Talking the Talk in D.C.

By Published on .

Most Popular
One of the first missteps b-to-b marketers make when they initiate a business-to-government marketing program is either not using “govspeak” or misusing it. Govspeak is the jargon those in the b-to-g market—feds and contractors alike—use. It's an acronym-laden language arcane enough that many federal websites provide glossaries.

If you understand that the GSA Schedule is an IDIQ GWAC, you probably don't need to continue reading. (GWAC, by the way, is a word in govspeak and is pronounce gee-wack.) However, if you don't know that GSA Schedule is an indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contract that is a governmentwide contracting vehicle, read on.

Over the years I have seen space ads in government trade publications and brochures at government-focused trade shows talk about “what your company needs” and “profitability.” Government agencies are not companies, nor are they profit-driven. They are focused on mission, not profit.

Out of curiosity, more than once I have responded to such ads, picked up a phone and dialed into a call center that had absolutely no clue when I asked if their product was on GSA, SEWP (pronounced soup) or ECS. These are three major IDIQ GWACs that are used by federal employees.

So what's a marketer to do?

As with other sectors, before trying to break into the market a little research goes a long way.

First, try to familiarize yourself with the lingo by reading government trade publications or listening to Federal News Radio. (Yes, there is a radio station for feds—, 1500 AM in Washington, D.C.) It may take a while, but the education is worth it.

Second, run prospective advertising by a focus group of feds to see how they respond. Like any other market, there are research firms that focus exclusively on the government market and can help with marketing materials.

Third, train your staff on enough govspeak so as not to appear totally out of the loop. Host some internal training. You might go so far as to hire someone who has sold to the government before.

The government market is different in many ways, but one of the fastest ways to exit the market is to enter without knowing the language. Learn the lingo and you have a major advantage.

And FYI: SEWP is not an appetizer. It is the oldest continuously running GWAC in government.

Mark Amtower is senior consultant at Amtower & Co. He can be reached at

In this article: