In its fifth year, Government Marketing University’s GAIN conference pulled together federal marketers, C-level executives at federal agencies, and mainstream marketing experts to share best practices, insights, tools and advice in an effort to educate federal marketers.
We pulled together five key takeaways from this year’s virtual conference to share with you.
1. Do your research.
A common theme among all C-level government executives was their desire for government contractors to “do their homework” before calling on them. This included:
- Researching strategic plans, goals and mission
- Identifying any questions they might have
- Understanding their customers’ experience
- Formulating a preliminary plan as to how you can help them improve service to their customers
You can find this information by going beyond agency websites, to the OMB dashboard as well as reading about agencies in federal publications to find what their chiefs are saying publicly, and stories focused on agency needs. It’s also important to pay attention to virtual and in-person events and conferences where agency staff are speaking and what they are saying. Connect the dots and understand their needs.
Think beyond what is available publicly, and truly understand your target audience’s unique needs through custom research. Effective, targeted questioning may help answer questions about awareness, challenges, needs and where they are on their customer journey related to your products and services. Thought leadership research can help you understand those needs while also giving you the fodder to create content that connects those dots.
2. Focus below federal.
GAIN’s government speakers and marketing experts spoke on the importance of creating content that was focused more narrowly than just a generic federal audience, using a more agency-based marketing approach. “Respect that the mission is unique. It’s not just government… but there are over 400 agencies who all do things differently.” Don’t give a standard pitch to a government customer; ensure you target that agency. Edit your message to their mission.
One should also consider where to place this content. Focus on not only general federally-focused publications, websites, and associations, but also those niche sites and organizations focused on your target agency. Be where they go for information.
The Federal Media & Marketing Study can provide you more details based on agency, product/service type or location.
3. One size does not fit all.
As marketers, we already know all too well, content is king. However, when creating content, marketers often wonder, what is the type of content my target customer WANTS?
When creating your content, make sure you build it out into DIFFERENT formats. Consider how people like to receive information. When asked across the four days, the government speakers varied in their preferences. Some mentioned they preferred white papers, while others said case studies and testimonials. Some prefer to read, others to listen, while others like to watch. Consider length and language of content. This confirms what we have seen in our Content Marketing Review, a biennial study which asks government employees about their preferences around content marketing.
If your content is tech heavy, you may want to consider content for both the techy and the end-user who is not so tech-savvy. In addition to the Content Marketing Review, you may also want to consider our Federal IT (FIT) Personas Study that highlights preferences on a deeper level and includes preferences and priorities of key personas for both civilian and defense federal IT markets.
4. Don’t sell, story-tell.
Regardless of format, whether it’s content creation or a meeting with your customer, you need to go beyond “selling your product or service.” Share a story on how you have solved problems for other agencies in the past. As one speaker put it, storytelling may “open their aperture” to problems they didn’t even know they may encounter. Go beyond “product talk,” and tell your story.
This can be done in multiple ways. One speaker suggested scheduling a “virtual coffee break/lunch” where you meet and share a story on how you have solved a problem in the past. Other speakers suggested case studies or use cases. Be authentic. Make it personal and share your real human experience.
And finally, and most importantly, if given the opportunity to meet, listen. Don’t make it a presentation, but a conversation. Provide your customer the space to also share their problems and concerns and tell their story too.
5. Once won, don’t lose.
Adriane Burton, CIO, Office of Information Technology, Health Resources Services Administration (HRSA) reminded vendors not to be “short-sighted.” She noted that oftentimes once a contract was won, many of the people that the agency was familiar with would disappear.
Once a contract is won, vendors need to continue to deliver results and ensure that customers are really happy.
When you’re sitting in the same space as the customer, are you sure they would be willing to tell you about creeping concerns? In a remote work environment when you are NOT in front of your customer, can you tell if they are satisfied with your services or products? With potential millions of dollars at risk, ensure small problems do not snowball into larger ones that can risk your contract renewal. Consider hiring a third-party firm to find out your customer’s true level of satisfaction.
