Breaking Into the Lucrative Government Market
Chief Marketer recently asked business-to-government consultant Mark Amtower for tips on marketing to state and federal government agencies.
“It’s gotten even more convoluted, and there’s a lot of competition,” says Amtower, author of the recently released "Selling to the Government." “That doesn’t mean you can’t get in the market, but you have to set your expectations realistically.”
This means understanding that even by typical business-to-business standards, the buying cycle is long. And, marketers must have a handle on how to best utilize both traditional and new media to build relationships with government purchasers.
Fact And Fiction
The two most common misconceptions about the government market are that it’s almost impossible to break into—or that it’s full of low-hanging fruit, just waiting for the easy picking, says Amtower.
The reality is that you can get in—if you know what you’re doing. Some marketers think that they can walk into a Small Business Administration office and just sit down and wait to be awarded a contract. But SBA officers don’t award contracts.
“They’re there as your guide,” notes Amtower. “Think of them as your initial adult supervision in the market.”
B-to-B marketers in general are used to a longer buying cycle, and government procurement is no exception. And if you’re selling services, be prepared for an 18- to 24-month process to win business, he says.
Still, it can be worth the wait: Government order sizes tend to be 10% to 15% higher than normal B-to-B orders. “And the cool thing is that the government always pays, and not necessarily as slowly as people might think.”
Put It In The Mail
Direct mail can be a great tool, as long as you’re trying to reach agencies based outside of Washington, D.C., says Amtower. Why? Simple. Because of anthrax, mail going government offices is still irradiated. So if you mail a simple #10 envelope that can stand the procedure, fine. “But if you’re mailing a full-color brochure, it will likely be delivered as papier-mâché.”
A problem for catalogers is that cornstarch is usually used by printers to keep the copies separated after printing. The white powder often adheres to the pages and leaves a residue, which can look suspicious to mailroom managers.
B-to-B marketers mailing into government agencies must also take extra care with their mailing lists. You can’t just send to a title, advises Amtower. In a large facility with thousands of people, mailroom managers don’t have the time to look up who the “procurement officer” is, and will just toss your piece if it isn’t addressed to a specific person.
Still, mail can be a great way to reach government agencies. VA facilities, for example, can be very receptive to direct mail, he notes.
The Feds Get Social Too
Social media is being used more and more by federal and state government employees. While most government CIOs and webmasters aren’t keen on folks doing outreach in very public forums like Facebook, LinkedIn is much more accepted, he says. “The discussion areas in some groups are very robust—when you post you won’t get responses from everybody, but the responses you do get will be very thought out.”
And then there’s GovLoop, a social network of about 30,000 people that was started as an information sharing platform for federal employees. “It’s a great place to interact with government people, but not sell directly to them,” says Amtower. “You’ll find people talking about everything from tech issues to which health plan to choose.”