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Industry Influencer: YB Marketing’s Founder Sees Big Opportunities for Small Business

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The following is one in an occasional series of Techwire interviews with “industry influencers” — executives in the private sector whose insights into California’s tech market may benefit their industry peers. Today’s subject is Matthew Kernodle, principal consultant and founder of Port Hueneme-based YB Marketing, which serves as a business-to-government marketing team. YB creates creative content across all customer-facing platforms “to immediately increase your government connections and develop your government contracting opportunities.”
Matt Kernodle playing the guitar.
In his spare time, YB Marketing founder and principal Matthew Kernodle plays and teaches guitar.
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“Our team reads through and is alerted to hundreds of RFPs, RFIs, RFQs, and we do our best to keep our friends and followers informed of these,” YB says on its website. “Also, we enjoy researching and reporting to you on past purchases in large markets, as well as alerting you to upcoming industry events.” YB also manages lead generation and other functions.

Techwire: As founder and principal consultant for YB Marketing, what is your mission?

Matthew Kernodle: The goal for me is to give contractors hope and ideas and maybe give them a little bit more preparedness than they have. It’s a long process. There are millions and millions of dollars invested in purchasing and contracting with each year from California state government as well as cities, counties and special districts.

Techwire: Why do you focus on small businesses?

Kernodle: Most all of these governments have programs with some local preference or small-business program, including programs for disabled veteran business enterprises (DVBE). Our objective is to expose those opportunities to small businesses in California who may not participate in California government and to give them a road map and an understanding of the free processes, the public processes, that are available to them. At the same time, we try to help them in their preparedness to go to market.

We know as an organization that most procurements are not advertised. The San Diego Tribune reported years ago that about 90 percent of acquisitions do not go to a public bid. And it’s not that it’s not a public bid; it means that it’s not an RFP. … So when a small business understands that, that can provide some level of motivation to then decide if they want to pursue government as a market for their business.

Techwire: So if somebody comes to you as a small business and says, ”I’d like to get into state and local in California,” how would you start them down the path? Would you start with the marketing program? Would you start with an awareness of these programs for small businesses and disabled vets?

Kernodle: There’s an understanding that has to take place, and that is that they’re going to adhere to the California state contracting language, the terms and conditions. So they should read through that first and understand that the goal is not to object or change anything from that, but to simply accept it. The second component of this is to understand that it’s not ”make a call on a Monday and get an order on a Tuesday.” That is a long process, many months, many months. And thirdly is the plan and the strategy for going forward — who do they talk to, what departments do they talk to? The largest departments or the middle-tier departments? Do they talk to special districts, do they talk to counties, do they talk to cities? And then how will they go to market?

I tell them to find contracts to participate in — every one that you possibly have the time and the money to pursue. CMAS (California Multiple Award Schedules) or an SLP (Software Licensing Program) — essentially these are all powerful and popular contracting vehicles for procurement for any entity that expends public funds. So the California government will have a CMAS contract, but Orange County, for example, can use that contract if desired. So it’s important to decide what contracting vehicles, if any, we’re going to utilize to promote and to talk to various agencies. These agencies can essentially pick and choose from these contracting vehicles. The key is to provide value to the state government.

Techwire: When a company comes to you, do you advise them that they should seek CMAS or SLP? How deep do you get into that first step that they take?

Kernodle: Very deep. My 35 years working as a vendor partner to state government has always been with technology companies, so it’s not hard to pick a contract vehicle, quite honestly. The first thing is to get certified as a small business. A close second is CMAS and SLP will come to pass when you have a partner, subscriber or publisher that you wish to partner with, or you have a relationship with them and can sell through on their SLP. So IBM or Tanium, or whoever it may be, if they have an SLP, then I would say part of the strategy is to then work on getting that small-business partner assigned to the SLP.

A close second to that is then the activity, because if I’m a big-name software publisher, I want to see day-to-day activity (on the part of the small business). So that’s where we come in, trying to give them that day-to-day activity across social, email, marketing, telephone marketing, whatever it may be. Event marketing, which to me is probably the No. 1 activity I suggest, should be quarterly or monthly events, educational events. That’s part of how we are helping them get to market.

We like to undertake research: Who is getting the contracts in the state, from a DVBE, a small business or a micro business? It makes sense, because these are organizations that can that consistently deliver, that accept the terms and conditions without question, and are consistently competitive in pricing and understanding of what the state wants. We believe a partner wants that very same thing.

It’s about a long-term commitment and partnership with not only the state, but also with the partners. So we helped a notable security company. … We had an event online every week where we volunteered, “Hey, here’s who were calling on, here’s what we’re doing.” And that kind of earned the right, if you will, to have that publisher then say: “OK, this partner is committing to the state; they’re putting forth the effort. They’re not just calling me for, you know, ‘Send me a contract’ or something.’” And I feel like that’s very, very consistent amongst buyers. It’s really consistent across all consumers. We’re happy to give somebody a shot, but at the same time we want to see commitment, understanding and not, you know, always complaining about the terms and conditions. There’s not a lot a buyer can do in in the terms and conditions. It’s not within their purview, so ... .

Techwire: You advise DVBEs and small businesses to apply for everything that they think they could do — throw your hat in the ring, cast a wide net. What if everything they hoped for comes through? A small business, for instance — if they win three or four contracts and can only handle maybe one or two, is there a risk of over playing their hand?

