Steve Charles

OPINION

How program performance evidence can provide clues to sales

Stick around the federal market and eventually, little seems new. Thirty years ago this summer, President Ronald Reagan announced “Reform 88” to try to “manage this growing administrative monster.” The radio address sounds like today, except that today’s numbers have more zeros.

I mention this as backdrop to the most recent federal government improvement gambit, a July 26 memo to agency heads from Sylvia Burwell, director of the Office of Management and Budget, and several other White House officials, asking agencies to be more accountable by “strengthening agencies' abilities to continually improve program performance by applying existing evidence about what works, generating new knowledge, and using experimentation and innovation to test new approaches to program delivery.”

Entitled, “Next Steps in the Evidence and Innovation Agenda” the memo basically calls for data-driven evidence of program effectiveness reviewed annually by agency chief financial officers. Such evidence includes evaluation results, performance measures, and other relevant data analytics and research studies, with a preference for high quality experimental and quasi-experimental studies.

OMB is even offering workshops exploring techniques such as data matching, random controlled trials, and outcomes-based measurements. This approach is to be used in justifying their 2015 budget requests, which were due at OMB just after Labor Day.

This evidence-based approach is interesting because we have to do this in business all the time, and it’s not easy. I’ve also been trying to figure out how technology companies might use this customer activity to underpin their direct sales efforts.

Obviously, the programs on which agencies lavish detailed justification attention are those programs on which they’ll spend money. That’s a given.

But here’s another angle. How about we focus sales efforts on proving how technology could contribute to mission delivery effectiveness? In fact, that’s what great salespeople are always doing  mentally putting themselves in their customers’ shoes, seeing what they see and what problems they encounter, and looking for solutions.

Further, as we learn in the latest “must read” for salespeople, The Challenger Sale, data shows that the most successful salespeople in an economic downturn are those who gain control of the conversation by challenging the customer to think differently – to innovate – something that is at the heart of this latest OMB memo.

As a first step agencies will be looking for ways to integrate data from programs in order to better draw conclusions. That’s one strategy OMB is recommending for generating program effectiveness evidence. The memo cites an instance of Health and Human Services and Housing and Urban Development finding a way to pair up administrative data with Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service data. 

Still, don’t take the memo as a direct sales opportunity, but rather as a compass, the directional information from which you can add to other familiar markers leading to sales such as the Exhibits 53 and 300.

Agencies will submit their program justification data via the OMB “Max” web portal. Max is only accessible by certain federal employees, but since the data isn’t classified, customers you are close to should have no problem sharing the parts of it with you that will help them improve their scores in the coming years.

Given the likely continuing resolution coming for 2014, now is the time to think about strategies for keeping that pipeline fed for 2015 and beyond. Learning how program effectiveness is measured and then selling things to improve it is an approach the government is prepared to buy.

About the Author

For the past two decades Mr. Charles has helped hundreds of technology manufacturers succeed in the government marketplace. His breadth and depth of expertise on every dimension of the government technology ecosystem provide technology manufacturers with a strategy and clear focus for the greatest success. Mr. Charles is adept at mapping technology product lifecycles and revenue models with appropriate channel and contract vehicle strategies in light of current procurement law, regulations and policy. He receives glowing reviews from the training workshops he facilitates to help sales teams understand the sales tactics needed to address each step in the government acquisition process. Mr. Charles is actively involved in government-industry associations including TechAmerica, ACT-IAC, Coalition for Government Procurement, and the National Contract Management Association. He meets regularly with leaders in government and industry to increase understanding and positive action. Mr. Charles co-authored The Inside Guide to the Federal IT Market, a how-to book for technology companies selling to the government. He is regular contributor to Washington Technology.

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