Podcast: How to Sell and Market to the Government

Shahin Hoda 18  mins read Updated: January 9th, 2024

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How to market and sell to Government

Episode’s topic: How to sell and market to Government

In this episode, host Shahin Hoda chats with Michael Doherty, Head of Business Development at Smarter City Solutions, about how to sell and market to government organisations. 

Michael talks about how selling to the government is different from selling to private players. He also mentions that having patience and belief in one’s product is the key to success in the B2G market. 

This episode’s guest:

How to market and sell to Government

Michael Doherty, Head of Business Development at Smarter City Solutions

Michael Doherty has been at the forefront of parking technology for close to a decade, having worked with many of the businesses behind Australia’s leading parking and payment apps and cloud-based permit and compliance technologies. As Head of Business Development for Smarter City Solutions, he oversees the sales and marketing of unique integrated parking solutions for local councils, universities and corporate clients all over Australia and beyond.

Michael was the first employee at Smarter City Solutions when it launched as CellOPark in 2013. He returned to the company in 2020 after several years at parking availability app UbiPark, as well as SenSen Networks, one of the world’s leading AI solutions providers for smart cities and enterprises.

Connect with him on LinkedIn

Conversation segments on this episode:

  • [01:30] Sales cycles are longer when dealing with government vis-a-vis the private sector.
  • [03:54] Government decision-makers need proof of capability before making a purchase.
  • [04:38] What are some strategies to open doors while dealing with the government?
  • [05:56] Government buyers like to see consistency.
  • [07:10] Relationships are equally crucial in the government sector as they are in the private sector.
  • [10:39] How to connect with government buyers?
  • [13:46] Salespeople need to be mindful of government budgets and themes rather than looking at the buzzwords.
  • [15:36] How important are the events when it comes to selling to the Government?
  • [20:14] Key to success- strong marketing to both B2C and B2G stakeholders.
  • [24:00] A lot of government organisations will not endorse a product.
  • [25:25] Believe in your product while reaching out to the government. 
  • [28:21] Exciting thing about B2G space - “The Government will always be there!”

Resources mentioned on this episode:

About the Growth Colony Podcast

On this podcast, you'll be hearing from B2B founders, CMOs, marketing & sales leaders about their successes, failures, what is working for them today in the B2B marketing world and everything in between.

Hosted by Shahin Hoda & Alexander Hipwell, from xGrowth

Get in touch!

We would love to get your questions, ideas and feedback about Growth Colony, email podcast@xgrowth.com.au

Episode Full Transcript:

[00:45] Shahin Hoda Michael, thanks for joining us. 

[00:47] Michael Doherty Shahin. Thanks so much for having me. 

[00:49] Shahin Hoda It's an absolute pleasure. So we're talking B2G, we're talking government. And this is definitely a hot topic these days, considering how much money basically is flowing out of the government and the mandates that government entities have to spend in order to stimulate the economy but also the government is always a big spender. So I guess, you know, the first question that I have is, what would you say are some of the clearest differences between selling and marketing to the private sector and selling and marketing to the government and public sector? 

[01:28] Michael Doherty I think one of the clear differences on the selling side is the sales cycle and its length. So from my experience selling into the private sector, and we have solutions for the private sector. There can be a need to be identified within that business, they can look around and go to the market, they can see a clear business case and make a decision internally in their operation. and execute very quickly. The government executes very slowly, 

[01:58] Shahin Hoda The length of that sale cycle is gonna make you grow old. 

[02:02] Michael Doherty Yeah, and I was at a conference a few years ago in Brisbane, and someone was talking about this very topic about big organisations like a business, and small organisations like startups, and how the government can kill startups. Those long sales cycles can actually be terminal for a small organisation, that's, you know, looking for some initial cash flow. Fortunately, in our business, where we're not that small, and we're well-tuned to surviving those long sales cycles, but I think the answer to your question is clearly, you know, a private organisation can execute a decision very, very rapidly. And due to a number of reasons the government has these procurement needs and their own internal abilities to get a budget together. And it is just so much slower. 

