Guest blogger: Mark Amtower, Amtower & Company
Market Connections’ Federal IT (FIT) Persona Study should resonate with everyone selling IT products or services to the government. The always evolving IT landscape shortens the cycle of Moore’s Law every day, making it critical for the savvy IT product or services contractor to educate federal buyers on a regular basis. Smart federal marketers understand that to increase the likelihood of success, they need to extend this education process to a broader audience of influencers and decision-makers at target agencies. The FIT Persona Study helps marketers understand each type of persona that can participate in that process.
Once you determine the characteristics of the personas you need to influence, start mapping out content that fits their needs at each stage of the buying process (see, Market Connections’ Federal Content Marketing Review).
According to studies by other major market research firms, buyers begin their journey by doing research online, looking for information on the products and services they are likely to purchase in the relative near term. These studies show that 60%+ of the buying process is researched before outreach to any vendor. Mandiant Security Validation’s (Mandiant Solutions, part of FireEye) Chief Marketing Officer, Tracey Moon, coined this the “dark funnel” in a presentation around the customer journey of Government Marketing University’s 2019 GAIN conference.
Building Content for Your Target Audience
Your content must fit each step of the process starting with the identification of the issue to be resolved. Then you should educate the buyer of the problem area and how it can be addressed. After that, you can educate on what your solution is and does, in what situations it is applicable, ease (or not) of use, etc., developing content specific for each persona in the process.
The newer the technology or technological advance, the bigger the opportunity is to jump in early with good content to educate your customer.
However, key influencers and decision-makers may have differing challenges with technology that need to be addressed and using personas can provide guidance on the types of problems or challenges that need addressing in your content. For example, you may need to address technical challenges for the frontline IT specialist, how it is deployed for the project manager, versus how it can help reach agency mission goals for leadership or how it can be procured to the procurement officer.
The most important thing: develop your content with the idea of educating your customer, not selling to them.
The next step is to understand how they prefer to consume content. If you are targeting end-users, you may be able to get away with one or two formats; however, if you are trying to reach an agency and all their key players, you may want to consider the format in which you develop your content pieces. An end-user may prefer a video, a project manager may prefer a white paper and a CISO may prefer a podcast. One type of content format may not fit all.
Marketing Your Content
Unlike the famous movie quote, “if you build it, they will come,” you cannot create content and expect your customer to find it on their own. Once you have built your content, you need to market that content across different platforms. Use SEO, social media, trade media, and other sources to announce the presence of your content and direct customers back to your resources. Another valuable use of personas is to help you make strategic decisions on where to market based on target personas’ key preferences.
For example, if your key target personas show a preference for using social media such as LinkedIn, there are many ways you can drive traffic to your content:
- Simple, easy and no cost: Post a synopsis and a link, then get your sales, marketing and business development teams to share the content with their networks.
- Group pages: Check agencies’ company pages, click on the “# of employees on LinkedIn,” then use the “All Filters” button to look for specific job titles. Once you find professionals that match your target personas, you can look to see what “groups” they belong to and if possible, join those group(s) and start sharing your content there as well.
- LinkedIn articles: Byline or have company ambassadors (leadership) byline short articles to be published on LinkedIn.
- Advertising: If budgets permit, consider boosting your posts with LinkedIn advertising.
Educating your government customer in a targeted manner by creating content that addresses their specific challenges, in formats they prefer to learn from, and marketing that content in areas/platforms that they are more likely to visit, can only help increase the likelihood of consideration during the procurement process.
Mark Amtower has been advising federal contractors of all sizes on the best practices for marketing to the federal government since 1985. Most recently he has focused on social selling, differentiation, building the SME platform and content marketing. He is the author of several books, has hosted a weekly show on the Federal News Network for 14 years, and has been a contributing writer to Washington Technology for 12 years. He is a frequent speaker at industry events. Connect with Mark on LinkedIn.
From the Desk of Aaron Heffron, President Market Connections, Inc.
