OPINION

Never stop your market research or risk the consequences

A little more market research could prevent firms from losing recompetes

Systems integrators operate within an interesting paradox according to industry research:  the longer a firm has been working with a specific customer, the less market research, i.e. environmental scanning, it performs.

After working with a customer for 10 or 15 years or more, the company believes that it knows the customer better than anyone else.  Unfortunately, a long-term customer relationship invariably becomes taken for granted.

This development is not intentional; it just happens. The company can no longer see the customer with ‘fresh eyes.’ The impact of political, management, regulatory, technological or social changes on the customer are hard to see; but not to a hungry competitor.

This paradox is a primary reason why so many firms lose their recompetes.  Many times, I have heard, during program review meetings, “The customer loves our program manager.”  It gets worse; often times, the company's PM is the only person that the customer sees from the company.

Rarely has the company established the internal and external mechanisms, including a touch-point plan, to objectively validate their presumption concerning the customer’s real opinion of the PM...and the company.

A common tactic, which is fraught with risk, is to rent/hire a government employee that has recently retired from the agency to address the firm’s lack of current and objective customer knowledge.

Market research is a strategic marketing sub-function.  Today, in our industry, it is usually performed on a part-time, ad hoc basis.  When the government releases a request for proposals or task order for bid, someone is told to “go do research”… often not the most senior person in the room.

Unfortunately, a snapshot of a customer’s complex environment and the program opportunity does not reveal long-brewing trends or subtle changes.  Then there is the fact that most companies are looking at the same market data from the same sources.  What is a company supposed to do?

Establishing a meaningful market research capability can be a daunting task.

Beware - market research is an overhead function, which is a no-no according to the spreadsheet managers.  Market research is a fundamental capability within strategic marketing; it is a way of thinking, different from other disciplines.

It requires an understanding of the firm’s position in its market, and how the firm serves its market base as compared to direct and indirect competitors.

A firm that has a professional and systematic market research capability has a significant competitive advantage. This can allow the firm to proactively monitor its external environment instead of constantly reacting to it.

About the Author

Robert Davis is a 35-year veteran of the government IT marketing and has held positions large and small firms in areas such as marketing and sales, program management, business development and market development.

Reader Comments

Wed, Mar 27, 2013 Jaime Gracia Washington, DC

Incumbenitis. Never ceases to amaze me how many firms get this affliction. The fact is many companies hire inept BD staff out of ignorance, or treat BD as a PT model as Bob states. Always innovating, trying to do right by the customer is essential for existing business. It is essential to keep the business you have, not slack off, wipe your brow, put the auto-pilot on and go for the next opportunity.

Fri, Mar 22, 2013 Robert Davis

Companies used to have Relationship Managers who supported key accounts to ensure that customers received extra attention and resources beyond the written contract. These Managers brought objectivity and senior management attention to a customer beyond the day-to-day PM. Maybe this position is needed again.

Thu, Mar 21, 2013 L. Jurgens National Capitol Region

This is why many savvy companies have created a Chief Customer Officer position and staffed it with a senior person. What is a CCO? The person who lives with the key customer(s), keeping aware of, and enhancing the relationship between customer and contractor.

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