As someone who spent 10 years marketing consumer goods, it was somewhat of a shock—no, it was a BIG shock–when I started marketing to government customers. While some of the principles of marketing apply to the government market—analyze and target your market, have a strong value proposition, differentiate your offering—general marketing and selling tactics need to be adapted for government buyers. Here are five things I learned about B2G marketing and selling:
1) Getting a return on investment or saving money are not always goals for the buyer. This may occur for several reasons: a) As a government entity there is no profit goal, and while they may have a budget, the buyer also wants to spend to that budget to get the same or higher budget allocation next year; b) There is a disconnect between the purchasing process and the goals of the end user or budget manager; or c) The purchase is paid for by a set grant or allocation amount. To avoid losing business on this assumption, it is critical to understand the government agency’s goals, budget, procurement process, and allocations prior to positioning your product.
2) Not all publicity is good publicity. Except for government executives with political aspirations and transparent goals, most government agencies and staff want to stay under the radar. As such, a company that has even a hint of controversial press will lose desirability as a vendor. Media coverage (including social media) that focuses on the company’s thought leadership and value to it’s clients, employees and community are a few of the safe media options for government vendors.
3) The lowest price doesn’t always win, and may even hurt the bidder. While most government procurements consider price in the decision process, a bid too low may signal that the bidder does not understand the scope of work or that they are not credible to deliver a high value product. Further, when purchasing complex services and products, governments often weigh vendor capabilities stronger than price. Understanding the procurement’s scoring method along with careful market research of past purchases by the government buyer, and a competitive review of publicly available information is critical for all government bids.
4) Workload of the government agency is often a big factor in determining whether or not to make a purchase. Most government staffs run lean, and their IT teams run even leaner. Purchases of products or services that require extensive oversight, implementation resources, and coordination with IT and other government departments will not be viewed favorably, regardless of the long-term impact of the product. When developing and marketing products for the government market, careful consideration to the ease of implementation, integration, and execution of these products into a government environment is a critical success factor.
5) Sometimes politics wins over reason. A marketer may have the best available product, flawless marketing, high value pricing, impeccable customer service, and be a perfect match to the needs of the government agency and still not gain any traction. Sadly, this is a common occurrence. Government marketing sometimes has more to do with the external factors than the seller’s capabilities. Longstanding vendor relationships, lobbying by interest groups, personal agendas of government executives and legislators, and general inertia can be detriments to marketing efforts. As such, companies that have an interest in selling an idea or products to government need well-constructed government relations strategies as part of their overall marketing effort.