While many of us remember fondly as a kid hearing, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus,” we all need to remember, “yes, folks, there will be a federal market after COVID.” Setting aside the debate of when the “after” is a reality, it is not too soon to start thinking about how to position your company to emerge from quarantine stronger and ready for action. You can do this by developing and implementing a marketing plan that accounts for the market realities while it hedges against market uncertainty.
Here are FOUR marketing areas affected by COVID-19 you should reevaluate:
- Events won’t be dead forever, but you’ll need to choose which to attend and sponsor wisely. Our recent COVID related polling of the federal community highlights hesitancy to attend even the smallest of events until the first quarter of 2021. At this point, micro-sized events of under 50 people will be the most likely for federal employees to attend. As you look toward the middle to end of 2021, larger trade shows and conferences may start springing up. Ask event organizers what they are doing to “re-sell” their event. The marketing for the event will be more important than ever as federal employees try to weigh the value of attending. HINT: It’s not only a safety issue.
- Create a webinar strategy that is concise and informative. As remote working and travel restrictions have continued, the prevalence and dependence on webinars has grown. A 45-minute webinar packed with the most recent information, case studies, and forward-looking views is increasingly important as an effective mechanism to educate numerous federal employees at the same time. Rather than scouring online publications and websites for new information, feds are willing to schedule the time to learn both synchronously and asynchronously. Just remember, though, as our content marketing research has shown, minimize the “sell” and maximize the “tell.”
- Adapt your buys to the changes in media usage but hedge your bets. Later this year we will be releasing the 12th edition of the Federal Media and Marketing Study that looks at federal employee preferences for reading, listening and viewing of websites, publications, radio stations and television programming. The survey this year will be measuring habits during the pandemic and we expect to see some drastic changes. The bigger questions will be how long these changes are in place and will longer term behaviors change? Regardless, when the results are public in late October, it will be important to tailor your short-term strategy for media placement and PR to account for these changes. Do not write them off as “temporary” because the tail will be long and may reveal new pathways to the customer.
- Dig deeper to understand what your customer is going through. It will be important to think about how your company will be interactive with your target audience going forward. How affected have your customers and prospects been from the current circumstances? Digging deeper and identifying those specific characteristics of your target audience (including what and who they know) will be necessary, even if you’ve never done it before. Our recent development of federal personas was done with the need for more personal targeting in mind. Individual fears, concerns and values always play a bigger role when there is uncertainty in the market. In 2021 and beyond it will be important to speak to the hearts as well as the minds of the customer as they face fears and concerns that go way past their job responsibilities.
Yes, there will be a federal market in the post-COVID world. What will it exactly look like? Your guess is as good as mine. What we do know now, however, is that with some careful planning and thoughtful actions you can have your organization positioned better than your competitors as new opportunities arise.
Guest blogger: Kris Brinker, Ocean 5 Strategies
There is no such thing as doing business with the federal government. We do business with people—government decision-makers, federal humans—who all have goals, fears, needs, priorities, and pain points.
The US government continues to offer opportunities as the largest public procurement marketplace. Just a small piece of the federal pie would be a huge win. But, the hurdles and barriers government contractors need to overcome have not only changed but also become greater.
The customer base for government contractors is becoming harder and harder to reach and contractors have to do more than ever to break through. New marketing techniques and technologies must be considered to stay competitive.
According to respected government business strategic advisor and published author, Judy Bradt, ”Many GovCons use databases to look for their next opportunity and can waste THOUSANDS of dollars and hours chasing work. That’s ’Opportunity Illusion.’ Instead of asking, ’What can I bid?’, winners focus on the right question: ’Who’s my buyer?’ ”
You need to build brand reputation and visibility long before the RFP. You also need to continue building those relationships with buyers and decision-makers throughout a long sales cycle.
Combining this with a fundamental shift in the way people are making purchasing decisions, means you need new and innovative marketing strategies to stay on top and win contracts.
