4 questions you must answer in 2013

2013 might be a lost year if you can't answer questions about what sets your company apart, why you are pursuing certain markets and why you are in the government market to begin with.

I often try to put myself in the shoes of executives in the industry, and imagine what kind of questions they have to answer, and what kind of information they need.

Executives often have four sets of constituents that they need to address: customers, employees, partners and investors.

What these groups want to know about may differ, but often, the information they want are just different facets of the same issue.

So, as 2012 draws to a close, I’ve started a list of questions that I think all four of these groups will want answers to. On Jan. 8, I’m moderating a CEO panel at the Raymond James Government Services & Technology Summit, so I’ll probably ask the CEOs these questions directly.

Whether you are a current or prospective employee, a customer, an investor or a business partner, I think these questions should be high on your list:

1. How are you differentiating your company in today’s market? Are you focused on people and culture? New technology? Product development? Other?

2. Assuming an upturn in the market is year away, what are you doing today to position the company for growth when it returns? After all, if you wait to position yourself when the market starts growing, you’re at risk of being late to the game.

3. Why is a market with low, single-digit growth a good place to be over the long term? This is probably top of mind for prospective employees and investors.

4. Even in a flat market, there are pockets of growth. What areas are you pursuing? What areas of the market are you avoiding?

I think employees, investors and partners will be keenly interested in how these questions are answered; employees will want to know what their future opportunities are; investors will plug the information into how they analyze the potential for a positive return; partners will want to know where your company is headed, and what that will mean in terms of opportunities for them.

How customers fit into these questions is a little tougher, but I do know that customers value contractors who are financially stable, and ones that have a vision for the market and technology. My gut tells me that they’d be interested in the answers to these questions, even if they might not base an award decision on the answer.

As a reporter, these are often the kinds of questions I ask in interviews. The differentiation question in particular has grown in importance, as the market has become tighter and more competitive.

I’m sure there are other questions, but I think this is a good place to start.