Mark Amtower

COMMENTARY

Three tips for better customer relationships

There is no doubt that this is a very tough market for government contractors, and it is going to get tougher. Making certain your marketshare does not erode is the key to staying healthy, and the best way to do that is to make certain your relationships with customers and channel partners are healthy and active. This is true when times are not tough, and even more now.

So what can you do to strengthen relationships throughout your government contractor network?

Research is always critical. There are several things you need to know about your government customers to ensure a healthy relationship. You already know they will have less money, but do you know which programs are more likely to stay fully funded, or which contracts the agency prefers? How recently have you reviewed the Office of Management and Budget Exhibit 53s and 300s? Has the CIO, CFO or key staffers made any presentations or statements lately to indicate which programs might suffer, or which programs remain critical for that agency? Scour the agency web site for press releases or any other indicators as to priorities. And while you are there, make certain you know about any key employee migration as well. Many federal agency web sites have great information if you know where to look, while some still resemble libraries with really old books.

Research on your channel partners, including systems integrators, is another factor. Know the key people, any migration, and any contracts they are considering. A recent article in Washington Technology (http://washingtontechnology.com/articles/2012/06/11/top-100-overview.aspx?s=wtdaily_250612) states; “But the top dogs on the Top 100 aren’t tucking their tails in fear. Instead, they are counting on the bright spots in the market to get them over the hump. Those bright spots include cloud computing, mobility, IT efficiency, health IT and cybersecurity. There are also emerging areas in energy, video, big data and analytics.”

Are you matching your skills to where the market and your partners are heading? And are you making certain your partners know what you bring to the table for each agency and each contract?

Trade publications, agency and company web sites, certain social networks, especially LinkedIn, are great places to conduct the research.

Content is the next building block for relationships. In order for buyers and partners to pay attention to you, you need to demonstrate an area of expertise, knowledge of the problems and pressures they are facing as well as information on what you bring to the table. Content can come in many forms: white papers, podcasts, collateral material, webinars, blogs, articles for trade publications, presentations at live events and more.

Many of the fastest growing contractors are using webinars as customer education platforms. This allows the customer to view the session at his/her leisure, and get information that can help them do their job better. There are two caveats for webinars. As with any content platform it should be used to inform, not sell; and keep in mind that is easier to make a bad webinar than it is to make a good one. If you simply put up with a product or service demo, it will be seen as a sales tool and will not attract visitors.

Once developed, the content needs to be shared with the audiences that would be most interested. Many people read my Washington Technology articles because I share the link on selected groups at LinkedIn. Find multiple ways to get the word out.

Face-to-face is the last key we’ll address. Regardless of the fallout from the GSA Public Building Service Vegas conference fiasco, events will remain a crucial element in this market. They take many forms: breakfast briefings, seminars and symposiums, trade shows, in-agency table tops and more. The experienced producers of government contracting events understand what it takes to create a venue that will attract the right audiences.

Social networking is an activity that can facilitate live face-to-face. There are tens of thousands of feds on LinkedIn and the Washington Technology Top 100 are all there. The networking venues on LinkedIn are the groups. With nearly 1.4 million groups, LinkedIn has a robust ecosystem of self-identified communities where you can get to know who’s who. I have also found LinkedIn to be a great place to share the content I find or develop. If I think the content has value to a specific community, I will find a group, or groups, where it can be shared.

Times may be tough and your own marketing budget may be suffering, but these simple tactics can help you weather the storm.

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