COMMENTARY

IT sales become more dynamic as government buying evolves

The government’s approach to IT modernization varies by agency, and takes into account a host of criteria on how to best upgrade critical systems and invest in new services. What used to be a standard transaction must now take into account portability and weight of PCs for remote work, the strength of built-in cybersecurity software, and many other internal and external considerations. To tailor these solutions to each buyer, sales strategies have had to evolve into the digital age as well.

Companies that want to compete in this changing environment need a personalized approach to sales, even against the backdrop of a pandemic that has made in-person meetings nearly impossible. That might seem like a major hurdle for a sales strategy requiring deeper connections and communications, but in the end, I believe the pandemic has actually offered IT sales experts the chance to transform by forcing us to rethink the way we do business.

A shift toward outcomes-oriented solutions

In the past, government organizations often told technology companies exactly what they wanted and how many of each device they needed. Whenever a routine hardware or software upgrade was required, the quickest course of action was to move to the latest model with little consideration for how different groups may have varying technology needs.

Today, that approach has changed at a high level. Many agencies have learned that they can lean on the collective expertise of their technology partners. Instead of a sale starting with a transaction for a predetermined number of units, many now start with the agency describing a problem that needs to be solved.

That shift changes the sales dynamic significantly. Instead of focusing on selling specific products, we now focus on selling solutions that incorporate our products and technologies along the way. Every aspect of this more collaborative approach, from the best way to handle the logistics of delivering inventory across a large number of sites to the most efficient way to synchronize new devices, offers a new touchpoint in the relationship between IT sales and government customers.

Often the result is a more competitive bid for the technology company and the ability to stretch budget further on the government’s end, which means we’re more efficient with taxpayer dollars. That’s a win for suppliers, channel partners, the government and the general public.

Personalizing sales in a remote world

To make these types of relationships successful, salespeople have to get back to one of the most important basics of the job: listening closely to customers. We have to put ourselves in their shoes, try to empathize with their situation and fully understand their problem. That approach requires that we talk to more people—not just those in charge of purchasing decisions.

Prior to the pandemic, this shift could easily mean more travel and more on-site meetings than ever before. When the pandemic hit, however, video calls became a critical currency for customer relationships. And the surprising benefit was that removing travel actually opened up the ability to meet with more people on any given day and to speak with them more often over the course of weeks or months.

For the federal government, however, there is one caveat to the benefits of video calls. Many agencies’ security protocols do not allow devices to go on video. Members of my team working around these constrainsts are certainly looking forward to reconnecting with their customers in person once it’s safe, but in the meantime, they’ve benefitted from being more intentional about having frequent check-ins with customers as they’ve naviagated massive remote work transitions in the past year.

Advantages for the sales force

For the past 20 years, I’ve traveled every week for work. This past year has meant that instead of spending eight hours flying back from the West Coast or Europe, I can more productively use that time on new work projects, improve my work-life balance and still build really personal connections with customers and colleagues virtually.

With these advantages in mind, HP has recently hired a small cohort of virtual sales representatives whose sole remit will be to engage with customers remotely—even after the pandemic. I expect we’ll see more and more of this in the months to come as technology companies and customers realize that a different approach to how it’s always been done can be highly effective.

From the way we interact to how and what we sell, the transformation is only just beginning. While the pandemic has certainly been challenging, the innovations we’ve relied upon will change sales for decades to come.

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About the Author

Todd Gustafson is president of HP Federal and head of U.S. Public Sector.

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