Enter Buyer Personas, a Winning Strategy
Buyer personas are semi-fictional representations of your ideal customers based on qualitative and quantitative data and research. Creating and having a deep understanding of your buyer persona(s) is critical to content creation, sales follow up, product development, and customer acquisition and retention.
Federal Personas to Support Your Federal Content Marketing
Creating content with a detailed persona of your federal buyer in mind allows you to go beyond agency needs and shows them you can speak to their goals, needs, pain points, and fears—both professionally as well as personally. It allows you to create your educational materials and marketing messages from a voice of empathy, not selling.
“Many government decision makers want to learn about new things, while others need justifications for existing decisions, depending on their role and personality” said Aaron Heffron, president at Market Connections, “our past review of federal content preferences and the differences between various individuals shows that by effectively delivering quality content that’s on-point and directly relevant, you show your commitment to being a partner, not just a vendor”
Past performance and accuracy of language in a bid are no longer the only keys to winning the contract award. Today, B2G companies must compete to attract buyers to their brand by providing compelling, quality content tailored to meet their specific needs, behaviors and concerns.
By first developing a clear vision of your federal persona, you can tailor your content to meet their specific needs, behaviors, and concerns. Focus on your carefully refined buyer personas and produce the content they want to consume in the format that is most appealing to them. For example, the agency contracting officers you need to influence might be most interested in information in video format, while a senior executive may prefer to read about your capabilities in the form of a white paper. By understanding your personas’ preferences, you can better understand how to personalize your content just for them.
How Do I Start Creating Federal Personas?
A good starting point is to take a look at your current clients and start to tell a story about their purchasing behavior, goals, challenges, needs, etc. You may even want to begin by experimenting with default personas available in some email or automated marketing platforms, then supplementing them with your own. Remember, your federal personas will be semi-fictional representations of your ideal customers based on qualitative and quantitative data and research. The strongest buyer personas are based on market research as well as insights gathered from your actual customer base (through surveys, interviews, etc.).
You may need as few as one or two personas, or as many as 20, depending on your business. If you’re new to personas, start small—you can always develop more personas later if needed—but get started! When possible, avoid reinventing the wheel and use information already in the market. Also consider personas developed by reputable independent market research and specialized federal marketing firms as a first step into your persona development. I was excited to discover that in July 2020, Market Connections will begin releasing their federal persona bundles—developed from their research and interviews of 300 federal IT decision-makers.
With hundreds of billions of federal contract dollars to compete for, a fundamental shift in the way people are now making purchasing decisions, and continually changing technology, companies that market to government agencies have more hurdles than ever to win contracts. Creating and implementing federal personas is a key component of a modern B2G winning strategy. Utilizing existing market research can save you time and increase the accuracy of your content development.
Kris Brinker is co-founder of Ocean 5 Strategies. With a track record of helping their customers grow their businesses, Kris and the Ocean 5 team specialize in award-winning website design, SEO, content marketing, and related digital marketing services. Connect with Kris on LinkedIn.
Ocean 5 provides marketing plans, strategies, and programs that generate more highly qualified leads, more closed contracts, and increased profit. Ocean 5 clients have enjoyed benefits such as 500% ROI, 600% increase in client acquisition, 218% increase in profit, and 216% increase in conversion rates. You can find more information at Ocean5Strategies.com
Guest Blogger: Chris Parente, StoryTech Consulting
If you want to successfully market a product or service, you need to understand everything you can about who your targeted decision-makers are and what they care about. A way to increase your understanding is the development of marketing personas.
Per Wikipedia, “a persona in user-design and marketing is a fictional character created to represent a user type that might use a site, brand, or product in a similar way.” The definition goes on to say that “in most cases, personas are synthesized from data collected from interviews with users.” The “garbage in, garbage out” rule applies – personas are only as good as the research used to create them.
Recently I attended the Federal IT (FIT) Persona Study – A Deeper Look into Your Federal Customer. It was a virtual event put on by Market Connections with support from their marketing partners, Professional Services Council and Government Marketing University. Market Connections has been doing B2B and B2G research for over 20 years, providing actionable intelligence to support marketing and business outreach strategies. They are probably best known in B2G circles for their annual analysis of the media consumption habits of government decision-makers, a must read for government marketers.
