Women in Public Sector – Eileen Kent, Federal Sales Sherpa
Another Federal Sales year is behind us and it sure was a busy one!! In honor of a new fiscal year, I thought I would take an opportunity to introduce you to a new friend and fabulous woman in Public Sector, Eileen Kent. Eileen has a long career of selling to the Federal Government, has owned her own consulting company for over 10 years, and is known as the Federal Sales Sherpa to those who have partnered with her to grow Federal Sales. I hope this interview inspires women (and men) to consider Public Sector opportunities as you grow in your career.
Michelle: Eileen, I am so excited to get to chat with you and learn more about your career in Public Sector! I know your story, but what were the contributing factors that led you to a career in the Public Sector?
Eileen: When the world turned upside-down. I was working at Brook Furniture Rental as Director of Sales – Midwest out of Chicago and my showroom was literally a block from the Sears Tower. In my previous work, I was a Public Information Officer responsible for evacuating the entire City in an emergency and on the morning of September 11, 2001, I walked my team out of downtown Chicago – leaving our cars parked in the lots and the showroom lights on. We walked 5 miles home in our heels that day.
The owner of the company called me and sent me on what he called, “The Lewis and Clark Expedition – You’re going to Sell to the Federal Government.” I had a ticket to DC , then to San Francisco, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Dallas, Atlanta and home to Chicago – then back around again – literally walking halls of federal buildings close to where our distribution centers were located – 8 out of 9 weeks on the road for a year. I even walked the halls of the Pentagon as a sign-maker got me in. I have so many stories.
I worked with each PM in each City for our company, and Michelle Carnabucci was our Executive in DC and together we uncovered and found the new team handling the “undisclosed location” of Homeland Security. We delivered the first 30 workstations to the very first people in their very first temporary office in 2002. After a year or two after I was on my way, Michelle captured from the lead who pointed us to DHS a building re-stack. She took that lead and really built a nice piece of business from it. I’m so proud of her for that accomplishment. But it took a year of traveling the country – to find that one key person at DHS.
Michelle: Okay, so I think we need to spend more time together so I can hear “the stories” as I am sure they are fascinating!! But so far, wow! You were thrown into selling to the Federal Government and doing new business development when the world was right in the middle of changing, what an incredible story and accomplishment. So, that was the beginning, but when did you know you were in Public Sector as a career vs a job?
Eileen: After being in the field for 12 months literally walking halls, building relationships and doing whatever it took to close deals that were “under the radar” – I was invited by Fedmarket.com / Richard White, to build “The Federal Sales Academy” in Bethesda, MD together and I traveled the country for 8 years training federal sales, proposal writing and GSA Schedule contracting. I trained a variety of teams in the furniture industry too. Even GSA itself had me speak at their Industry Days and at their QPC Holiday event in Crystal City to the Furniture Center attendees. That’s when people started to call me “The Federal Sales Sherpa.” At the GSA Events in San Antonio, San Diego, and Orlando – I would be either helping a company with their booth or walking down the aisles and someone would point and say, “There’s my SHERPA!” And then it stuck.
Michelle: You have definitely built a great reputation within our industry and GSA and a long career with a Public Sector Focus. You are seen as a successful woman in Public Sector, what are the key influential people or factors that supported your success?
Eileen: Persistence, Patience and Perseverance.
Constant curiosity and courageously asking questions and offering solutions to federal customer needs – whether I have what they need – or I bring in a partner. You’ve got to get OUT there. And during a pandemic, you then need to create forums to bring people into your virtual world through education, information, video tours, innovation, networking, teaming partners, associations, and ideas.
Michelle: As you look back over the almost 20 years, were there any twists or turns that developed that helped you to learn along the way that you did not anticipate?
Eileen: In the beginning, like most people, I thought it was about bidding. Nope. It’s ALL about relationships……relationships…. relationships.
In the beginning, it took multiple visits to get the clients to tell me their current vendors, preferred methods of purchasing and their preferred furniture choices. NOW, the data is available, and I help people learn without leaving the comfort of their office, EXACTLY what people are buying, how they’re buying and which vendors they prefer. The truth is out there and it’s AWESOME!
Michelle: Eileen, not only are you a successful woman in Public Sector, you are also a successful woman ENTREPRENEUR. Can you share with us a little about your company, why you started it and what it is like to be a woman entrepreneur with a focus on helping people with Public Sector?
