COMMENTARY

Price alone isn't enough to resonate with customers

Anyone selling into the government market knows it takes time, patience and investment. The rewards can be great, both intangibly through satisfaction in serving the public good, and financially by winning contracts that can be stable and long term. But competing in this space is no small feat.

It’s no longer enough to count on past performance, a low price and (for smaller businesses) a set-aside designation to give you the winning advantage. Correctly positioning and actively promoting your brand and your win themes has become equally important to standing out in a crowded market.

If your proposals aren’t winning, one challenge may be that you have the wrong message. Credible differentiated positioning beyond low price requires figuring out what makes you different from the customer’s perspective. You can only know that by talking to customers and asking them both what is important to them and what they see as your differentiator in meeting that need. Sometimes the feedback is positive, sometimes it’s uncomfortable; it’s all gold. Use it to highlight what’s good and correct what’s not; then, develop a thoughtful plan to convey your customer-perceived strengths in a compelling way.

You must align your proposal criteria with your brand – but that brand needs to be established and visible well ahead of proposal submission. As in the commercial market, today’s government customers want to be informed, educated, and savvy about relevant use cases. That requires a coordinated, integrated marketing and public relations effort.

HONE YOUR MESSAGE

Blending customer feedback with your corporate mission and distinct strengths will help you define a brand that strikes a unique association and (preferably) even a positive emotional response with your government audience.

Are you the company that’s known for excellence in execution? Do you consistently make breakthroughs in solving complex challenges? Do you have the most reliable customer service?

Remember you’re selling to multiple parties in the government customer chain—business owners, contracting officers, technical experts and other influencers. You need to message across all levels to be well positioned for opportunity.

TARGET YOUR CONTENT

Develop content that specifically speaks to government decision-makers. Define a content marketing strategy that aligns to the government buying cycle and particular opportunities you will want to bid. The long lead times preceding most government RFPs provide room to implement relevant campaigns.

While we still see a need for lengthier materials like white papers, our clients are consistently demanding condensed content that packs a lot into short, highly targeted bites.

UP YOUR VISIBILITY

Drive media relations outreach to influential government channels. Successful public relations is never a one-and-done; it takes a sustained, intentional effort. At W2 Communications, we consistently get client results through strategic programs that Educate, Substantiate, Infiltrate and Elevate. Of course face-to-face visibility is also still important. People do business with people they know and like. So look for venues and events that provide opportunities for high quality engagement.

PLAY TO YOUR STRENGTHS

Play to your strengths and partner away your shortcomings. As government agencies modernize, they are looking for new innovative solutions. But fast-growth tech firms often don’t understand the pace at which the government works, or even how it works. Symbiotic partnering arrangements between well-established government contractors and emerging technology vendors can be the best solution for both parties, each benefiting from the other’s strengths and expertise. That requires correctly positioning and messaging the partnership too.

Of course no firm has unlimited budget, so you’ll need to prioritize your activities. Insights from the business development and capture teams should help guide your investment and maximize the results of your efforts. Recent research even indicates that government contractors who separate business development and marketing report almost double the win rate as those who combine the two functions under one reporting structure.

None of this is to say that tried and true government marketing efforts don’t still count – they do. But today more is needed.

Constrained time and budgets, modernization demands and shifting constituent sentiment are up-ing the pressure on agency leaders. Sharpening your offerings, your insights and your message will help those willing to make the effort stay relevant in a time of significant government transformation.

About the Author

Evan Weisel is principal & co-founder of W2 Communications, a digital communications firm offering integrated PR, content, digital marketing and creative services since 2003.

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