To learn more about GAIN 2020 and to watch the recorded sessions, visit: https://thegainconference.com/
Brought to you by Market Connections’ strategic partner, Government Marketing University, GAIN 2020 is the premier government marketing conference where you will learn along with the brightest minds in the government marketing community. This year’s conference will be virtual over the course of four days in November with two-hour segments each day focused on the four core areas: Grow, Accelerate, Innovate and Network. (GAIN!)
Each day you will hear from dynamic speakers followed by keynote commentary brought to you by senior government marketers, a government CIO, CISO and program manager will be in the virtual house along with a stellar line up of experts delivering insightful training workshops and more!
Attendees will be provided with tools, insights and inspiration needed to take their 2021 government marketing to the next level via an online environment that can be accessed anywhere.
Tuesday, November 10th
10:00 a.m. thru 12:00 noon EST
Thursday, November 12th
1:00 p.m. thru 3:00 p.m. EST
Tuesday, November 17th
10:00 a.m. thru 12:30 p.m. EST (GAINER Awards)
Thursday, November 19th
1:00 p.m. thru 3:00 p.m. EST
As we approach the end of the fiscal year, the discussion turns toward agency end-of-year spending. Should federal marketers and sales assume selling for the year is done and look toward 2021, or should they implement a final surge campaign with the hopes of capturing any last-minute spending from unspent budgets?
According to Lou Anne Brossman, founder and CEO of Government Marketing University, it’s about gauging internal expectations and assessing if your company will be able to meet last minute agency demands. Ask the executive team, “What outcomes do you expect from 4th quarter marketing?” “Is this a last-ditch attempt full of hope or a concerted effort to go after identified opportunities?”
If you know there are dollars to be spent, ask yourself if your company prepared for a turnkey (i.e. quick) sale? In a recent IDEATION call, Lou Anne discussed tips for marketers at the end of the buying season. Below are a few of her expert tips along with findings from our own studies about the best content for the late stage buying process.
- Do not expect new, unidentified fourth quarter sales from a fourth quarter marketing campaign. Opportunity identification and marketing must start far earlier than that.
Federal marketers and business development professionals understand that selling to the government is not a short sales cycle. Not only should you always be front of mind, you have to consider being there with exactly what they are looking for at the exact time they are looking for it.
Selling to the government is an educational process, and the preparation often starts 12 to 18 months ahead of time. If you are marketing in the fourth quarter, it’s best to market to them for solutions they will be looking for in the next fiscal year’s needs. However, it is always useful to be top of mind if 2021 needs can be moved up with 2020 dollars. (see #2).
With next year in mind, consider that they are now reviewing needs and specifications for NEXT year’s requirements. What content should you be providing them? According to the Federal Content Marketing Review (FCMR), educational pieces such as research reports and white papers are key.
- Given everything said above, there is still a possibility — however remote — to win fourth quarter business at the last minute.
However, this is usually thanks to the marketing you did in the first couple of quarters of the fiscal year. To ensure that you are able to tap into any unspent dollars, consider marketing to where they are in the buying process. The 2017 FCMR study showed us that if they are looking at finalizing a decision quickly (making final selection), they are most likely looking for trials and product demos.
Is your company’s solution “acquisition-ready” for a last-minute sale? According to one chief procurement officer from GMarkU’s discussion, “If [an agency program office is] coming at me in the last quarter of the year especially because you have an unfunded requirement, or even an emergency buy, I’m going to lean towards existing contract vehicles. I’m going to look to things like the government-wide contracts, our strategically sourced contracts, or the GSA schedules, or other vehicles that make it easy for me to get it done quickly.” This means having your sales teams, contract shops and legal departments ready to go and on the same page.
It’s intuitive to make sure your company is set up for the quick sale and you may want to lead your marketing with language stating which vehicles you are on upfront to make it easier for your customer.
- End-of-year procurements are not just for the large, well-established vendors.
While you may think that agency’s will only reach for well-established vendors during last-minute sales, there is a place and space for small business. You should know if there is a portion carved out for small, woman-owned, minority-owned businesses. Does your marketing quickly identify you as such? In addition to what contract vehicles you are on, it is important to identify yourself as SBA, 8a, WOSB, minority-owned, or other, as appropriate.
