Even with the move to more commercial practices, government agency acquisitions are very different from those in industry.
However, companies who sell to the government still need to differentiate themselves from their competitors. Government buyers are very sophisticated and expect their suppliers to be able to articulate how their solutions meet unique agency challenges and program requirements. This takes professional branding and marketing material as well as active participation in relevant industry and government associations and conferences.
The four basic elements (the 4 Ps) of the marketing mix were defined over fifty years ago.
- Product: Defines the characteristics of your product or service that meets the needs of your customers.
- Price: Decide on a pricing strategy – do not let it just happen! Even if you decide not to charge for a service (a loss leader), you must realize that this is a conscious decision and forms part of the pricing strategy.
- Promotion: This includes all the marketing tools – advertising, selling, sales promotions, public relations, etc.
- Place (or channel of distribution): Some of the revolutions in marketing have come about by changing this P.
One of the biggest problems I encounter as a management consultant is organizations that dive into marketing tactics before clearly understanding their overall mission, objectives and marketing strategy. It is absolutely crucial to take the time to make sure you understand the target government market that best fits your product or service. This will accomplish at least two important objectives: (1) encourage you to say “no” to non-core goods or services and incompatible agencies and (2) ensure you select the most cost-effective marketing mix to achieve your objectives. It’s all about focus and return on investment.
Several effective government marketing and public relations tactics are described in the following paragraphs. The following matrix illustrates a typical marketing strategy matrix that can be employed to facilitate discussion and identification of tactics.
Download Excel Spreadsheet: GOVPROP Marketing Decision Matrix
However, the optimal mix of these marketing elements will depend on the company’s specific objectives and market.
- Networking at association and local government events (low $ expense/high return on investment (ROI)). A very effective way to meet potential teaming partners and to come into contact with potential government buyers.
- Telemarketing for near term lead generation (medium $/high short term ROI). Acquire outside support for lead identification/cold calls. There are companies who will take your script for a service or solution and call into target agencies to identify interested government managers to then visit. This is a way to leverage outside resources to supplement a limited inside sales capability.
- Inside sales support – more feet on the street (high $/high short term ROI). Consider hiring an experienced mid-level task order sales associate to physically sell into targeted government agencies or a lower level sales associate to telemarket into agencies to generate leads for senior staff follow-up.
- Advertising for near term lead generation. Implement a cost-effective annual advertising plan that focuses on the highest ROI solution/service. Target federal or state and local trade magazines with the intention of generating click-thru’s to your company’s Web site.
- Print Advertising (high $/low ROI): Magazine print advertising can be prohibitively expense for small companies. To be effective, at least 4-6 ads need to run per year. Also, print ads rarely generate real leads but rather brand recognition or end of fiscal year purchase influence for product sales. This is probably only appropriate if your company has the revenue to support the overhead expense. Print advertising is an effective way to introduce a new product launch or to build brand awareness.
- Online advertising (medium $/medium to high ROI short term): Linkedin and Google Adwords advertising can be more affordable and enables you to tailor your campaign to maximize your results. Also, your company could sponsor a trade magazine newsletter for a two-month period and measure click-thru rates and lead generation.
- Company email newsletter (low $/low ROI short term). A company permission based email newsletter, maybe quarterly, can generate a lot of recognition. Might be worth exploring. There are quite a few online services that are not that expensive. Remember to make it permission based.
- Conference sponsorship and panel participation (low to medium $/medium ROI). Make sure to target conferences to actively participate in that attract your company’s most likely prospects. Try to get a senior company executive on the conference advisory board and/or as a speaker. Sign up as a sponsor for maximum exposure (if affordable).
- Web site refresh (medium $/high ROI). Most of the marketing tactics will generate leads either by call or Web site visits. The company Web site will need to be up to date and professional looking in time to support whatever marketing tactics are implemented. Web sites are frequently checked by government buyers to purchase items and to validate a company’s credibility. Also, the government requires that most products be available via government sales portals.
- Pocket portfolio (low $/N/A). Smaller companies can purchase company portfolios with the company logo with a pocket on the inside right side for the two-sided brochures. This will make for a more professional presentation of brochures, PowerPoint presentations and white papers.
- Direct mail (high cost/low to medium ROI). This can be prohibitively expensive for most services companies. But, it is effective for product/solutions vendors as part of a comprehensive marketing campaign through a professional advertising support firm.
- One-on-one press luncheon with company executive or technical expert (low cost/N/A). Recruit locally based reporters for state and local business and D.C. based reporters for Federal business to have a ‘meet and greet’ breakfast or luncheon with the executive to build relationships with the press and to identify areas of company expertise as a future source of quotes and/or inclusion in feature stories.
- Press release announcements (low cost/N/A). Tasks include interviews with company staff to gather facts, drafting the release, seeking government client approvals, making revisions, pitching to selected local/trade publications to generate interest and scheduling interviews for CEO. Subjects should include contract wins, new hires, other newsworthy company activities and success stories. PRWeb (VOCUS) is a useful press release tool.
- Research byline opportunities (low cost/N/A). Identify publications that accept bylined articles relevant to the company’s areas of expertise, or unique facets of company culture and obtain contact information and article specifications.
– M. Lisagor