[02:56] Shahin Hoda Yeah, very interesting. And is there any difference in terms of, you know, how you talk to a government entity versus how you talk to a private entity? Like, you know, would you say the mandates of the people that are there are a little bit different, or you know, that those are kind of the same into two, 

[03:18] Michael Doherty They are largely the same. I would say one of the subtle differences is that a decision-maker in government, quite often feels comfortable to choose you and to build some requirements, for example, around the offering being presented to them, if it's been done elsewhere. So the tilt, but let's say between hey I'm innovative, I've got the latest and greatest best of breed solution that's just hitting the market for you might be attractive to the private sector. Whereas that needs to skew slightly to hey, we've got a proof of capability. We've got operations in all of your neighbours. Hey, you've got a bit of the Joneses to come and do what your peers in your industry are doing. That's slightly more of a tilt when you're talking to the government. They really need that comfort. And I suppose the appetite versus adversity to risk is slightly different.  

[04:21] Shahin Hoda Yes, social proof becomes a lot more important than then, I mean, it's still important and in other sectors, but over here probably becomes even more important. One of the things that I'm always fascinated by and we're always trying to figure out and what are some of the best ways to do it is you know, how to open doors into government, right? What are some of the strategies that you implement in order to open doors and get meetings and start conversations with government entities? 

[04:53] Michael Doherty It's a slow burn. It's really, that's an area where I don't think there is a lot of difference. People buy from people, right? So if I'm picking up the phone and introducing myself to someone for the first time because I've learned through my research that's a person worthwhile talking to they can influence and make decisions in that organization, then then I'm just going to, very quickly and succinctly explain what it is that I'm wanting to talk to them about, and why I think it would be in their interests to just invest 45 minutes, 60 minutes in having had a meeting with me.  

[05:31] Michael Doherty And I think in Australia, especially, and even more so selling to the government, it's going to be soft, right? I'm sure that decision-makers at various levels of government have their phone ring every day. And there's someone keen as mustard on the end of the line, that's motivated to get that purchase order ASAP. And to me, and from my experience selling to the government, that's getting off on the wrong foot.  

[05:56] Michael Doherty Government buyers like to see consistency, they grow a relationship very slowly. They feel the comfort, and then the ability to then get more meetings, get more face time, get more of the message across and influence our future requirements statement, for example, just gets easier over time. So you've got to as a sales professional, set out with an expectation that this is not going to happen this quarter. This is an investment. That's a long investment. And if I convey that time, from my experience, it brings a lot more success over time. But it's a pipeline building exercise that it's often slow to bring the ringing of the bill. 

[06:43] Shahin Hoda Yeah, it's a pipeline building exercise, but not for the weak-hearted. You gotta have the stamina for building that kind of pipeline. 

[06:53] Michael Doherty You think it was the one. You've got to have the business behind you. You've got to have the ability to survive and then as a sales professional, you've got to have that mindset, yeah. 

[07:02] Shahin Hoda Do you think relationships are more important in government than they are in the public sector, 

[07:08] Michael Doherty In the private sector? I think relationships are equally as important, whether it be the private sector or the government sector. And in either case, people can change and move around. And we're seeing especially, you know, in these present times, organisations are changing in size, therefore having no choice but to restructure. The person that you've been talking to about your product for the last 24 plus months, may all of a sudden change out and you've got to do your best to sort of transition that and bring the new person up to speed and not lose any traction when it comes to that relationship. It's an interesting question, Shahin.  

[07:52] Shahin Hoda Because, you know the reason I ask is, you know, how somebody would go and this is a common quite a lot of organisations where, where they would go and they would hire a salesperson from Telstra, right? They've been in Telstra for a couple of years, they have a Rolodex of contacts and they bring them in. And I always wonder if you know, if that is even more effective with the government compared to the private sector, but it doesn't, it seems like you feel like it's pretty much at the same level. 

