"As government continues to pursue increased efficiency and effectiveness, there are increasing opportunities to market the products and services that support these objectives," said Bob Hahn, VP-strategy and development at Pitney Bowes Government Solutions. "Marketers must prove both that their products can help enhance the value of government programs to citizens and that they can help government manage within increasingly constrained budgetary guidelines."
Pitney Bowes has taken pains to show government procurement officials that it can make a big impact on e-government programs. "Pitney Bowes sees enormous opportunities around the data management demands generated by the e-government initiatives under way by federal agencies," Hahn said. "Citizens increasingly expect Web access to a large number of federal agencies, but the data they enter—for example, benefits processing information—very often generate physical documents in return. These physical documents must be securely managed and matched to digital records for accuracy and to protect privacy."
Hahn said that to be effective, marketing messages must clearly demonstrate how you can help government agencies pass muster. "We seek to ensure that all of our marketing and PR efforts are directly supporting the business objectives of the government organization we've targeted as a prospective customer," he said. "And it's a strategy that has worked well."
You must be approved
But marketing to the government isn't easy, even if you're a major player in the private sector. You can barrage potential government customers with messages night and day, but if you're not an approved vendor—and at the federal level—you won't be winning any business, said b-to-g marketing expert Mark Amtower.
"Companies new to the process will be surprised by how complex the negotiations can be at the federal, state and local levels," Amtower said.
And once marketers attain approved-vendor status, they must still compete in a very crowded market, said Stephanie Sadler, account supervisor for marketing agency SpeakerBox Communications (formerly the SheaHedges Group).
Awareness and differentiation are critical to success, Sadler said. On the awareness side, it is a matter of identifying who you are, what solutions you bring to the table and answering how those solutions can address some of the government's most critical issues, she said.
"Everybody seems to have an answer, so separating yourself from the competition is essential," Sadler said.
Market education is also important. "With so many issues and mandates to address, it's key that marketers become a source of information for government officials and work to tell those stories about how their companies' solutions are helping other agencies meet deadlines and solve problems," Sadler said.
The bottom line is that government managers are faced with many of the same challenges that befuddle their private counterparts: too much information, too much complexity and too little time to sort it all out, Hahn said. "Any type of marketing approach that does not recognize these constraints, and provide ways to get past them, will never make it past the mailroom door or the e-mail spam filter," he said.
"Two additional macro-level challenges that are making marketing to government managers more difficult are the move to bigger and more all-encompassing contracts, and the need to build strong relationships with the systems integrator community," Hahn said. "The move towards Government Wide Acquisition Contracts (GWACs) that consolidate offerings for procurement managers favors companies that can assemble a broad suite of services as opposed to those offering a more narrow set of solutions."
Depending on what product or service you offer, this may mean marketers will have two audiences to approach to win government business, government procurement officials and the systems integrator community, Hahn said.
"As much as 70 cents of every dollar spent by the federal government goes through systems integrators, so a company must foster strong relationships in that channel as well, something that Pitney Bowes has strived to do," he said.
Media still a good choice
Leveraging the right media can help build those strong relationships, Sadler said. "They continue to be some of the best sources of information for government procurement officials, especially during the buying season when they are researching their options," Sadler said. "Working with government publications and Web sites in the areas of thought leadership, product reviews and case studies can create incredible ROI."
Sadler said her agency is helping its clients get more creative with customer reference programs in the government space. Case studies are gold, but hard to come by in b-to-g marketing because of the government's inability to endorse particular vendors.
"If a case study is impossible, government customers can still act as references in thought leadership projects such as conferences and white papers that aren't overt product endorsements," Sadler said. "In any case, with government customers, it's about patience and working with them to identify what they're most comfortable with and not fighting their mandated processes."