Most of us probably don’t link good salesmanship and astronomy together.

When you think of astronomy, it’s easy to think of it as a complex science. When you look at the sky, there are millions of stars that are all different distances from us and in different relationships to one another. Even so, there are scientists who find ways to measure those distances and track the movements of all the interacting parts. When it comes to navigating federal sales, we have to be a little bit like astronomers.

In many forms of business, making a sale is a relatively focused process. You have a single customer in mind and a single product. To make the sale, you’ll have to research that individual’s needs and make a compelling pitch. Unfortunately, selling to the federal government is much more complex and requires a lot more work.

If you sell to the federal government, your customer is not one person.

There are people within your industry, within the agency you’re selling to and within Congress who all have a say in the matter. Because all these different people and institutions have some control over the process, they are all your “customers.” Another way of looking at it is that the entire collection of interested parties and supporters are your constellation of customers. As a successful business selling something to the federal government, you have to see the big picture rather than the individual points.

When you work your sales effort across the entire constellation, you increase the likelihood of a favorable outcome.

Among the stars in your customer constellation are people of varying influence and authority. I categorize them as gatekeepers, influencers, enablers and decision-makers. It’s also important to know that individuals or institutions can be several of these labels at once.

Gatekeepers are self-explanatory: these are the people or agencies that control the “flow” of information and decisions through a system. Sometimes they can be people at the top of a hierarchy, and sometimes they’re the assistants who can help you get a meeting you need. All of these people are important.

Influencers are the parts of the constellation that may not be instrumental indirectly making things happen, but they’re the people who have a lot of pull on the people who do. That influence can come from exchanges of political favors, from personal relationships and history or anything else—but it’s up to you to understand it.

Enablers are somewhere between influencers and decision-makers. These are people such as deputies, “informal” leaders or thought leaders who help pave the way for big decisions and serve as connectors to your desired outcomes.

Finally, decision-makers are the people who have the power to push the button to make the outcomes you want to happen. These can be senior officers or program executives when it comes to big objectives—but sometimes there are important decision-makers to influence that go unnoticed as well.

In all the above, recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of the individuals in your customer constellation can help you focus your sales dialogue on the right people at the right time. Too often, companies approach the federal government customer without a clear idea of who “decides.” The simple answer is that it’s not one person.

With that in mind, bring your entire customer constellation into your sales conversation and watch your federal sales improve.

Need help engaging with the federal government for policy or access to funding for your product? If you need help with this schedule a call with Gene.

To get a copy of Gene Moran’s book Pitching the Big Top: How to Master the 3-Ring Circus of Federal Sales or for more information on federal sales, visit Capitol Integration.