Eileen: That's so nice of you to say those kind words. Starting a business is not for the faint of heart. You have to be courageous and completely believe in what you have to offer. Especially in the realm of the government contracting consulting world. There are many, MANY great resources, consultants and corporations serving contractors. When I started, I thought I would be performing my regular training to groups of people, but the individual companies were asking me to work with them one-on-one specifically in a Chief Growth Officer role telling them one-on-one what to DO. But, they didn't have the budget for a full- time person, so that's when I created the Three-Step program which includes training on the game, understanding the people who are making the decisions and the contract vehicles they like to use so they don't have to post everything in the public bid sites. They needed to see and understand the data and know which contract vehicles and agencies to target in the coming year specific to their business expertise and offerings. Then they needed a plan to execute. I had done it for several companies capturing tens of millions for them, so I built The Three-Step program around what I did for the companies I was selling for and have since performed 350 programs for companies as small as one or two people - to huge prime contractors.
Being an entrepreneur takes the following:
1. Having a product or services you believe in 100% wholeheartedly.
2. Being an evangelist about what you have to offer, telling everyone and anyone about how you can help make their lives better, safer, and successful with your products and services.
3. Delivering perfectly and on-time without fail, every time.
4. Having a support network of teaming partners who will refer you with all their hearts and willing to introduce you to everyone they know.
5. Having a great relationship with your bank and quick access to funds during the tough times - and the growth times. And while I'm talking about money - obtain 100% payment up front. Especially at the beginning. You don't have time or resources to perform collections. Your bankers will love that policy.
6. Building a huge ecosystem of like-minded companies that you can offer as help to your clients when they need something - you don't offer.
7. Putting yourself out there on LinkedIn and other social media sites to gain brand recognition.
8. Give potential clients 60 minutes of your time - as long as you can get a 10-minute commercial about what you do in there. You give - but you also get something out of those "pick your brain" meetings too.
9. Be Kind to everyone you encounter whether they're a client or not.
10. Be Generous to your customers - give them what they paid for - AND some bonus surprises at the end. Everyone loves a surprise.
Michelle: From a person who loves data (but not necessarily digging for it 😊) what you do is so important and such a huge asset, so we thank you for what you are offering to customers. Based on what I know, the other women I have interviewed and our discussion so far, it appears that Public Sector is favorable to women. How do you see the opportunity for women in Public Sector?
Eileen: Some people have different opinions and experiences working as a woman in the Public Sector. Personally, I love it because I meet a lot of women in executive, director, decision maker positions and I work with a lot of women federal sales, proposal writer, back office, sales VPs, program and project managers working side-by-side. Many people consider this an "old boys’ network”, but I don't. I've met a LOT of fantastic women in the industry - and women who thrive in this industry. In the public sector you'll see many, MANY more women who have broken the ceiling as Administrators, Department Directors, Generals and they are fantastic leaders who are encouraging more and more women to "Lean Into" the public sector. I never leaned into anything. I got up on the table and shouted "I'm Here! Let me HELP" and I've been lucky to say I've thrived in this industry for over 20 years now. Jump in -- the water is fine!
However, when it comes to woman owned small businesses in Federal, I think it APPEARS that more and more business can be sole sourced to women owned small businesses and they’re talking about it at the top, but unfortunately, I look at the data on behalf of the companies who hire me to see who buys what they sell, how they buy it, what contracts and set asides they prefer. The government has a goal of 5% for WOSBs and they have rules they’ve changed to give WOSBs an advantage through sole source . . . but I gotta tell you, it isn’t happening as fast as we’d wish. They are barely making their WOSB goals. The VA is focused on considering SDVOSBs First – via the Supreme Court Decision called the “Kingdomware Decision” and other agencies are really trying to beef up their awards to 8a minority owned companies. There is an Executive Order that is looking to boost 8a, WOSB, EDWOSB and Disadvantaged businesses, but I say, focus on leading with your capabilities and best values, THEN, close them with your set asides depending on which ones THEY prefer to use.
I performed a quick – quick data dip of contracting data pulled from SAM.gov of every contract with a NAICS description with the word Furniture In it from October 1, 2020-February 25, 2022, so about 16 months.
There were a Billion Dollars reported in SAM by Contracts with the word “furniture” in the NAICS
Here is the breakdown by NAICS – North American Industry Classification Codes
This is the Set aside breakdown – they’re still shy to actually set aside contracts for WOSBs:
But if we just look at the Q/A “Is the vendor a WOSB?” These are how the numbers shake out:
They met their goal of awarding 5% to Women – in purchases of furniture “tagged” in the data under a NAICS Code with the word Furniture In it.