Market Connections interviewed over 300 federal IT decision-makers, both inside and outside the beltway. There were also additional in-depth interviews with key federal personnel to round out multiple personas detailing personal and professional preferences. Spoiler alert – there is no single federal IT persona that covers all decision-makers.
As part of the overview presentation, two of the ten available federal personas were shared with registered attendees, a program manager working for the Veterans Administration out of Texas, and an IT specialist in D.C. working for the Department of Health and Human Services. These are valuable for government marketers, whether as a foundation to build upon or as a “sanity check” to compare to their own federal personas.
Some overall results that caught my eye:
- What inspires them – The top two responses were feeling they are making an important contribution and doing their part for the mission.
- Top professional challenges – Nearly half cited slow bureaucracy, followed by one-third stating needing to do more with less budget.
- Who they have confidence in for technical decisions – Two-thirds trust their team members, however, ONLY 16 PERCENT trust contractors/vendors! Caveat emptor indeed!
Within the two federal personas shared, key differences were seen, for example their motivation to learn about IT:
- The IT specialist valued being viewed as the internal expert.
- The program manager felt technology changes quickly.
In addition, differences were found in how they preferred to learn, communicate, and gather information; challenges they faced in their roles; what they sought most from vendors they worked with; among others.
After the survey presentation there was a panel discussion moderated by Aaron Heffron, president of Market Connections. The panelists were Christina Morrison, Federal Solutions Director at the cybersecurity provider Proofpoint and Tom Nagle, Managing Partner at the management and marketing consultancy Statler Nagle LLC.
Christina talked about using personas during her time at HP, and how people naturally want to buy from people they like. She made the point that personas are important no matter the size of your budget, and that they fit perfectly into an account-based marketing (ABM) approach that unites sales and marketing objectives.
Tom cautioned marketers against thinking that buying decisions are entirely rational. He told the audience that personas were an effective way to “market to the whole human.” He also said that personas support framing your messaging as storytelling, which is a prerequisite for success. (Amen Tom!)
The presentation and video of the results readout can be purchased here. Early in July, Market Connections will release their federal persona bundles developed from the research. These will cover additional decision-makers and influencers in IT purchasing from the CIO to the procurement professional at both defense and civilian agencies.
Understanding your target market is a never-ending process. Personas based on quality market research help immensely.
Chris Parente is the founder of StoryTech Consulting LLC. He has over 20 years of experience in IT communications, working for organizations such as the Cellular Telecommunications Internet Association (CTIA), Advertising.com and VeriSign. From 2005 to 2014 he served as Managing Director and Partner at Strategic Communications Group. StoryTech Consulting has helped clients such as VMware, FireEye, Leidos, Ruckus Networks and Government Executive Media Group meet their content marketing objectives. For more information visit https://storytechconsulting.com/
Sales and BD Teams
In part one of our blog series “How Contractors Can Use Federal Personas for the Win,” we shared the importance of getting internal team buy-in from leadership to marketing to sales. In addition to ways federal marketers can benefit from the use of personas, we noted the importance of collaboration between the marketing teams and the sales and BD teams to get the most out of federal personas.
Federal personas can, and should, be living documents that are tweaked by newly gathered information. Sales teams can add key insights from their day-to-day frontline experience, as part of persona building. It is important to note, however, that federal personas are not actual individuals, but archetypes of the players around the “decision-making table”. While sales teams can contribute to confirming or challenging the notions of personas, it is important to do so based on facts, rather than assumptions. Exceptions to the persona will always exist.
How Can Federal Sales Teams Benefit from Persona Building?
Sales teams should use federal personas to ensure customer-centric conversations. By focusing on more than just specific agency needs, federal sales professionals can better connect with individuals even before their first conversations. Well-constructed federal personas can provide personal backgrounds that make those first conversations easier and more familiar.