[07:53] Michael Doherty Yeah, that's a pertinent question because I'm looking at growing your sales team right at the moment. And it would be very attractive for me to poach someone out of my industry who's got that Rolodex as you refer to. Because when that individual picks up the phone and calls somebody and says, hey, I'm not at Company A now. I'm at Company B, there's an immediate, yeah, inquisitiveness in a conversation. The ice is well and truly broken. There never was any ice and you push on to take someone from outside of the industry and say, right, let's get you up to speed. Let's either communicate or at least have internally in the management team some kind of expectation about time to bear fruit.  

[09:07] Michael Doherty I know from my days in the IT industry, a salesperson moving into an IT firm, to build a pipeline and start bringing in revenue had six months, if it was a blend of B2G and B2C, for example. I think in this space, you would be very pleased if someone's activities that started inside the last six months started turning into purchase orders. At least of any substantial size. I mean, you could throw in exceptions like you know, go-to-market thresholds where our organisations can pull the trigger on very small purchases quickly but for large purchases. Yeah, I'd be smiling like a Cheshire cat if my sales go ahead, had turned something around inside six months. 

[09:53] Shahin Hoda I'll definitely let you know if I come across someone. But, you know, one of the challenges that we when we work with our clients, and they're, you know, they're targeting through our agency and they're targeting government is specifically for opening doors is, you know, we use like a lot of gifts for the private sector, and that all of a sudden, is a no, no. And it's a minefield when it comes to the government, and you can send gifts, but then some government entities are like $20 limits. And then there are some government entities, there are $300 limits, and there's no standard of like, this is the minimum. So all of a sudden, those strategies all of a sudden, fall apart. How would you approach, let's say you have a government entity on your target account list, right? And you know nobody is there. What are some of the strategies that you would leverage to get to know that person and connect with them? 

[10:51] Michael Doherty Yeah, I once heard, I can't remember the exact quote but I once heard salespeople likens to different breeds of dogs, right? So there's some that are aggressive, and the Pitbull, and I'll just go bash on the door and go and introduce themselves and figure it out. And then at the other end of the scale, I think it was a two hour or something where, where the salesperson would do a lot of research. And I like to think I'm somewhere in the middle, but I certainly do research.  

[11:21] Michael Doherty So if I had heard through my network, that is this new entity, or there's an entity I'm not spoken to, and they're going to be worthwhile speaking to, you've got to do research, right? Google's your friend, LinkedIn is even a bigger friend. However, having said that, during some of this research, just yesterday, I continue to be surprised by organisations and individuals within large semi-government organisations and government organisations that are not on LinkedIn. That's kind of frustrating as a sales professional.  

[11:53] Michael Doherty But it's a case of using a multitude of tools in your toolkit, sometimes you've got to get in through an industry colleague that might have a complimentary product. And in our case, technology, there you might just go straight up to the receptionist. You might just phone the switchboard number and just for a minute or two, build a relationship with that person. And that tends to be my style as well. It's to not hide the fact you are making a cold call. Yesterday, I found an organisation and I got to the right department.  

[12:29] Michael Doherty And then I just said to that person really quickly, this is what we do. This is the other organisations like yours that we do it for, can you help me by directing me to the right person? And sometimes you get an old fashioned gatekeeper, and they say, send an email to the company at company name.com. And then... 

[12:49] Shahin Hoda Nobody sees that again.  

[12:51] Michael Doherty That's right. And then on this occasion, the lady went away and she came back. And she said I'm going to put you straight through to first name last name.  

[13:01] Shahin Hoda Oh, wow,  

[13:01] Michael Doherty The person will talk to you now and  

[13:03] Shahin Hoda That's gold dust.  

[13:04] Michael Doherty Yeah, that was great. Yeah. So I think the tone and the demeanour and how you behave is important, and it can result in different outcomes.  

