Do you have the information you need to create and justify your marketing strategy for the upcoming year? The “right” information can take many forms, including customer feedback, prospects’ spending plans, agencies’ strategic direction, and the important factors for key decision-makers and influencers. Limited budgets and tight timelines can often hamstring the most well-thought-out plans for information gathering. Market Connections has worked with dozens of public sector contractors over the years to get them the right information at the right time. Whether it’s maximizing the use of free resources or commissioning custom research, here is what we have learned works best in different situations.
As many know, the BEST part of selling to a government customer is that their past spending history is often open for all to see. By way of publicly available data, one can see where agencies have historically spent their money and with whom. This is incredibly helpful in identifying partners, gauging the competitive landscape, or making a “go/no-go” decision on an upcoming opportunity.
With a little elbow grease and a working knowledge of the federal procurement process, government contractors who are looking to find information about upcoming contracts and opportunities can find information on https://beta.sam.gov/ (formerly FedBizOpps.org or fbo.org). This site, run by GSA, is a great starting point to find contract opportunities. You can search for opportunities by keyword, solicitation ID, or by the name of a federal organization. You can then use a wide variety of filters to narrow results.
For more historical information, such as past contract winners, number of contract actions and historical spending since FY2004, details can be found on Federal Procurement Data System (https://www.fpds.gov/). Market Connections works intimately with this data to help measure the size of the overall market, make determinations of go-to market strategies, and track the growth and viability of partners and competitors.
Syndicated or Multi-Client Studies
A wide variety of organizations and companies release overview data regarding the federal marketplace or specific agencies of product/service categories. Usually available for a small fee, these studies and reviews can provide a glimpse into strategic plans and the direction of buying, as well as offer insights into habits and behaviors of the market in general. Something to keep in mind, however, that while this information is available to you for a smaller fee, it is also available to your competitors.
Bloomberg Government and Government Executive Media Group offer overarching studies to understand how, at a high level, contractors are perceived in the federal marketplace. BGov200 and Leading Brands can provide a glimpse of the top contractors in the market, leveraging the knowledge within the specific companies and direct contacts with buyers and federal employees.
In addition, Professional Services Council (PSC) conducts a yearly assessment and estimate of federal spending every October based on an extensive network of interviews with government officials, congressional staff, private analysts and government contractors. PSC’s Annual Vision Federal Market Forecast develops budget estimates for defense and civilian agencies overall, as well as, specific breakdowns for individual agencies ranging from the Department of Agriculture to NASA.
For best practices in federal marketing, Market Connections provides our own annual and biennial studies such as Federal Government Contractor Study which looks at the best practices of federal marketing and business development professionals; Federal Media & Marketing Study which focuses on the media habits of federal audiences; and the Content Marketing Review studies which content marketing methods are best received by federal IT decision-makers. Presented at in-person networking events, this data provides insights to help with contractors with federal market strategy development.
General information about your audience may not be enough. Your product or service may be in a niche-category or very specific, your target audience unique, or you have some thoughts and insights that you believe can set you apart from your competitors. If this is the case, it is worth the investment to commission some custom research specific to your needs.
Oftentimes our clients need more detailed information to help make smart business decisions, especially when new product launches or large advertising investments are on the line. Whether they are seeking to position themselves for a specific contract, ensure customer satisfaction, develop or test specific messages, or to gain a better understanding of how they are perceived against a specific set of competitors, our custom research can provide data and insights directly from the federal audience contractors are serving.
Market Connections has over 25 years of experience in reaching these specific audiences, gathering a strong database of federal decision-makers from all areas of the government. Whether seeking insights from the general audience, specific to an agency or purchase category, Market Connections third-party research is a trusted resource among federal professionals and the contractors who serve them.
Learn more about custom research Market Connections provides to aid government contractors with their business development and market planning.
We are firm believers in the power of well-done thought leadership. Our clients who do these projects share the ROI, and it is substantial — from becoming known as the industry experts in one area (SolarWinds) to increasing sales (Iron Mountain), thought leadership has a real, measurable impact.
That’s why we were thrilled to see the results from an Edleman and LinkedIn study. We know thought leadership is effective and our own studies show that decision makers value it. This study of 1,300 business decision makers went deeper to uncover additional insights, including:
- Thought leadership can directly lead to inclusion in RFP opportunities. In the study, 41% of C-suite executives and 37% of business decision makers said that after engaging in high quality thought leadership, they invited an organization to bid.
- Thought leadership increases trust. People buy from people they trust and 80% of business decision makers said thought leadership has increased trust in a vendor organization.