A federal persona can help guide you well before your first contact. Should you reach out to your contact via email, or are they more likely to prefer to meet you for a coffee and in-person discussion? Actual results may vary, but the predilections outlined in a well-constructed persona can give you a jump start and increase your odds.
When the conversation begins, seeding the discussion with known challenges and issues can speed up your due diligence and accelerate the process. Senior executives may have very different challenges than an end-user. Laying out those challenges before they have a chance to mention them builds a certain level of trust between you and the client. Now, as a trusted advisor, you can move the conversation forward to how you and your company can offer support and solutions to those challenges.
Sales team leaders should consider using federal personas when developing sales tools for their teams. Unique, segment specific playbooks and sales guides can allow those new to the market to hit the ground running as well as provide new insights for the long-timers on the team. Used as part of regular sales trainings, these shared tools can be enhanced with use cases from team members at regular sales meetings.
Ultimately, the use of federal personas may either challenge existing assumptions about your customer or confirm what you already see in your established relationships. Either way, the dialogue that comes about can make for a more dynamic discussion with the client, a good introduction to new sales members, and a reminder to those in the field that what has been considered true may not always be.
Learn More about Federal Personas:
Purchase the overview report and corresponding video readout:
FIT Personas will be available for purchase soon and will be found on the same page as the overview report.
Our latest blog post “Beyond the C-level Suite” emphasized the importance of marketing to both federal IT decision-makers and influencers at agencies in different ways. Detailed personas for each federal influencer, from senior executive to procurement staff to end user can crystalize your approach and give you guidance as to the unique personal and professional challenges that can influence how and why they make decisions. In part one of this series, we’ll focus on how marketing teams can use federal personas to guide their strategy.
Originating in the consumer market, personas used for B2G will differ in their area of emphasis and approach. While B2C companies focus exclusively on their target customer, B2G marketers must blend the influences of the agency culture with the preferences and habits of the individual. To date, most B2G marketers have focused heavily on the unique aspects of agency culture and processes. We believe that on top of this marketing strategy, it is important to understand the personal motivators and opinions of specific decision-makers and influencers within the agency that is purchasing your product or service.
If you have already made the investment in creating unique federal customer personas, the journey has just begun. There are several next steps to get the best out of your efforts.
Share, Share, Share!
Federal personas are only effective if you are sharing them across your company, from leadership to marketing and communication teams to sales teams. Educate up and down your organization to consider how each persona plays a part in decision-making. To ensure all teams are considering personas in their sales and marketing efforts, post your personas in visible locations and discuss them frequently in cross-team meetings to incorporate the individual natures of each decision-maker into your company culture.
For Marketing Teams:
Plan your content to be rooted in the agency mission but tailored for specific individuals. This includes adjusting for topic, tone, depth and distribution. You would not market the same way to an executive as you would to an end-user. Their priorities, backgrounds and values may be different. Some may value being viewed as an expert in their jobs, while others value the security that their job provides them.
Furthermore, a tech-savvy end-user, may prefer to watch a video or webinar to learn more about new technologies while a program manager or senior executive may prefer to read about new trends and technologies in a white paper. What is their preference for learning mediums? How do they prefer to receive information?
In addition to the learning style differences, key influencers and decision-makers may prefer different ways to access information. Across the board, marketers understand the importance of SEO, but are you considering other channels for marketing to different federal personas? While one individual may prefer to directly go to a vendor website or video, others may prefer to get information from associations, industry publications or events.
In addition to preferences, use tools like the Federal Media & Marketing Study to understand what publications and websites they’re going to already in order to focus your media and advertising efforts there.
Learn More About Federal Personas:
Purchase the overview report and corresponding video readout:
The FIT Personas bundles will be available for purchase soon and will be found on the same page as the overview report.