Michelle: See, I love data and what it can uncover!!! I think we could talk all day about WOSBs and set asides, etc so maybe we will need to do another article on that. Before we end, I would love some recommendations from you to help anyone interested in a career in Public Sector. What is one piece of advice you have for women wanting to develop a career in Public Sector?
Eileen: Get Training from an Expert who has walked those halls, won and lost. The investment in that custom one-on-one training will save you at least a year of wandering, wondering, guessing, and writing loser blind bid proposals.
Michelle: Great advice. I have become a big fan of coaching over the past 2 years as I have been building my company. Also, a big fan of having a mentor and being a mentor!! What one book would you recommend for a woman who is pursuing a career in Public Sector
Eileen: Judy Bradt’s “Government Contracting Made Eas-ier” as she says, because it’ll NEVER be easy, but she can help you make it easier! https://www.amazon.com/Government-Contracts-Made-Easier-Second/dp/0578621320
Michelle: I have that book and I must admit it is dog eared and highlighted in quite a lot of places. What one podcast would you recommend for a woman who is pursuing a career in Public Sector?
Eileen: Cheryl McCant’s “Marketing Mama”
I’ve been a guest on a LOT of others’ podcasts and training forums with the PTACs.
Here are a couple – one from the Catalyst Center and another I did just last month with the IOWA PTAC:
“The Seven Truths of Federal Contracting” - The Catalyst Center in Huntsville, AL – 2021
“Marketing Opens Doors for Sales” - IOWA PTAC -2022
“To Bid or Not to Bid-That’s the $65,000 Question” - The Catalyst Center in Huntsville, AL – Aug 25 2022
Michelle: Eileen, I cannot thank you enough for sharing some of your story and wisdom with us. It has been a pleasure getting to know you. You have shared your time with me and encouraged me individually and through this interview.
Eileen: Thank YOU, Michelle for bringing the reality of the Public Sector to new and upcoming Federal Contractors. Please feel free to have people connect with me on I provide inspirational, educational and informational posts every single day.
If you know anyone who you think we should interview as a successful woman in Public Sector, please let me know. I love to meet new friends and share their stories and insight with you.
ABOUT EILEEN KENT
“The Federal Sales Sherpa”, President, Custom Keynotes, LLC
Sales Strategist, National Seminar Leader, Keynote, Trainer
If you're one of the 10,000 students over the past 20 years who have seen Eileen Kent through a booked keynote, a public class or in a webinar, you know she is passionate about helping executives learn the game of how to win federal contracts.
Eileen has taught in Atlanta, Chicago, Vegas, LA, San Diego, San Francisco, Denver, Dallas, Houston, Orlando, New York, Boston, St. Louis, Detroit, Indianapolis, Phoenix, and, of course Washington, DC.
When training, Eileen’s personal focus is to modify the material for her audience so that she will always: "Educate the New, Motivate the Frustrated and Validate the Experienced."
Kent’s claim to fame includes setting up the first 30 workstations in an “undisclosed location” of the Department of Homeland Security.
Another claim to fame is managing a national sales effort for a large Midwest roofing contractor which captured over $65M in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Funding between February 2009 and December 2010. Since she opened her own consulting business 10 years ago, Eileen has built custom federal sales action plans through her Three-Step program for over 350 companies.
The unique angle Eileen Kent brings to the classroom is real experience selling to the federal government which includes her own personal stories in the field, her costly “detours” and how to avoid them yourself.
ABOUT MICHELLE WARREN Founder, President Catalyst Consulting Group Michelle Warren is President of Catalyst Consulting Group, a firm specializing in providing strategic solutions to the commercial furniture industry to enhance their sales, positioning, and distribution. With 25 years of industry experience on the dealer and manufacturer side of the industry, Michelle has been recognized as an innovator in selling to the Federal Government, State/Local Government, Higher Education and Cooperative Purchasing. Her expertise includes: sales strategies, strategic planning, 3-5 year road mapping, targeted marketing plans, distribution development, hiring reps, and training for reps and/or dealers. Michelle is known as a “serial networker” in the furniture industry and enjoys meeting people and making connections happen. If you’re interested in connecting - reach out at: Michelle@strategic-catalyst.com, connect on LinkedIn or visit www.strategic-catalyst.com to learn more about her work. As seen in Delve | October 2022 V.31