Mark Amtower

COMMENTARY

For small contractors, everyone’s business is marketing

Small contractors need to think seriously about marketing in fiscal 2019 and beyond, about how to integrate it into the corporate culture and use customer touch points and social activity as opportunities to market the company, to tell their story in ways that resonate with the niche they serve.

Small businesses operate at a perpetual resource disadvantage, so defining and leveraging the resources available should be job one. And that applies to marketing as much or more than any other function.

Why? Larger contractors have more resources, often entire departments dedicated to marketing the company by getting their subject matter experts speaking gigs, sponsoring various industry events, getting stories in trade media, basically dominating much of the traditional marketing landscape.

To compete, smaller companies must learn to better develop and utilize the resources they have.

One primary objective of the 2018 Government Contractor Study recently released by Market Connections was to identify best practices of winning government contractors, including small contractors.

Some issues the study points out do not require cash outlays, but instead require a well-constructed game plan of the “do-able”.

Three specific findings for small contractors are creating a thought leadership/subject matter position, differentiating beyond price, and content marketing. Each of these is well within the reach of companies of any size, so let’s address with them one at a time.

Thought Leadership/Subject Matter Expertise

This was the top item in the Market Connections study and has been on the rise for the past several years. Regardless of company size, if you have expertise in a specific area, you can and should present it in multiple ways to the community you serve.

Building a thought leader/subject matter expert market position takes time and a demonstrable area of expertise. This is first demonstrated in the work you perform.

Other elements of the TL/SME platform include a deep, current knowledge of a specialized subject, the ability to explain the complex in easily understood terms, sharing the knowledge in multiple venues (thought leaders do not operate in a vacuum- they need to be seen and heard), and more.

They also need to know what influences are occurring in their niche and how those influences will impact and possibly morph that niche.

Thought leadership is not for the timid or lazy.

Differentiating Beyond Price

Differentiation is a major step in developing any competitive advantage over the competition, and needs to be a goal, especially for small contractors. It is also a major component of a thought leadership platform.

The process of differentiation starts with identifying your area of expertise, then looking for ways to show how you are different, and then explaining why this is important to the buying audience.

Take Health IT as an example. Many companies have built up Health IT practices. Overlay that with data analytics, another hot topic in our market. You have combined two significant factors.

Want to differentiate further? In the Health business, especially at CMS and SSA, there is a fair amount of fraud. So now you can highlight four differentiators: health IT and data analytics, further differentiated by specialized in FWA (fraud, waste and abuse), then overlay it with a specific agency, like CMS.

There are many ways to differentiate your area of expertise, assuming you have one.

Content Marketing

A study from Forrester Research shows that 57 percent of the buying decision is made before vendor outreach. Admittedly this is B2B, not B2G, but the same premise applies in B2G

Studies by Market Connections demonstrate the power of content throughout the procurement process.

Producing and sharing content that educates the buyer while highlighting your area of expertise puts you on the radar and gives the buyer a sense of comfort regarding your skill level.

Generating good content does not require huge cash outlays. It requires having something important to say, and a venue to share.

Blogs are easy to launch and to populate with content germane to your audience. With a blog you can start slowly and build some momentum.

And like differentiation, content is critical in developing the thought leader/subject matter expert market position.

Creating market share and developing a plan for growth is an incremental process. For small contractors, integrating marketing into your company culture is a core issue for survival and growth. Leveraging the tools and tactics that incur minimal or no cost is critical.

About the Author

Mark Amtower advises government contractors on all facets of business-to-government (B2G) marketing and leveraging LinkedIn. Find Mark on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/markamtower.

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