Elizabeth Smith serves as vice president of federal sales at Unisys Corp., a company she joined in 2010 after a more-than-two-year stint as executive vice president of sales at Perot Systems, which is now part of Dell Federal.
The healthcare, business strategy, management and sales veteran previously ran her own consulting practice for more than seven years, and rebuilt the sales organization at Electronic Data Systems prior to that company’s acquisition by HP Enterprise services.
In this spotlight, Smith discusses the strategic vision she has implemented since joining Unisys as its relates to overcoming challenges in the federal marketplace.
She also delves into some recent contract activity and technologies the company is investing in to compete in a tough budget marketplace.
How did your background and experience prior to joining Unisys translate into your current role?
I have spent the majority of my career bringing best practices to government clients to improve effectiveness. After my graduate work in healthcare, I spent a number of years at Booz Allen Hamilton, where I worked with the federal health departments and brought in new commercial and public sector operating models.
At EDS, I moved into healthcare sales, and after achieving significant sales in that area, I was promoted to manager of federal sales. One of the highlights of that position was the award of the Navy Marine Corps Internet program. NMCI was the first big landmark contract where we helped federal customers understand how the commercial world works and utilized those practices in the federal environment.
In the early 2000’s, I started my own consulting firm and worked with many large and small companies on sales best practices, setting up high-performing sales organizations, healthcare strategy, corporate strategy and M&A support. This helped me visualize how different companies approached the same problem and to be able to strategize within the context of the larger marketplace.
About five years ago, I went to Perot Systems when they wanted to transform and strengthen their federal sales organization, including leveraging their commercial health capabilities. We were successful in building a strong pipeline and restructuring the sales organization and were then acquired by Dell. I was contacted by Unisys as they were centralizing and restructuring their federal sales organization. And because the company has a large commercial component, I was able to continue my efforts in that area.
I’ve been at Unisys for about two and half years, and we have accomplished a lot. After arriving here, I first completed a 60-day assessment on all of the federal sales processes and people and created a long-term plan for improving the overall sales function.
With the assumption that the federal marketplace was going to go through a retraction as our commercial counterparts recently had, we began preparing for that eventuality. The plan included identifying agencies that had essential functions that wouldn’t be as impacted by long-term budget problems.
Conversely, we also identified agencies that would have a lot of budget cuts and would perhaps be motivated to do more dramatic things, such as moving to more of a commercial model for IT operations and maintenance. We looked for agencies that had innovative leaders who might be interested in trying out new business models and technologies.
In that first year, we developed a strategy and brought in a lot of new sales talent. I personally look for proven sales executives who are very competitive and can sell very complex IT services. We also strengthened our capture and proposal teams, bringing in people who are able to interpret unique new business models into the federal environment.
As we were creating the new sales team, we were also building a new pipeline and focusing on creating new opportunities for customers. We looked all across Unisys, casting a pretty wide net, looking for unique skill sets and innovative solutions that we could bring to the federal market. We also looked for existing customers that would be open to new ideas and innovative business models to help us test these commercial capabilities.
What results have you seen related to that effort?
We found that leaders at IRS, a place where Unisys had a strong history of performance, were interested in a new business model for storage solutions. We were able to bid and win the IRS storage-as-a-service opportunity; that was really strategic for us.
We’ve got a year of success in delivery of that program and are finding that our model is very cost-effective for these customers. We are packaging our unique methodologies and we’re working on bringing that to other agencies.
We also recently won the very large Department of Homeland Security Border Enforcement and Management Systems contract. We thought, due to the recent emphasis on immigration reform, that border enforcement was going to continue to see strong support. We have other contracts with Customs and Border Protection where we provide mission applications support, so it was a natural extension of our other CBP work and a great fit for us.
We also won a great contract with the Department of the Interior, which had been a decentralized department from an IT perspective for a long time. They brought in a strong CIO who was an innovator and interested in enterprise-wide consolidation.
We were able totarget DOI at a place where we could bring value, and we bid and won the Foundation Cloud Hosting Services contract; not only the IDIQ, but the initial task which moves their SAP environment to a public cloud– which is really exciting.
We use a cloud broker model at Interior, so we’re bringing in multiple cloud providers to help them. And a number of other agencies and departments are very interested in that model.
In addition to winning new work, we put tremendous focused effort into stabilizing our base. Early on, we built a strong recompete process, and we’ve been able to move our recompetes now to a win rate of over 95%. So our success is represented by a more stable base business complemented by a set of very strategic wins in new areas around cloud computing and applications development.
How has Unisys’ Federal customer mix changed as a whole since you joined?
When I first came on board, I could see that the decentralized approach had resulted in many smaller bids for a wide range of customers. We decided that we needed to focus on a smaller set of targeted customers. So we completed a series of strategic planning activities to narrow our focus on places where we felt we could add the most value and drive longer-term growth.
I brought in my opinions on the marketplace and our competitors, and how the market perceived Unisys at that time. I worked closely with the P&L leaders and my new sales team to analyze the market, our pipeline and where Unisys had and had not been successful. We spent quite a bit of time on strategic planning exercises, summarizing data – going top-down and then bottom-up and then top-down again to get to where I felt we should be focused and to reach consensus across the organization.
So we now have a targeted set of existing and new customers, and having won a number of new deals, have some important new logos in our customer mix.