[13:18] Shahin Hoda Got it? Got it. What do you think salespeople and marketers need to understand the internal dynamics of government entities in order to be able to market to them better and sell to them better? We've touched on this a little bit. But is there anything else that you think marketers and salespeople need to keep in mind when they're dealing with the government? 

[13:38] Michael Doherty Yeah, I think you know, we all read the news every day. And we live in a very dynamic and fast-changing world. But the government has themes, they have news, they have things that are topical to them, but they're not fast-changing, and they're not rapid. So you know, you might take a buzzword, for example, like big data, and everyone thinks here big data, just that I was talking about big data, and I was talking about it for five years.  

[14:04] Michael Doherty Well, you might get a couple more years out of that directive inside a government organisation because they've got some budget attached to smart city or big data or, you know, some motivation that could have come down from federal funding. It could have something to do with an environmental Kyoto promise that's got some federal budget wrapped around it that then comes down into state, which quite often comes down into local government, as well. So I think you've just got to be mindful of where those little pots of gold are. What's on the mind of the prospect on any given day. And it may be quite different from a non-government organisation. 

[15:07] Shahin Hoda What about events? Where do events come into play? I mean, especially let's talk pre-COVID and post-COVID when it comes to government, 

[15:46] Michael Doherty Shahin, events are massively important in what we do. Because the attendees are there, right? They don't have their receptionist and their automatic glass gates keeping the salespeople away, they're in the same building. And it's a very, very busy time for us, not only during the, let's say, three days of the conference if we're talking about that kind of event, but the lead up to it and most importantly the follow up that happens afterwards.  

[16:17] Michael Doherty You talked earlier about gifts, we often do prize giveaways for someone's business card out of a fish ball. All of those sorts of things to try and again, just make it a pleasant experience for people but I can't buy a coffee for someone I meet within local government, I've pretty much given up trying. We'll walk out of their office building, we go to the cafe, I'm going to have a skim flat what Mr. prospect? What would you like, like, no, I need to buy my own. That's how crazy the gift things have gotten. Whereas if we're at an event, you know that that can change. That person is surrounded by my competitors. They're not just exclusively dealing with me, if there's a drink or something, 

[17:05] Shahin Hoda I'll have that bottle of champagne, no problem. 

[17:08] Michael Doherty  Something like that. So yeah, that's a very, very important time for us in our business and our ability to market. And that's almost like a whole different podcast. I think it's like, how do you attract someone to your stand? How do you work out ahead of time who the key people are who's on your hit list? How do you divide up the time because before you know it, three days have gone and you're like, oh, I really wanted to talk to that person and that person and then you do your debrief and sit back and look at the event and say how can we do it better?  

[17:42] Michael Doherty So COVID was obviously a big challenge. We'd set aside a budget. We'd paid deposits. We'd worked out our travel plans. You obviously try to make good use of your airline tickets and that sort of thing so you set up some meetings before in that town and some meetings after in that town, and you're all excited to go and then the plug gets pulled on the physical face-to-face event. And I really feel sorry for the event industry. They tried, they did some Zoom-type conferences, and some people gave presentations in a Zoom-type fashion, but it's not - you can't replace them. A marketer and a salesperson having an expo floor with a booth of a certain size, a space of a certain size and, and a lot of effort goes into how that looks and feels and sounds. And yeah, we're chomping at the bit for those physical events to come back. 

[18:38] Shahin Hoda Yeah, fair enough. You touched on innovation and change in an organisation. You gave the big data example. And you know, the Smarter City Solutions is quite an innovative company and with the solutions that you offer, but how do you see, how do you enable change in innovation in government? Because it's so slow because it's big data was five years ago. And then two years ago, there was an initiative, three years ago, there was an initiative in government that oh, we should look into that. And then three years later, the budget was approved. So now everybody, the world has moved on and then that and they're talking about big data. How do you enable the government to when it comes to innovation? 

