Government contractors pursue a variety of strategies to position themselves for success. While there is no single grand strategy that works in every case, my firm’s recent research identifies five marketing strategies that have been proven to strengthen market performance.
1. Conduct Research to Increase Market Insights
One of the most effective ways to improve your organization’s marketing impact on government buyers is to better understand their changing business needs. By conducting focused research, you can gain insights into current and prospective clients’ challenges, how they regard the strengths and weaknesses of your firm and its competitors, and most importantly, the ways you’re perceived as being different.
The data make it clear that firms that conduct formal market research grow more rapidly and are more profitable. In our recent study on what marketing and business development practices separate high-growth from no-growth firms, we found that high-growth firms are 3 times more likely to carry out comprehensive annual market research than their no-growth counterparts.
2. Maintain Your Strategic Focus
In our research, we also found that firms derive measurable benefits from keeping their strategies narrowly focused.
The broader a firm’s marketing target, the more competitors it faces — and thus the harder it is to stand out. In addition, certain types of differentiators consistently outperform others. For instance, firms that provide a niche service are 25 percent more apt to be high-growth firms, and firms that specialize in a certain industry are almost 90 percent more likely to become high-growth firms. Our research suggests that such niche approaches work because they:
• Make it easier and less expensive to reach, and be more visible to, a smaller audience;
• Position firms to be seen as the top experts in their field, which allows them to close deals more quickly — and also, charge premium fees; and
• Facilitate the monitoring of client needs in smaller, well-defined markets, and the introduction of innovative solutions in response.
Findings in the recent 2018 Federal Contractor Study conducted by Market Connections, Merritt Group and PSC support this notion: the study concluded that differentiation is key to winning government contracts.
3. Make Expertise the Core of Your Brand
In our study, we found that expertise is the leading selection criteria that decision makers use to create their short list of firms. In fact, in 72 percent of the organizations we studied, expertise was the one key factor that tipped the scale in their buying decision. Even in a contract-dominated environment, expertise — and the degree to which it is part of a firm’s brand — helps provide the market visibility a firm needs to optimize its opportunities.
The most effective way a firm can make its expertise more visible to target prospects is to bring the expertise directly to the audience — preferably, before they’re in buying mode. Some of the most effective techniques for doing so are speaking at events, posting blog posts, publishing articles, and delivering free webinars.
4. Balancing Business Development Activities
Contractors get the most marketing traction, our study found, when they balance traditional business development efforts (especially networking) with speaking and publishing. Networking alone can produce useful leads among potential buyers — but you’ll move them much further into the sales funnel when you combine networking with the delivery of compelling content at speaking events or through published articles. In addition, we found that as marketing becomes increasingly digital, contractors who communicate with prospective buyers using both online and traditional platforms are better positioned to succeed.
5. The Art — and Impact — of Attracting Top Talent
It may seem obvious, but it’s still worth noting that professional services organizations succeed by selling their professionals’ expertise. The flip side of this is that if a firm struggles to attract and retain top talent (along with the expertise of said talent), its growth potential can be severely limited.
Fortunately, the qualities that top talent use when searching for their next employer is closely aligned with the criteria your prospective clients use when vetting potential vendors. Our research shows that employer branding that emphasizes a record of growth and expertise is the most important way to attract job candidates. And from other research we have done (cited above), we know that expertise is what decision makers are looking for when selecting a firm. So building both your external and employer brand around specialized expertise is a clear sign to decision makers that you have what they need; at the same time, doing so signals to future recruits that your firm represents the best opportunity for achieving their career goals.
The bottom line? When you’re the firm recognized for its deep expertise, everybody wins.
The world of marketing professional services to government buyers has been slow to change. But our research shows that is no longer the case — and increasingly, government contractors who adopt and effectively execute best practices, such as the strategies listed above, can reap enormous rewards.
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.
5 Marketing Best Practices that Create a Winning Brand