.  You might consider creating your own blog, developing a white paper, or offering your subject-matter expertise to various publications. This is particularly helpful in government sales.  After all, somewhere along the process, someone is going to have to write a report, a justification, a sole source document, and/or a bid request.  Best that those words of wisdom are plagiarized from you!

Remember, the goal is to build momentum so prospects see you as an expert resource instead of a selfish manipulator. Your brand builds reputation as a giver not a taker.  

So how do you go about creating content if you’re not quite Ernest Hemingway?  The first place you might explore is your marketing department.  Despite the fact they live on a separate planet from you (more on this later), the marketing folks generally have a sincere interest in helping you be successful.  Approach them in a respectful, collaborative manner.  Offer to help create the message outline for whatever content you are creating.  Propose to help connect them with other industry experts (customers for example) who might contribute quotes or other meaningful input.  Then let them do their magic, turning your concept into a well-written, properly formatted document (or whatever you’re creating).  

While you are building your repertoire…or set list…of content, you’ll want to spend time cultivating a network of people who can help spread your message.  It used to be, if one wanted to “network” with others for business purposes, he or she would attend a trade show, a hosted reception or some sort of sponsored event.  Loaded down with business cards and drink tickets, a glad-handed, back-slapping salesperson would work the room, trolling for possible leads and prospects.  

Network strategies have, of course changed. While slow in adopting some things, influential government workers generally network well, and hang out in the newer networking spots…mostly on the web now.

Over the last couple of years, more has been written about online networks than you can shake a stick at.  Authors scream about Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, the necessity of blogging and other things.  Many salespeople know they need to dig into this, but the payoff is not immediately evident, and they’re too busy making those ever-so-productive cold calls.  Huh. So they procrastinate.

Certainly trying to leverage every online networking tool cropping up these days is unrealistic.  Simply adding your name and profile to these sites may not bear much sales fruit.  However, wrapping the efforts around content with a strong online content and networking strategy can pay big dividends.

Back in the day, one of our adventures was developing the outreach plan for the national alerting system. Yes, the one that wakes you up in the middle of the night. We were given the work by FEMA, in part, because of our credibility in the alerting space. We had become rock stars in the emergency alerting business. How did that happen? We had done good work in the space, I guess…but the tipping point came at some point after we starting blogging for an award-winning public safety magazine.  Every week, we created relevant and insightful content. We received no compensation…but, we exposed our capabilities to thousands of targeted readers.  You can bet this caused our phone ring.   It still does…and we haven’t written for them in years.


Implementing this approach takes time.  It is critical you carve out time each week to devote to these networking and content creating activities. You may not be able to quit your cold calling cold turkey.  However, if you can focus on personal branding/content strategy, two things will begin to happen.  First, prospects will actually pick up the phone and call you. (is this reverse-cold calling?).  You may not be immediately deluged by adoring prospects waving signed contracts in your face, but over time, prospect-initiated calls will happen with surprising regularity.  This is a beautiful thing.  

Government decision-makers read a lot as they work on their projects.  If not really reading, they are looking for material to stuff in their files and email to their bosses to make it at least appear they’ve read a lot.  Better that your white papers are in their folders and in-boxes than those of your competitors.

Make sure your content is actually worthwhile.  Give them something (make that lots of “somethings”) they can really use. And, better yet, if it reflects the fact you understand their pain and have an idea for relief.  Make the content so strong they will want to pass it along to their bosses.  Think about how selective you are about forwarding things to your boss.  Oh, you’re not?  Hmm, maybe you should be listening to a different podcast. 

Warning:  what we’re proposing here is actual work.  Like most things related to government selling there is no quick-fix gimmick that will magically open doors and place you in front of the right people.  You may have balked at some of these ideas, maybe even said, “That’s the marketing department’s job.”  Go ahead.  Hide behind the excuses.  It’s your income and your future.  We believe you’re better than that.  We believe you’re not afraid to roll up your sleeves and get dirty.  It’s what attracted you to government sales in the first place.  

But, don’t try to eat the entire elephant at once.  Start today by defining your Personal Brand Traits.  Then take steps daily to create content, develop your network and get the word out.  You can do this!  

Is that the crowd chanting your name I hear?  Get out there and embrace your adoring fans.