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Door-to-Door, State-by-State Government Sales Approach Yields Success for Hughes

By | December 15, 2009
      [Satellite News 12-15-09] In the wake of New Orleans’ near destruction by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, U.S. federal agencies and their communications infrastructures came under public scrutiny. Deficiencies in the communications networks were one of the factors cited as the reason for the government’s slow response.
          In response, several mobile and broadband satellite companies looked to seize the opportunity to solve these communications problems by developing new mobile products. Hughes CEO Pradman Kaul, on the other hand, decided to form a door-to-door, state-by-state sales team with a mission to win communications contract vehicles and promote the Hughes portfolio to the roughly 85,000 local governments in the United States.
          Tony Bardo, Hughes’ assistant vice president government solutions, now leads that sales team and boasts seven U.S. state government contract vehicles, including a recently announced contract vehicle award from the New York State Government Office of General Services. Bardo told Satellite News that Hughes’ sales strategy has stayed under the radar because of the time and effort investment required to make the strategy work.
      “Like many state and federal government contracts, there were a lot of people interested in the New York state contract vehicle and they had a lot of bids. It took a long time to develop, but we were one of 29 companies selected to provide telecom services. Out of those 29, we were the only satellite company that was awarded a contract,” said Bardo.
          While the commercial satellite industry is far from ignoring government contract vehicles with its activity in providing military bandwidth and winning international broadband provision contracts with top-level governments, Hughes may have found that rural and remote local governments in the United States are a market that lies just outside of its competitors’ focus. According to Bardo, a 30-year veteran of government sales, the challenge of forming a sales team to capture that market may seem too difficult for a company without the resources available to Hughes.
          “After Pradman formed our group, we began to develop our strategy. We began by identifying and understanding the problems that federal, state or local government agencies have which can be solved specifically by broadband solutions in order to find a focus,” said Bardo. “We then embarked on a strategy to build a portfolio of contract vehicles. We started from the top-down, with the U.S. General Services Administration [GSA] on the federal side and had some success there in getting our services on the GSA schedule and a contract award for the Satcom 2 program.”
          The next step for Bardo and his team was to move to the state level by finding a single contract vehicle model that Hughes could employ to sell its services. However, this convenient model did not exist, which multiplied Hughes’ work by 50, he said. “We realized that we had to go state by state and get them personally interested in what we have to offer. We’ve spent the last four years doing that. It’s a long process, but we’ve found success in meeting face-to-face with these local governments and knowing their specific needs,” said Bardo. “I have a sales force assigned to several areas around the country and they meet with sophisticated buyers at every level of government who spend a lot of money. You can’t wait for state governments to issue RFPs for contract vehicles and then reply with a written response. You won’t make an impression.”
          One of the most important connections that Hughes’ government sales team attempts to make is the need for the state to have diverse, robust emergency services. It is a very personal connection to make with a local government representative, according to Bardo, because of the national attention that Hurricane Katrina brought to mobile infrastructure. “Depending on their size, population and geography, each state has both remote areas with no access to broadband and the need for public safety connectivity. Rural areas are held captive by single-threaded, mostly terrestrial communications. Massive flooding on the level of Katrina will leave single-threaded telecommunications systems on the ground helpless. So we try to advocate a couple of things: That satellite is location indifferent and that we can solve several related problems at one and that, at the same time, we understand the need for state and local governments to have diversity in their communications. They need another way out, so to speak,” he said.
          According to Bardo, Hughes’ strategy has worked to sell government services across its portfolio, and that its personal approach has started to gather the attention of local governments to the point where Hughes is being approached by the customer. But Bardo said that winning the contract vehicle is only a fraction of the challenge and that maintaining relationships and going to the municipal level requires even more work.
          “You have to make sure that agencies are aware that you have the contract vehicle,” said Bardo. “You do partner with the state government at some level and they do make an effort to make their agencies aware of your contract vehicle, but you have to do a lot of the heavy lifting yourself. This includes advertising, promotion, outreach, etc. But going to the local level, which is extremely valuable to us, requires an even more intimate knowledge of people and their needs and environment.”
          Despite putting four years into strategizing U.S. local government sales, the process still feels new to Hughes, according to Bardo. “Our strategy is still evolving and taking shape, even to this day, but we’re finding our success. After all of the work we put into winning the contracts we have now, my boss came up to me and said, ‘Seven down, 43 to go.’ So we’re still at the beginning, but I’m excited that we’ve had good start.”

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