[19:23] Michael Doherty I think the short answer is hard work. We're pushing our solutions, you know, it's interesting. If you take one of our products as a parking payment app, there's a clear B2G and B2C marketing exercise. And the reason I bring that up is I think, in answer to your question, I'll go around the country and I'll talk to a provider of parking and say this is really what you need to be doing. And seven-eight years ago, I was explaining to people what this concept was, right. So you know, this is a smartphone. This is an app you can actually find parking, pay for parking using an app, and that conversation has now changed.  

[20:04] Michael Doherty And that's a combination of, I've been out there talking and educating the market for long enough that they get it. But my second point is that we've really shown success and marketed those early adopters through the B2C channel, right? So we've got a fantastic user experience when it comes to what the motorist does. And then we communicate with them and we survey them every 12 months, for example, and we encourage them to say to the other places that they could use that technology, hey, you know, you guys should be looking at this technology. And that's one of the upsides of selling to the government because you are essentially talking to elected officials, right?  

[20:48] Michael Doherty If I'm talking to my local municipality, I can say to my local member, this municipality's behind. Look what I do over the road, you know, your neighbours, I've got this innovation, I've got this, this technology, that's, that's working really well. So I think, as is the case, in a lot of marketing businesses, you've got to find a way or I've got to find a way at least to balance the push and the pull. I want to be communicating with the decision-maker. But I also want others to communicate to the decision-maker, and really pull them along. And as we said earlier, in this conversation, they're happy and comfortable to follow another organisation. The real challenge for me in my role is seeking out the individual inside the government that actually has an appetite for innovation and change. That's a rare beast. And once you can grab hold of one of those people, then you can snowball that over time. 

[21:45] Shahin Hoda Yeah, because there are challenges right there. You might come across someone with the right title, but they're really thinking about retirement. They're really thinking about, you know, I'm going to be retiring in three years time. I don't want to change anything, just let me be right? Are those the kind of people that you do come across?

[22:05] Michael Doherty Yeah, absolutely. And there was one organisation where I was trying to get in, and I found this person was the decision-maker and was an elderly gentleman. And I furnished him with the features and benefits of our offering. And there were some other people kind of in the periphery that worked sort of as key decision-makers in that area, but they're obviously in a supporting role. And yeah, and a particular example of I'm thinking of just out of the blue one day, I went to an event, and then the usual person that I would have spoken to that I knew was approaching retirement wasn't there.  

[22:45] Michael Doherty And I got to know the sort of the representative from this organisation just a little bit better, and a very quick conversation. And this lady said, yeah, I know who you are. And we're going to be talking very soon. She doesn't remember me, and she's now in a decision making role. And I didn't realise that she was chomping at the bit to move into that role once that individual had retired, and instigate fantastic change and implement innovation. Then it was just all a matter of things that had to happen in a certain order. So yeah, that was a lesson for me. Don't look at someone with whom you think you're not going to get any traction and give up because it might actually be a little bit surprising.  

[23:33] Shahin Hoda That will be, that could potentially be the key person. Do you find yourself doing a lot more hand-holding and helping build business case studies for when you're dealing with government entities or are not really that's like a hands-off thing? 

[23:48] Michael Doherty  Case studies we do. And I'm actually reviewing all of our case studies, right at the moment. It's quite topical. But one area that's a challenge in B2G is a lot of government organisations will not endorse a product. So I can implement something in a private organisation. I can have my delivery team and my technology guys do the great work that they do and hand over a fantastic project on time on a budget like that individual in government looks like a rock star, you know. Or in a private industry look like a rock star. And the question, do you mind if I get a reference from you? Can I get a written quote from the government? 80% of the time probably no. In the private sector 80% of the time, yes. So, that's 

[24:35] Shahin Hoda Yeah, that's very true. I've had governments give us a testimonial. You can take away the logo and the name and the photo of the person and read the quote, and you'd be like this came from the government didn't it? It's just so bland. So simple. They did the job. Well, we enjoyed working with them and that you know, that was like something in those lines and you could definitely tell this came from the government and it's just as tamed as possible that they quote. Well, Michael, this has been awesome. I have a few rapid questions that I want to ask you. But before I kind of ask those questions, is there anything else that you think we didn't ask, we need to touch on when it comes to selling and marketing to the government? 

[25:20] Michael Doherty I think you did touch on the people aspect of it. And I think a sales professional if they believe in their product, and that's something that's really important to me and all the way throughout my career. If a person believes in their offering and their service, whether it's the slow-burning government, or whether it's something a little bit more exciting in the private sector, it has the same result. People can sense in a marketing exercise or in a sales engagement, passion. And think again, I think selling in this country is fun. It's a fair dinkum thing, people want to understand whether they're going to be let down or whether they're going to be made to look good. And most Australians enjoy implementing innovative solutions. So yeah, I really enjoy it. And I think over sales professional and marketing professionals career selling to the government, you just adapt, but you gotta keep smiling and you gotta  

[26:19] Shahin Hoda You gotta adapt.  

[26:20] Michael Doherty You gotta have fun. 

[26:22] Shahin Hoda Yeah, you don't do that. You're done. You're out of the door. Okay, I'm going to ask these four rapid questions. Okay. The first question is, what is one resource, this could be a book, it could be a blog or a podcast, could be talk, whatever it is that fundamentally changes the way you work or live? 

[26:38] Michael Doherty Probably a short course I did at the Australian Institute of Management. I think it was called selling skills or something like that when I was very young. And there are some things that I just take for granted that I learned in that. Now I was thinking about it just recently, you should never take that education for granted. 

[26:55] Shahin Hoda I've definitely had selling courses, and they are a game-changer. You're absolutely right. I love it. Question number two, if you could give one advice to B2B or B2G marketers, or salespeople? What would it be? 

[27:07] Michael Doherty The pace at which your expectations are set, just slow things down and set your expectations at the appropriate timeline, and you'll achieve success if you're setting the bar at the right spot. 

[27:21] Shahin Hoda Yeah, that's very true. Just have patience. and hang in there. Hang in there. Well, number three is, what are some of the influences that you follow in the sales and marketing space? 

[27:33] Michael Doherty Some of the people I do keep an eye on from time to time and not necessarily about sales and marketing their business leaders. So yes, Simon Sinek is someone out of the US that I just think reminds us of common sense stuff all the time. So yeah, he's got a book called True leaders Eat Last or something along those lines. Team building, just little reminders from time to time. Little four-minute videos I've watched, just to kind of compare your organisation and your team and the positivity to other organisations because you can get pretty caught up looking inside and outside every now and again. 

[28:14] Shahin Hoda Yeah, very true. It's so easy to get caught up in the weeds. And the last one is what kind of excites you right now about the B2G space today. 

[28:24] Michael Doherty I think when you look at the pandemic, every government everywhere around the world has a massive responsibility to get the economy back up and running. People have had to rely on stimulus in one way, shape or form. And I think as we hopefully touch would return to normal, B2G's not a bad place to be, you know. The government will always be there. And as one large city council said to me just yesterday, in a joking fashion, we're good for the money, we can pay the invoice. So there's certainly some upside.  

[29:03] Shahin Hoda And they're now a lot of insolvencies that happened there, huh. Sounds good. Well, Michael, I really appreciate it. This has been a great conversation. And I'm sure a lot of our listeners are going to get a lot out of it. If somebody wants to know more about smart Smart City Solutions, what's the best way for them to find out? 

[29:99] Michael Doherty So yeah, our website is smartercitysolutions.com. And yeah, there's going to be some material going up over the next little while as we continue to drive that medium in our businesses, as I talked about earlier. And Shahin, it's been great to chat. Thanks for having me.

[29:41] Shahin Hoda No pleasure's, all mine. Thank you so much, Michael 

[30:23] Michael Doherty Great, talk soon.

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