6 Tips to Survive in a Changing Marketplace
By Elizabeth Harr
Partner, Hinge Marketing

Few verticals are as uncertain as that of government services – and the constantly changing marketplace directly impact agency decisions about if, when, and how to procure services.

To understand how government contractors can succeed within this environment, Hinge Marketing recently conducted a detailed survey of 91 government contractors (you’re welcome to download a free executive summary). The firms ranged from micro firms with less than $1 million in annual revenue to large firms grossing more than $50 million a year. In the study, we asked detailed questions about perceived threats and opportunities, effective marketing tactics and strategies, and other topics. 

While the details of the study probably merit their own post, there were several broad findings — particularly regarding how the fastest-growing government contractors go to market differently than their no-growth peers. With our research as the backdrop, this article offers six tips that can help those in government services more strategically align their business approach with the needs and expectations of the changing marketplace.

1. Use Research to Gain Market Insights
Contractors that research their target markets grow faster and become more profitable. Our research reveals that high-growth firms are far more likely to conduct systematic client research at least once a quarter. This allows for decision-making based on solid evidence, rather than instinct or flawed assumptions.

2. Build a Brand Centered on Your Expertise

Using insights from your research about your target audience will help you build a more valuable brand. By understanding what your government prospects are looking for, you will be better able to demonstrate and promote your firm’s expertise in addressing those needs. Our research shows that relevant expertise is the number one selection criteria used by agencies seeking a contractor. In fact, in 72 percent of buyers’ searches, it was expertise that tipped the scale in favor of the chosen firm.

3. Blend Traditional and Digital Approaches 

The way government buyers are searching for and evaluating contractors is evolving rapidly, so your marketing strategy should evolve as well.

Maximizing your marketing message reach and frequency requires a good balance of online and offline outreach. That means speaking at events, publishing articles and blog posts, and delivering free webinars, to name a few common tactics. In fact, our research tells us that contractors who generate leads from both digital and traditional sources tend to grow faster and are more profitable than competitors who rely only on traditional sources — up to four times as fast and more than twice as profitably.

4. Sharpen Your Marketing Strategy Focus
Our research also revealed that government buyers favor specialists over generalists. This finding may seem counterintuitive. After all, offering more services to a wider audience gives you more opportunities for growth, right? But actually, the opposite is true: using a broader approach to marketing simply makes your value and benefit less obvious to potential clients.

A more effective strategy is to offer niche services that agencies need. Contractors that take this approach are more likely to be high-growth firms. Other proven approaches to differentiation are to focus on solving a particular business problem or serving particular types of client.

5. Create a Learning and Change Culture
Some of the strategies described here may require that you make changes in how your firm operates, which can be a challenge for people who are entrenched in how they currently do things. That means that, before you can retool your marketing, your organization must develop a culture that supports learning and change. One approach is through training; another is what we call the Test/Measure/Learn cycle, a methodology for introducing and testing new services and marketing methods. It’s simple, but effective: You introduce an idea, measure its results, and assess whether it was a success or failure — then repeat. Make a habit of this approach, and your services will evolve more quickly.

6. Become More Attractive to Top Talent
As you begin adopting some of the strategies discussed above, your firm will grow more visible in the market and provide greater value for existing and prospective government customers. Almost as important, you will be better able to attract top industry talent. To capitalize upon this, you need to invest in your employer brand. Start by determining:
What is your organization’s reputation as a place to work?
Does the culture of your workplace align with your client-facing brand?
Is your employer brand attractive to top talent, or does it make them wary of working for you?

This last point is important, because our research has shown that what today’s job candidates see as most valuable in terms of employment and career advancement has changed. Today’s potential employees are most interested in working for a growing firm that offers job flexibility. Believe it or not, finding a job with the highest possible salary came in third among their priorities. The kind of work environment you provide, it turns out, is more important than whether you offer the highest salary.

These six fundamentals of marketing have proven instrumental in helping government services firms achieve greater visibility and competitive advantage in a constantly changing marketplace. Put these strategies to work for your firm — and start achieving the success and profitability you deserve.

Elizabeth Harr is an accomplished entrepreneur and experienced executive with a background in strategic planning, management, communications, and alliance development. Elizabeth co-founded a Microsoft solutions provider company and grew it into a thriving organization that became known for its expertise in Microsoft customer relationship management.