However, these things only hold true when thought leadership is well executed. When poorly done, it actually harms perceptions and has a negative impact — one third of the respondents said they had removed a company from an opportunity list after engaging with poor thought leadership. What is quality thought leadership according to these respondents?
- It delivers facts and insights about emerging trends.
- It contains supporting data (in charts and graphics).
- It contains analysis of underlying issues and events.
The study contains a wealth of useful information and insights, and we encourage you to look at the full study results. Hopefully they will inspire you to incorporate more thought leadership into your content marketing plan.
Click here to learn how Market Connections helps customers craft thought leadership studies that give you the facts to support your expertise.
By far, the most widely read article on FedPulse is Let’s Talk Price: How Much Does Research Cost? This makes sense because it’s important to know what the investment will be when you decide to do a market research project. In the last few years, we’ve also seen an increase in the number of online surveys we do, and we thought it would be useful to dedicate an article to the cost of online market research. In this two-part series, we discuss what goes into an online research project (and consequently why it isn’t free) and delve deeper into the importance of using panels.
An online quantitative survey project has both variable and fixed costs. Variable costs of online market research include:
- The audience. The more specialized or high-level the audience, the more it will cost to reach its members. General consumer surveys are less expensive to field relative to more targeted audiences such as C-level executives, international respondents or specific industries such as healthcare or government. We often use panels — pre-screened and selected communities of people who have applied to take surveys continually in return for some form of compensation — to reach these high-level audiences. (We go into more depth about using panels in Part 2).
- The number of surveys. The goal of any quantitative survey project is to obtain a sample of respondents that represents the population with some degree of precision and confidence level. Generally the larger the sample, the lower the margin of error. The appropriate sample size depends on the client’s needs.
- Survey length. With a longer survey, the researcher may encounter something called “respondent fatigue” when possible respondents don’t complete the survey. To prevent that, a bigger incentive or stipend is provided. A longer field window may be needed to get the number of completes we’re seeking.
- Sometimes quotas are set to ensure that a specific segment is sufficiently represented in a sample. For example, in federal research, quotas are often set to capture Defense agency respondents. This allows us to analyze the data and determine if there are significant differences between segments. The more quotas set, the greater the cost.
Variable costs depend on your goals and the type of online survey you are doing. There are also fixed costs associated with every online survey:
- Online survey software licensing. Generally reputable research firms license sophisticated software to aid with online survey fielding. Though free software is available, licensed software allows greater flexibility and sophistication in formatting, branching, piping, display of images and video etc.
- Survey design. Regardless of the type of market research you are doing, you need the survey questionnaire. A reputable research firm makes sure the survey is worded properly (not asking leading questions) and scales correctly.
- Data tabulation and report preparation. Research firms license or own statistical software packages that help with data tabulation and analysis — a key part of the research project. From simple frequencies and descriptives to advanced analytics, trained personnel use this software to analyze results and prepare the client report.
- Project management.Conducting any market research involves coordinating many components, which takes the skill of an experienced project manager.
While online surveys are convenient and yield great results — often faster than other methods — there is much that goes into conducting them in a manner that meets your goals.
Next week in Part 2 of this miniseries, we will discuss why it often makes sense to use panels in online research.
1. Focus groups are all about understanding your customers, really digging deep into their needs, wants, and emotional reactions. This information can be very useful to business planning; however, it should always be remembered that focus groups are qualitative research there is no statistical significance associated with it, and it cannot be applied to the general population.
2. Recruiting is a key aspect of focus group success. It isn’t a numbers game – rather, more importance should be placed on finding the right people for your groups. A conversation with six very qualified participants will likely yield more fruitful results than a session with ten unqualified participants. Participants should be screened to ensure they are qualified and knowledgeable in the topic at hand. Also, incentives are generally offered to encourage participants to attend.
3. Make sure you thoroughly review and understand the moderator’s guide. This is the tool that your moderator will be using to keep the group on track, encourage feedback useful to your research project, and lead conversation. Make sure you are comfortable with everything included in the guide.
4. A good moderator is vital to focus group success. Your research firm will likely have skilled, qualified moderators available for any focus groups you are conducting. Depend on these moderators to keep conversation flowing, and to evoke the “intimate strangers” feeling among the group.
5. Always plan to attend your own focus groups. There is usually a room available for viewing focus groups. Viewing the participants in real time allows you to hear and see useful insights that may not get captured in the written report, and you’ll be able to request clarification or additional information if something a participant says is unexpected or unclear. However, do be sure to watch quietly, and wait to ask your moderator questions until s/he comes to the back room at specified times. These times should be outlined in your moderator’s guide if they are not, request that at least one moderator visit to the backroom be added in.
If you are interested in learning more, please go to the Market Connections website and sign up for our free e-course about focus groups.