As we entered 2022, the world found itself facing supply chain challenges and labor shortages like never before—not to mention endless questions about the year ahead. Today’s government contracting firms, like other professional services firms, find themselves battling for top talent. Mergers and acquisitions are happening at a breakneck pace, and marketing budgets remain historically high as government contracting firms struggle to compete in a new, digitally driven marketplace.
Despite these difficulties, some government contracting firms managed to achieve unprecedented levels of growth and profitability, even as their no growth peers struggled to stay above water.
These insights come from the Hinge Research Institute’s annual High Growth Study.
Each year the study examines and reports on the specific strategies and tactics implemented by the fastest growing professional services firms. We call these firms the “High Growth Firms.”
By comparing your firm’s marketing and operational practices to those of the high performers, you can start modeling your company after some of the fastest-growing firms in the world.
Defining High Growth Consulting Firms
A firm is categorized as a “high growth” firm when it has a compound annual growth rate of 20% or greater over a three-year assessment period. About one out of four government contracting firms in the High Growth Study sample earned the high growth distinction by achieving a median growth rate of 26% in 2021. In Figure 1, we see that high growth government contracting firms grew about two and a half times faster than their average growth peers.
Not only are the fastest growing firms far outpacing the no growth and average growth government contracting firms, 41% of high growth government contracting firms were also highly profitable.
Of course, all firms want to be counted among those realizing this kind of growth and profitability. So what does the data reveal about these high growth firms?
Key Advantage 1: Technology
High growth government contracting firms have a significant advantage with regard to their overall adoption and implementation of business software and automation products. We describe this in the survey as automation maturity and ask participants to rank their firms on a scale of 0 (no automation) to 5 (optimized).
Figure 2 shows that high growth government contracting firms reported higher levels of automation maturity the two categories we studied: core business software and marketing/sales automation.
High growth government contracting firms have the biggest advantage in core business software, which is at the heart of supporting service delivery. Interestingly, workflow and process automation is the #1 topic that most firms want to learn about this year. The high growth firms are already there.
The technology and software industry is the only other segment we studied where high growth firms showed such an advantage in both automation maturity categories. This is another indicator of the central role such software solutions play.
Key Advantage 2: Talent
High growth government contracting firms have access to more highly skilled talent than their no growth peers, especially in functions such as SEO, social media, and research. High growth government contracting firms enjoy the biggest skills advantages in the area of SEO.
Participants in the 2022 High Growth Study rated their firm’s overall skill level on a scale of 1-10 in a variety of different skill sets. High growth firms consistently outperformed their no growth peers in key areas. Figure 3 shows the top 5 marketing techniques where high growth government contracting firms have the largest advantage over their competitors.
Key Advantage 3: Marketing
Discovering how high growth firms market themselves has always been at the heart of the High Growth Study—and this year’s study dives deeper than ever into uncovering the specifics.
One major change this year was how content creation returned to its top spot as the number one marketing priority of high growth firms. The fastest growing consulting firms have known for years the important role that content creation plays in marketing their expertise. They know that developing content that addresses clients’ top business challenges is key to being a thought leader in their industry.
Meanwhile, no growth firms are prioritizing investments to catch up on website performance, gathering the right analytics, and setting the right marketing mix. These are all worthy investments. But unless a fully automated marketing system is in place, many of these investments won’t pay off.
The high growth firms once again are ahead of the curve with a focus on creating high-quality content that helps bring organic visibility to their websites while also establishing them as a credible thought leader. Figure 4 showcases the top marketing priorities of high growth firms.
The High Growth Study also asked participants to measure their overall marketing effort and impact from the marketing techniques they implement at their firm. When it comes specifically to marketing impact, once again we see some remarkable trends from government contracting high growth firms. Figure 5 shows the top 10 marketing techniques where high growth firms report seeing the most impact from their efforts.
Notice that half of these marketing techniques are digital in nature. Interestingly, no growth government contracting firms are overlooking five crucial marketing techniques that have great impact for high growth firms: public relations, email campaigns, case studies, publishing blog posts, and pursuing industry award opportunities.
This year’s High Growth Study probed further on the topic of SEO. We find that keyword research and SEO techniques are best used by consulting firms when they are set up as a tool to help prospective clients find their content. A mistake we encounter quite often is when firms describe SEO efforts as a one-time investment—a set it and forget it kind of model. Unfortunately, this does not yield great results. SEO requires ongoing focus to adjust to Google’s ever-changing algorithm.
And when it comes to the kind of content that high growth firms find has the most impact, original research takes the top spot. This aligns with the story that the Hinge Research Institute‘s data has been telling for years—in a world full of noise, original research is the most powerful mechanism for developing thought leadership content.
Key Advantage 4: Strategy
The final advantage enjoyed by high growth firms is in the realm of strategy—what high growth government contracting firms are focused on next. In Figure 6 we show the top five topics and trends that high growth firms are thinking about.
High growth firms are particularly interested in disruptive digital technologies: AI, workflow & process automation, big data & analytics, strategy, and cybersecurity. The biggest difference in focus between high growth and no growth firms relates to cybersecurity. The interest in this topic reflects the need for better data security and IT system access as more government contracting employees work from home. It could also relate to the stricter data compliance requirements that apply to government contractors, which were heightened due to the security risks of a work-from-home reality during COVID-19.
Putting the Data to Work
Over the past two years, uncertainty and rapid change have become a new kind of normal. To thrive in the midst of so much change, high growth government contracting firms have learned to focus on the right priorities, acquire the right skills, and seek the right guidance when the way forward isn’t clear. By replicating these strategies in 2022 and beyond, government contracting firms can expect to find endless opportunities–even in the midst of uncertainty.
As we’ve learned from conducting this study for seven consecutive years, the marketplace moves fast. So keeping up with the best marketing and business development practices has never been more important. You can use this data to help your firm navigate the choices ahead. And if you need some support, be sure to reach out to us here at Hinge.