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It could take federal government workers months to recover from the recent 35-day shutdown, as they dig through hundreds of emails, manage problems that arose in their absence and try to catch up on supply orders and other miscellaneous backlog. For distributors who rely on federal government contracts, now is the time to shore up these client relationships — and prepare for the possibility of another shutdown in the near future.
Start with some internal housekeeping, says Eileen Kent, The Federal Sales Sherpa, a consultant specializing in federal sales contracts. A lot of companies fail to update their information in the federal government’s online System for Award Management (SAM). This should be done annually. Although SAM’s website warns that there may be a delay in data updates between the Small Business Administration (SBA) and SAM at the moment, now is the time to make sure your registration is active and accurate, Kent says.
Take this opportunity to both check in on your federal clients and update your marketing material simultaneously by reaching out to anyone mentioned in your past performance stories — these should be no longer than 2-5 years old — to both inquire about their wellbeing and update case studies, adds Kent. “Call around, see how your references are doing right now,” she says. “This is a time for bonding.”
For these overwhelmed employees, something as simple as, “I’m just thinking of you,” is meaningful, says Kent, and also provides an opportunity to ensure your contact databases are comprehensive and up to date. If you don’t have a client’s cell phone number, for example, get it now before the next shutdown requires them to leave their work phone at the office for an indefinite period of time.
Contractor relationships may have changed over the five-week shutdown as well. “Furloughed contractors might have left those jobs,” says Kent. “What's going to happen here is another contactor is going to step in. Distributors have to reconnect. You should be on this right now, staying in front of your current clients.”
Another relationship-building factor for distributors to keep in mind is federal employees are generally very risk-averse people. While small-business distributors are used to cash flow issues and have built up a fortitude over time to cope with related stress, “federal employees are very risk averse,” Kent notes. “They took this job because it's a steady paycheck. We, as small business distributors, live on feast and famine. We have that muscle. It has been built within us through experience. The federal employee doesn't have that muscle built. This shutdown is going to resonate in their bodies for a while.”
Take inventory of what you learned about your business model in the last five weeks. Do you have a heavy reliance on federal contract work in one particular field that was hit hard by the shutdown, or is your book of business more varied? “It’s probably a good time to invest in sales, to go after new agencies, so that if something like this happens in the future, you're not going to get caught with no business,” says Kent.
The sales people working for distributors whose businesses were hurt by the shutdown are likely farmers, rather than hunters, Kent adds. They’ve been sitting back and taking client orders, rather than proactively looking for new, diversified business. If you find yourself in this category, consider conducting an analysis of where your business comes from, who is buying your product now and who else buys what you sell. Build an action plan around those potential new partnerships. “It's time to train the farmers to be hunters, and keep the new business line going,” she says.
For more on developing a shutdown recovery strategy, read the upcoming issue of MDM Premium, out February 11.