Small businesses looking for year-end wins should also consider working with a larger vendor who already has experience. Your marketing should consider not only the agency but primes as well. What can you bring to the table for a partner? Does your company have an expertise in a niche that is needed by a prime? Knowledge of how you are perceived can help you strategically market your company’s products and services to key agencies AND partner contractors looking for something specific. Brand research could be a first step in gauging where your strengths, weaknesses and differentiators lie.
While it may be daunting to market specifically for those last-minute unspent requirements, it is not without value. It is important to understand end-of-year procurement priorities, provide content that speaks specifically to their needs and ensure you have the right vehicles for easy acquisition.
Messaging that highlights the ability to get next year’s needs addressed now can be appealing to agencies with multiple challenges. Educate them on how you can address issues they may not think they are ready for, focus on your strengths and differentiators, and highlight how you can make the process as easy as possible. These elements will give you the best chance to secure some last-minute commitments you thought weren’t realistic until next year.
Market Connections CEO, Lisa Dezzutti received Government Marketing University’s second annual Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2019 GAIN Conference on Tuesday, November 12. Unable to attend, President Aaron Heffron accepted the award on her behalf.
With over 30 years of experience in the government marketing community, Lisa was recognized for her contributions to the industry, including starting market research firm, Market Connections, serving as Board President for Women in Technology and years of service at GTSI.
In presenting the award on behalf of Government Marketing University, Mark Amtower, Managing Partner at Amtower & Company and first annual Lifetime Achievement Award winner shared a few words about Lisa, “The contributions of Lisa and her team at Market Connections has helped us produce some absolutely great marketing programs, not in glam and glitz, but in real results, things that actually work… I rely on Market Connections like no other source in this market for my education.”
While she was unable to accept in person, Lisa did send a few notes of appreciation, “I am so deeply honored to receive it and terribly disappointed not to be here to receive it in person. It has been a great pleasure and privilege to be a part of the government contracting industry for the last 30 years.” She continued by noting those in the audience, by saying, “I have had the opportunity to work with and get to know many talented people, many who I call friends, many who are in the audience today. My friends and colleagues are the real reward after 30 years in this industry.”
To learn more about the GAIN Conference and see all 2019 GAINer awardees, visit www.theGAINconference.com.
Marketing IT Offerings: Ensure your messaging is on target with helping government improve performance, customer experience and operational costs.
Traditional commercial tactics do not always translate seamlessly into the public sector market. Aligning your message to your customer’s mission needs and outcomes, marketing to multiple agency stakeholders (from technologists to procurement professionals) and transitioning your position from vendor to partner/educator can significantly improve the strength of your marketing and messaging to this niche market.
Lou Anne Brossman and Steve Watkins from Government Marketing University interview marketing executives Liz Anthony (ViON Corporation), Aaron Heffron (Market Connections) and Milo Speranzo (Dell EMC) about effectively marketing IT service offerings in the public sector. This discussion provides fellow government marketers insights and best practices for the evolving government IT landscape.
- Your marketing collateral should showcase BOTH your services AND your product offerings.
- Federal marketing is evolving from product to solution focus. Your marketing should focus on how you can help your customers meet their mission, not their bottom line.
- Educating your customer is essential to solution marketing (and selling.) Help them understand all aspects of the solution to their current problems, and review solutions to the problems they haven’t even realized they have yet.
- Newer “As A Service” models require multiple messages. Multiple audiences play a role including technologists, compliance and procurement professionals.
- Do not treat the government as its own vertical, but as a robust economy with its own verticals. Customize your marketing to different verticals within the public sector economy you are going for (state, local, federal, agency).
- If you are new to government or vertical, leverage any name brand equity you may have in the commercial space, across other verticals or even other products to get a leg up in the market. It’s not completely necessary to run away from your established commercial roots.
- Consider the future buyers in the public sector audience and how they gather information – generational turnover in leadership positions requires a trusted partner to help guide them.
- With so many events and media outlets in the public sector space, be strategic on where you spend valuable time, energy and resources. Triangulate where your customer and their mission aligns with your offerings and solutions and place your focus there.
- Look at opportunities to partner with associations and volunteer opportunities in areas of focus for your government customers.
- Utilize great free resources such as fbo.gov, performance.gov, fpds.gov and other government sites.
Listen to the full podcast. (Podcast length: 52 minutes)