The Importance of Influencer Personas for the Win
How many times have you sat around a table, planning your next campaign and someone says, “We should just target CTOs, CISOs or CIOs – they make the final decision…”? We’re often faced with the same statement by public sector marketers who are looking to find out specifically what agency plans are and the likelihood their company would be short-listed for an upcoming opportunity. Are senior executives the only type of federal persona to consider for the win?
One Can Say “Yes,” But Many Can Say “No”
When prodded further about their marketing plans, the goals stretch far beyond just getting in front of a specific CTO, but rather to increase the overall likelihood their company will make the final consideration list for specific contracts or broader multi-agency contracts. Based on this, we employ a research plan that identifies not only the likes and dislikes of the C-level executive, but more importantly, the general disposition of all those at the agency who, in some manner, participate in the product and vendor selection process. These are the influencers that can say “no” before your company ever reaches final consideration.
As part of our 2020 efforts to inform the public sector marketing community, we have been constructing descriptive personas to help guide marketing strategy, language and execution. The chief executive is not the only federal persona at the agency you should rely on if you want to influence decision-making towards your product or service. To truly understand your agency’s challenges and priorities, you must expand your reach to include decision-makers AND key influencers.
Understanding the perspectives of decision makers and influencers throughout the agency is especially critical for federal IT purchasing. In addition to executives, key influencers for major purchasing decisions can range from a procurement specialist to a program manager or even an end user. Within a single agency or contract, the different players around the table have varying priorities, challenges and pain points that need to be overcome, and your marketing efforts need to reflect this.
Role of Personas in Your Federal Marketing
When creating marketing materials to engage key influencers, marketers need to consider the varying personality styles and preferences, sometimes more than levels of expertise or technical skills. How do they prefer to communicate? Where do they seek more information? What do they value in a contractor? Would you market to someone in an IT role the same way you would market to a procurement specialist? Once you have a good understanding of the similarities and differences of each individual, you can use this information to ground your marketing efforts to ensure you are marketing towards their personalities and preferences.
Successful government marketers understand that their efforts may need to be multi-faceted and approaches may need to vary. While one signature is required for that multi-million (and even billion) dollar contract, there may be a dozen people behind the scenes that are helping to make the final decision. In federal IT, where mission rules, stakes are high and contracts are huge, having an in-depth understanding of the complex cast of characters that guide the final decision leads to successful marketing to those key players, which in turn can help lead to that win.
Join our virtual event: Federal IT Persona Study: Deeper Insight into Your Federal Customer
Thursday, June 11, 2020, 2-3:30 PM EDT
FIT Personas Study:
A Deeper Look Into Your Federal Customer
Date: Thursday, June 11, 2020, 2-3:30 PM EDT
This is a virtual event.
Join us for the first study release in our new Federal Information Technology (FIT) series designed to help you get closer to your federal technology customer.
The FIT Personas Study will highlight the different profiles of individuals that influence and make decisions for IT products and services at the federal level. Personas have been an increasingly popular tool to identify and pinpoint specific personal and professional factors that influence the decision-making process. Combining qualitative and quantitative feedback, these results will help you understand what makes your customer tick, both personally and professionally, and provide you key insights to inform your marketing and business outreach strategy.
Study results will be followed up with a panel discussion with key federal marketing professionals on how they use personas as part of their federal marketing practices.
EXCLUSIVE TO EVENT ATTENDEES:
Those attending will have exclusive complimentary access to the report. On July 6, 2020 the overview report and detailed personas will be available for purchase to the general public.*
- $59 (includes access to report)**
Christina Morrison, Federal Solutions Director, Proofpoint
Tom Nagle, Managing Partner, Statler Nagle LLC
|2:00 PM – 2:40 PM||Welcome and study results presentation|
|2:40 PM – 3:15 PM||Panelist discussion|
|3:15 PM – 3:30 PM||Q&A with audience|
Thanks to our marketing partners:
**PSC members: Contact Mari Canizales Coache (firstname.lastname@example.org) for member discount code.
*The 2020 FIT Personas results reports will be available for sale to the general public on July 6, 2020 starting at a price of $99.