Government Contractors and Marketing: Bridging the Divide
By Peter Mirus
I have worked with government contractors in professional services throughout my career. During that time, I have heard many of these firms say that marketing is of little importance in addressing the challenges and priorities facing their businesses.
From one standpoint, this is understandable: government contractors typically acquire new contracts through RFP response. If this is the sole method for acquiring new business, what is the point of marketing?
The answer is that within the framework of government contracting, a good deal of brand strategy and marketing process (market research, opportunity identification, message development, etc.) is performed under the heading of Capture. The most successful government contractors actually undertake a very thorough Capture process.
But is there a role for branding and marketing outside of Capture? Absolutely. Market visibility and credibility is extremely helpful in maintaining competitive advantage. In this article, I will focus on four areas where this advantage can be realized:
- Internal Communications
- Contract Pursuit
Brand strategy development is a deliberate process that includes market research, identification of key differentiators, positioning and messaging architecture. Often, the perception is that the greatest benefit of this process is felt by external audiences.
However, in many cases a great deal of benefit is also felt inside the company. This is because the findings generated through this process build consensus on development strategy and help create a single clear voice that represents both the organization and the executive team. If this advantage is seized on and rigorously applied, it can positively change the dynamic within a company.
Clear internal communication leads to more productive dialogue at all levels of the corporation, resulting in greater energy and improved operational efficiency. Good internal communication is also a factor in employee retention, a critical issue to professional services firms operating in both the government and commercial arenas.
Partnering is often of great importance within government contracting firms, and engaging in marketing can help to create and support dialogue with potential partners, including those that might not currently be on your radar.
Don't assume that you can always identify your potential partners or that they know who you are. This is rarely, if ever, the case. Nor should you assume you know who all your true competitors are—our research has shown that most companies are only aware of about a third of their competitors. If you are a government contractor, that figure should give you pause. Particularly within government contracting circles, today’s competitor may be tomorrow’s partner.
Marketing helps to make sure that you are identifiable in your space not only for your general area of expertise, but also for specific competency areas. Marketing also makes sure that the company’s messaging (regarding the sort of partner relationships that it desires) runs before it in the marketplace.
For example, developing a high-performance website will help to make sure that you are both findable and top-of-mind for those seeking partnerships. The impression that you are able to make through controlled messaging on your own website ranges far beyond the impression that can be created through a contractor database listing.
Employee retention was mentioned earlier in this article as a high priority for professional service firms. But first you have to get the employees: hence, initial recruitment is a top priority. (I recently wrote about how additional ROI against marketing expense can be realized in this area.)
Determination of best value can be influenced beyond the content of the proposal. Relationships in the industry are extremely important in both securing new contracts and earning contract renewals.
Through these relationships, you become aware of potential engagements early in the customer decision-making process and have a chance to influence the RFP process as a trusted advisor. You have the ability to discuss “what it will take” for you to compete both within your space and on particular contracts. You learn how to bring new services to the attention of government—to make your services a “must have” for decision-makers and influencers.
As with all business development or sales activity, it is important to get the message right and be prepared to deliver the message at a moment's notice. Even better, deliver your message using a broadly distributed or always available medium. For example, strong web content marketing provides a highly visible, around-the-clock support mechanism for your business development activity. The website provides another potential opportunity to “touch” an influencer with your message, impacting decisions that both anticipate and follow the RFP process.
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