As VP-industry analysis at INPUT, a provider of market intelligence and consulting services for companies selling to the government, Richard Colven oversees the development, management and distribution of information to INPUT members. Before joining the company, Colven was a partner in the federal consulting practice for Computer Sciences Corp., a federal IT services provider. BtoB recently spoke with Colven about what marketers should keep in mind as they try to reach the lucrative government segment.
BtoB: How will this year's election affect government spending?
Colven: There are two points of view on that. For the big, major programs—border security programs and things like that—as the election gets nearer, things start to go a little bit into hibernation: New procurements get delayed, spending slows down. It doesn't stop, but you're not going to get a lot of new activity going until the new administration is in place.
However, the other side of that coin is that the government has budget to spend in this fiscal year by Sept. 30. One thing you can rely on is they will find a way to spend it. I'd imagine a lot of marketing activity starts happening in the July-August time frame to soak up these last remaining dollars. A government agency ... might prepurchase software, hardware or supplies to get what they need and spend their existing budget this fiscal year. If they don't use it, they lose it. In that sense, I would think if you're an IBM or an Accenture trying to pitch a broad, new, ambitious program in [for example] health and human services, that might not fly and go as quickly this year. However, if you're a product vendor trying to sell upgrades to a certain software and the agency realizes they'll need it in the future, this might be a very good year to pitch that.
BtoB: What should marketers keep in mind about this audience?
Colven: Demographically, they tend to be older than the population at large. You read a lot in the press that a lot of people are worried there's going to be a big, mass retirement that's going to cripple the government. We don't see that happening, but as a general rule, the career government people tend to be a bit older than the general work force. However, they are very comfortable with technology. There's been a massive e-government initiative—they've been tasked with providing more services to citizens over the Internet. So if you'd expect older people to be less familiar with technology, that would not be the case with the government worker.
In terms of psychographics, you need to know that there's not a profit motive in the government. A lot of people come to it with a certain passion about either the mission—what they're doing, whether they're sending rockets into space or providing services to farmers or what have you—or service to their country. You don't go into government service to become wealthy, as the old adage goes. I would also say they tend to be more conservative—there are all kinds of rules governing their behavior, oversight and things like that. They're not known as risk-takers. Anything that comes to them that looks risky is not going to appeal to a government worker because they're not rewarded for taking risks in the government environment, because when they go bad, someone's head usually rolls. M