Most of my research is experiential, straight from the front lines, working with my clients and watching the market as closely as I can. However, when Market Connections releases a new study, I will be there. Their work usually aligns with my experience – not always, but we are normally close on all the major topics.
Their recent briefing from the new study, 2016 Federal Government Contractor Study, provided an overview of issues facing contractors, tools being used to respond to the changing conditions, marketing challenges, and the strategies and tactics being employed.
I am going to briefly discuss only the key points of interest to me as a marketing advisor for contractors. If you’d like to see all of the findings, download the report: www.marketconnectionsinc.com
The business development and marketing challenges were not exactly parallel, but they were quite similar, both being led by the long government procurement cycle. Also included were aligning objectives and the strategy for sales, marketing and BD, funding, maintaining profitability, measuring marketing ROI, and moving leads through the sales funnel.
One theme that got my attention was “differentiation beyond price,” which resonated across senior executives, BD/sales, marketing, and program management. I’ve written about this often and worked with several companies and consultants on this issue.
Hinge Marketing provides a great framework for differentiation - http://www.hingemarketing.com/library/article/differentiation-guide-for-professional-services-firms.
While it was written for professional services firms, it can work for product firms as well.
When it came it marketing activity effectiveness, the top issues were thought leadership materials, speaking at larger events, opportunity tracking databases and hosting your own events. Top activities associated with “win rate” were thought leadership materials, content marketing, SEO marketing, social media marketing, speaking at smaller events and PR/media pitching.
When you combine differentiation, thought leadership materials, content marketing, SEO, social media marketing, speaking at events and PR, you are talking about building a subject matter expert platform.
This is an area that I have researched thoroughly and about which I have written extensively. I also advise companies and individuals on the process of developing a subject matter expert platform, integrating the differentiation, content marketing, speaking, social media engagement and more to build a credible presence in a defined market niche.
For smaller businesses, building a subject matter expert platform is key to growth in the government market. Most large contractors already leverage subject matter experts, though some are more successful than others.
A sustained effort is required for generating content of value to a well-defined audience. Continous engagement via social platforms like LinkedIn is another key to making this work. This helps sustain your visibility to a defined audience. Content that is off the mark, content of the “me too” variety, or content that is simply inaccurate negates any gains you might have made.
Competing on price alone is death by a thousand cuts. When you understand what you do well, knowing which agencies need those skills, how they acquire those services, and you know who the players are, then you have a framework to build out the differentiation, content and thought leadership materials, and leveraging social media to find and engage buyers and influencers.
Companies and consultants that establish legitimate subject matter expert credentials win more business. It is not an easy process and all that attempt it do not achieve the same recognition.
While many claim thought leadership and subject matter expertise, few have developed the actual skills, the sustained effort or the track record to substantiate the claim.