Kernodle: Absolutely. In our world, YB Marketing was to take over really all of their social, lead generation, sales and marketing efforts. Part of that is the job openings: Something we remind them of is that while we’re looking for new work, if it were a professional services team, we have to bolster that team. We have to run ads, we have to have a consistent interface to the community of candidates. At the same time, perhaps if you’re a product organization, you may have to bolster a line of credit or two. You have to prepare, it is true, and you do have to prepare for success.

Techwire: What is your metric for success? Is it when one of your clients wins a contract? Is it when one of them flies out of the nest and begins seeking contracts? Where’s YB’s finish line?

Kernodle: We love it when someone says, “Oh, my gosh, I’ve just had an inquiry where they actually want to see some professional services.” And our job is to ensure that we have candidates that we can talk to, to make sure it’s not over. It’s an entire holistic approach to going to market from our perspective and making sure all of the proverbial boxes are checked, so that when success happens, they are prepared. Our success comes when the client says, “I have an uptick there.”

And success comes in various forms. For example, we’ve taken one client from 700 followers to over 7,000 followers on LinkedIn. And then the goal is to start to speaking to those followers, so we start treating those followers as our community. That was their measurement. We have other organizations that will say, “I just want to see more RFPs or more opportunities than I’ve had previously.” We don’t write the proposals most often for them, although we have written RFP responses for them. So to us, each client will say what they want. We’re hoping they understand that in this world that we live in, (they need) a strong social media presence. It’s really about outworking the competition through educational posts, educational emails, educational events.

The first event we ran with one large company had three people, and there was another event we ran where we had 300 people. That’s eight months later. That’s a wonderful uptick. It’s kind of different from where I started back in the day, where all they wanted to see was a contract. You have to earn the right before the contract comes, in my mind.

Techwire: Are there things that state and local government, particularly state government, could do to create a more favorable environment for small businesses and DVBE and micro businesses?

Kernodle: It is a tough road to hoe to get your story told. We remind our clients that you have to have this relentless approach. There are some folks that we’ve spoken to after 50 or 100 touch points within their customer journey, not the first time we call, or not the third email we sent or not, the fourth event we did. It is a relentless process to talk to people. Part of it is that they have a lot of suppliers that are doing a wonderful job, and they don’t necessarily have to search for brand-new. So if you’re brand-new — and that’s who we mostly deal with — you’re going to make an effort.

We know of departments that have a demonstration day, where they’ll allow someone to come in and tell them a story. In the time of COVID, it was a webinar or a conference call. Most of our conversations are, “Are we going to pursue these organizations?” And you know it does not stop. As one customer with the state told me, “When do you get off your target market list?” And we said, “You don’t.” It is tough to open a door at a department. It can take a lot of money and a lot of creativity, and sometimes you have to give something away to get a door open.

The second thing is that the state could raise the percentages in the DVBE space. Right now it’s 25 percent small business and 3 percent DVBE participation. There are organizations in Sacramento that are trying to increase the participation for DVBEs, maybe even for small businesses. I think the state does a wonderful job with all of this. I really do. I think they’ve opened the doors. I do feel like a small business that has a wonderful story to tell may have a tough time telling it and may not be understanding of that process, how long that process may be before a door actually opens.

We’re very, very measured. With one of our clients, we were sending out 25,000 emails a month and making 2,500 telephone calls. I work through a contractor pool, so I write the scripting and I manage and employ the contracting pool.

Relating to the client, we’ll tell the department, “We’re here to compete and we want to stay in touch. We will follow your guidelines for staying in touch, but we’re staying in touch.” There’s really no other way to do it.

Techwire: How long has YB Marketing been around? What spawned the idea?

Kernodle: I’m pretty good about launching businesses right before the market crashes. I was helping people with CMAS and various contracts since 2007. The other genesis of it was those coming from large companies to small companies and simply recognizing the length of time and the effort it took to open doors, to get the slightest door open within buyers and IT folks within the state, and a lot of the folks don’t have deep pockets. They can’t afford a senior sales type or a senior consultant type to help them.

So I’m not going to be their employee, but they have a good technology, so how do I help them? Well, I can help them by building out their email campaigns, helping them populate their CRM, even rolling out their CRM — and all of the tools associated with going to market. So that’s where the genesis of it all came from. It’s just trying to help small business in a highly cost-effective manner.

Techwire: How do you make yourself valuable to your clients’ clients — state and local government?

Kernodle: When you get past their perception of “You’re just a vendor,” and you start bringing valuable things to their day-to-day operations, then it gets pretty exciting to have those conversations. And it’s really exciting when you work with someone who does become that vendor or that trustworthy source as a vendor partner. The former CIO of L.A. County, Bill Kehoe, likes to call them “vendor partners” — not vendors, but vendor partners. And so when you earn the trust and you become that, then it’s very, very exciting for us vendor partners.

Techwire: If a company decides they want to talk with you, what’s the best way to contact you or to find out more about you?

Kernodle: Just simply book time through our website — book a time, an hour or so of conversation. And then we chat. We can give them a proposal and pricing pretty quickly, and give an estimate pretty quickly, too.

Techwire: Do you focus strictly on California or do you go outside California?

Kernodle: I have gone outside — Michigan, Nevada, Arizona. But to me, California is the big thing. It’s the big economy. Not Hawaii yet, sadly, because I would actually fly to Hawaii just to work there.
Dennis Noone is Executive Editor of Industry Insider. He is a career journalist, having worked as a reporter and editor at small-town newspapers and major metropolitan dailies in California, Nevada, Texas and Virginia, including as an editor with USA Today in Washington, D.C. He lives in Northern California.