Mark Amtower

OPINION

New rules for B2G marketing

5 steps for small business to stand out

Not getting any traction from that IDIQ you share with 500 other contractors? GSA Schedule sales down? Can’t get a meeting with a program manager at that prime contractor?  A reporter passes you up for a competitor to interview? Lose a bid because the agency doesn’t know your company?

 

What’s a small biz to do? How do you get on the radar and start winning more business?

 

Most small companies don’t have the internal resources to put together a coherent and consistent marketing program. The CEO may be a techie who believes that technical skill alone is enough to win business, but that is just not the case. Growth requires a certain level of visibility.

 

You need to develop a cost-effective program that will raise your visibility to key audiences in the government agencies and selected primes.

 

There are some relatively simple and inexpensive steps that you can take to start to stand out from your competitors. These work not only in tough times like we’re having now, but in good times as well.

 

Step 1: Define, develop and claim your differentiator

If you are an “IT services” firm, and that is what your business card, web site and collateral says, no one is going to pay attention. Small companies that offer IT services are doing nothing to stand out. Carefully define the type(s) of IT services you provide: network support, cabling, help desk - -whatever it is, be more specific. The more you differentiate your company in terms that resonate with your prospects, the more likely it is you can and will get attention.

 

Your differentiator is designed to separate you from the competition, not limit what you can do once you are inside a client agency. In the early 2000s Reliable Integration Services, a small woman-owned business had very direct message: Networks, nothing but networks. It was a big, bold statement when you went to their web site, and it helped them get work.

 

Generalists don’t make the cut.

 

Step 2: Find, develop and share content

It is good if you can develop content pertinent to your key skill area, but if not, there are alternatives. You can find content germane to your niche and start sharing that with prospects, as long as the content is not highlighting a competitor.

 

There is a great deal of content available if you just bother to look. Using the search function at publication web sites (like www.GCN.com or www.WashingtonTechology.com) you are likely to find some good articles. You can also set up a Google Alert program using key words or phrases.

 

If you want to develop some of your own content, white papers, case studies, webinars and podcasts are good and all are low-cost.

 

You should be posting content (original content or from other sources) regularly.

 

Step 3: Share the news

Your differentiator is not a secret, so find venues to share it, starting with your business card. Ditch the catch phrase that means nothing (“Exceeding customer expectations every day” comes to mind) and replace it with a skill that resonates with your prospects.

 

Then start Tweeting your news and posting links to all of the above on LinkedIn in the groups where your prospects hang out online.

 

Step 4: Sharpen your focus

The market is not stagnant, so the differentiator of today may not be much of one in a year, so pay careful attention to how your niche is developing and make certain you have a selection of new differentiators to add to your repertoire.


 

Mark Amtower's Government Marketing Best Practices seminar is back in McLean, Va., May 14- email Mark for details: mark@federaldirect.net . It will return to Columbia, Md., July 8.


Computer and network security have been with us for 25 years, but claiming “network security” as your key skills is now too general. Niche it down. Are you an expert in Information Assurance or some other aspect of network security? Your differentiator needs to make you stand out and help you fill the sales pipeline.

 

Step 5: Target specific clients

While you may want to do business with any and every federal agency and prime, the reality is that you need to target one or two agencies and one or two primes, all carefully selected because your differentiated skill fits a specific need they have.

 

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but if you follow it you are going down the correct path.

Reader Comments

Wed, May 7, 2014 Jake s

Mr. A--please constrain your testiness and focus it on the companies and some of their customers. Don't shoot the messenger. Yeah, GSA shapes the content of the catalogs, but the companies are willing and enthusiastic participants at the trough until they learn, what you are a master of, that they need to do more than turn the crank--but not much more. Just looking and sounding a bit different, and pricing correctly, is all they need to do. The government hardly ever buys innovation--you rarely see call for anything new in a solicitation. Read the company websites--most don't contain much differentiation from competitors. Assertions of this and of that are largely unproven--and startlingly similar from firm to firm. Yet somehow the government distinguishes among them and picks them in a pattern that, year to year, sustains pretty much the ordinal ranking of firms and even what they win. It is a big herd. Cleverness and postured differentiation in proposals--plus the old-boy network effect and lazy evaluations, as opposed to substantive quality, is what differentiates. The government rarely appreciates differences other than price. There's a lot of good to that--when most of the services sought and delivered are commoditized. And, yes, it is crowning proof that the industry is commoditized when we see that the workers are the same and they migrate like groundwater for 5-10 percent more in salary and an easier commute.

Tue, May 6, 2014 Amtower

It appears that we will not agree on pretty much anything, but here are my thoughts anyway. What appears in the GSA catalog description is dictated by GSA, ergo the commodity look, as are the labor categories. The “lemmings” migrate to the work, which does not make it “crowning proof”. Buyers are not necessarily “a tad smarter”, but are being funneled into LPTA situations. But the focus was on differentiation. If you think differentiation is “smoke and mirrors” I suggest you view this webinar, though I doubt you’ll agree with anything presented. http://www.hingemarketing.com/library/article/the-21-best-differentiators-and-how-to-find-yours

Mon, May 5, 2014 Jake S.

Ok, I admit, I over-stated the case, but just a scoche. There truly are some unique offerings, but they are rarely demanded. What is usually solicited and bought is a full schmear of commoditized services, from classic or platinum butts-in-seats to standard programming and HW. With or without project management ("hold the mayo,"?) Just look at the pricing. Look at the Sched 70 catalog descriptions of labor cats and offerings and tell me this is not a highly commoditized industry. The crowning proof is the constant migration, like lemmings, of employees across the companies as if nothing happened. It makes no diff where they are because the same stuff gets delivered regardless. And since the success rate of custom services and systems is so putrid, customers tend to stick with what they know. Profitability only has sunk because the buyers are becoming, bit by bit, a tad smarter and more discriminating (in the good sense) and the companies are stretching what was already paper-thin supervision and quality assurance. The bigger companies are as prone to failure as the small ones, but their failures are far more noticeable--and don't do the industry s reputation any good. It is dog eat dog out there, but there always were dogs....

Thu, May 1, 2014 Lee Frederiksen

This is excellent advice. I do take exception with the comment that there are no real differences between firms so it is just a matter of being clever. I will agree that some folks approach it that way. But there are many ways to truly differentiate your firm. Specialization is the easiest way, but certainly not the only one. Thanks for a stimulating discussion...lwf

Thu, May 1, 2014 Amtower

Maurice- thnx! Jake- some IT services may well be considered "commodity" but what you call "cleverness" in differentiation is not accurate. If the IT service you perform involve a methodology that is different in analyzing the issue on the front end, that is a differentiator. If an IT firm has extensive experience with a specific agency, that is a differentiator. Hinge Marketing has a white paper that offer 21 distinct ways to legitimately differentiate, and there are combinations of those 21 that expand the ways companies can legitimately differentiate their service offerings.

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