Via Technology President Manuel Villa: Seven Secrets To SLED Success
The SLED market is like a cat, said SLED superstar Via Technology President Manuel Villa, with the secret to success being that it’s not about focusing on the “lots of ways to skin a cat,” but rather the” lots of ways to love a cat.”
Via Technology Founder and President Manuel Villa, a state, local and education (SLED) superstar who has delivered game-changing solutions to SLED customers for nearly three decades, says key to success is loving the challenges that come with the complexities of serving state, local and education customers.
The SLED market is like a cat, said Villa, with the secret to success being that it’s not about focusing on the “lots of ways to skin a cat,” but rather the” lots of ways to love a cat.”
“You gotta love what you are doing in this business,” said Villa, who founded San Antonio, Texas-based Via Technology 28 years ago. “It’s not easy. Vendors say a lot of wonderful things but at the end of the day we have to deliver.”
Here are seven tips for success from Villa’s session at CRN parent Xchange March 2023’s SLED Session titled “Partner Insight: Approaching The SLED Market Strategically.”
Focus On Meeting The Guidelines That Come With Each Engagement
With each and every SLED engagement there are a series of stringent guidelines that partners must follow, said Villa. That means focusing on the details that ensure your request for proposal (RFPs) or a Request For Quote (RFQ) is not passed over, said Villa.
“The key to doing business in the public sector is the set of guidelines that you have to follow,”said Villa.
For example, in the city of San Antonio, those participating in SLED bids must register in the government portal, said Villa.
Partners must know the rules of the road for each and every engagement, said Villa.
Once You Get The Contract It’s Time To Sell And Build Relationships!
Once you win the contract the “hard part” begins, namely selling and building a strong relationship with the agency and local officials, said Villa.
Key to success is developing relationships beyond the state agencies with government officials including mayors and city councilors, said Villa.
“The fun part is building the relationships,” said Villa. “Yes we respond to RFQs and bids but it is all about people at the end of the day.”
A number of partners have found the post contract environment a “free for all” which requires cutting through the bureaucracy to drive the sale. That means getting to the right decision maker to drive the post contract sale.
“I start selling when I hear the first no,” said Villa. “That is when I start selling. That is when I go to work. That is when the fun begins.”
Building those relationships requires a sharp focus on the customer, said Villa. “At Via Technology we focus on San Antonio,” he said. “That is our community. That is who we know.”
Invest In The Community
SLED success means investing in the community by stepping up and participating in local activities such as coaching a baseball team, said Villa.
Participating as a baseball coach opened many doors to his business, said Villa.“I was able to meet some really cool families who were very thankful that I was mentoring their kids,” he said.
One of the parents Villa became friends with was the CEO of a large telecommunications provider, said Villa.
“To this day, his kids come up and give me a hug for coaching them,” said Villa. “You have to become invested in your community. If you are doing business in K-12 you must support the school districts. You have to work the concession stands and clean up the gyms. You have to help people.”
Focus On Providing Much Needed Talent To Schools And Agencies
Partners need to focus on providing much needed technology talent to SLED customers.
That was one of the big tips Villa uncovered as part of the interactive session.
“Nobody has enough talent, that is more true today than it ever has been, plus they can’t afford to hire the talent particularly in cybersecurity,” said Alvin Myers, president and COO of United Systems, an Oklahoma City SLED specialist.
United Systems provides managed services with a security focus for SLED customers. “All the cyber-hygiene is taken care of by us,” he said.
“If you can find ways to help fill the gaps with SLED customers you will be successful,” he said. “You don’t have to do everything for them. But you can find out what their biggest need is then you can introduce your company to them and expand from there.”
As a former CIO for a school district Myers ran into many vendors that were “all talk-no do.”
“There are a tremendous number of players out there that will promise the world but not deliver,” he said. “I shied away from lowest priced bid and tried to develop a scoring matrix that would give us the best bid.”
Myers said Villa hit on all the key to success in the session. “Manny is right, you have to love it because it is not an easy market,” he said.
Preventing Sub-Contractor Horror Stories- Be Careful Who You Partner With
Sometimes SLED partners acting as sub-contractors can be caught in the middle.
That was the case on a project that Villa was engaged in early on as a result of a dispute between prime contractor and the government agency.
Other partners told Villa in the session that they have had similar experiences.
“The bottom line is guys you have to be careful who you partner with,” Villa said. “Everybody tells a great story. But who is going to deliver and who is going to back up that delivery.”
Minimize The OTSU
Partners need to make sure they are dotting all the I’s and crossing all the T’s to “minimize the OTSU (Opportunity To Screw Up),” said Villa.
If the RFP or RFQ is due by 10 a.m. on Tuesday morning get it there well before the deadline, said Villa. “Get it there way before the deadline, don’t rely on the FedEx guy to deliver the package,” he said.
SLED providers spend weeks and months working on a proposal and sometimes forget to sign the RFQ or RFP. “Don’t forget to sign it, that’s another way to get thrown out of a bid,” he said.
Finally, read the addendums to the RFQ or RFP, said Villa.
The Via Technology Guarantee
The Via Technology guarantee is if the customer is not happy they don’t pay, said Villa.
“Our guarantee is if you are not happy you don’t pay,” said Villa. “I guarantee you will be happy. We are vested in our community. Our name and our reputation lies in the community. So I guarantee you are going to be happy with our services and our products.”
The ultimate secret to success in SLED is “the more you give the give the more you get,” said Villa. “But don’t give to get. Get involved!”
Partners must focus on the “lifetime value of the customer,” said Villa. “The city, county, state, the school district, the university are not going away. It’s all about the relationships. It’s a great market!”