In an increasingly competitive federal marketing environment, many federal contracting incumbents, no matter how large or small, are losing their incumbency. More often than not, it is not because of their lack of ability, human capital, or technical aptitude but as a direct result of doing a poor marketing job of understanding the latest personality transformation that their federal agency program customer went through. In other words, since the last time you’ve won, what are your federal customer pain points, what motivates them to buy, purchasing trends, and unmet market needs are essential to successful and quantifiable strategies.
But many federal contractors with incumbency don’t always do as much as they could or should to determine these factors. And sometimes they make the mistake of thinking they know all the answers. These assumptions can lead to dangerous—and costly—mistakes. At Borenstein Group, we work with many federal contractors in No-Man’s-Land, where the competition comes from Small or Large Business, and the question we always recommend our clients ask is: what don’t I know about my federal customer?
If you’re a marketing champion, here are some ways you can ensure that your company isn’t assuming it knows everything.
1. Shadow Your Program Management during IPR & Quarterly Review Meetings and Presentations
Your program people onsite are on the front lines of understanding buyer’s needs and creating solutions to meet them. The domain knowledge the program team has is integral to your federal marketing strategy. But it will need to be shared with you at headquarters, if it is to be converted to revenue driven strategic marketing. And there’s no better way to obtain that front lines knowledge than in the trenches. When was the last time you shadowed a program manager on a customer call?
You will hear what questions the customer asks and learn first-hand what their “hot buttons” are. In reality, this often tends to be different than internal assumptions. Although your role will appear to be passive, you must have objectives for the calls you attend. What do you want to learn about your prospects and/or current customers through these interactions? Examples include:
- Ways in which their current providers are falling short.
- Their perception of your company based on what they’ve seen online, through ads and at tradeshows.
- Why they’ve agreed to meet with your organization.
These ‘sales calls’ are prime opportunities for you to obtain this sort of critical and fundamental intelligence. Use them wisely. Oh, and if done right, this initiative can also go a long way to creating an optimally positive working relationship between your sales team and your marketing team. This solid relationship will translate into improved communication, shared interest and a better ROI for your company.
2. Analyze customer base to discover trends
Knowing your market segments and understanding trends in product and service sales is important in understanding your base. What are you federal customers’ buying habits based on agency or program size, revenue, business model, region, etc? Did they switch from having an older PM with tenure to a new career-oriented young buck that wants to create a new legacy in his agency? If you haven’t already done so, mine your data to uncover hidden market trends just waiting to be discovered.
By identifying groups of similar customers and prospects, you can better understand their behavior and respond with tactics to meet clearly defined needs.
By better analyzing and segmenting your universe of customers and prospects, your organization can hone your strategic message. You’ll also be better positioned to launch specific initiatives based on individual market segments. This targeting will better help you spend your marketing budget.
3. Conduct customer surveys
Most of us think we know why our customers buy from us. This is another high-risk assumption. Once the sale is made, we often neglect to ask this simple question: Why did you buy from us? But the insight marketers can learn from these six little monosyllabic words (and pass on to our sales colleagues) is remarkable.
Of course, you can conduct very sophisticated web, mail and phone based surveys. But this simple, essential question must never be neglected. Understand why you are winning deals, customer by customer, segment by segment, and replicate these themes throughout your marketing materials and all other customer touch points.
4. Focus groups
Focus groups are an often under-utilized tool that provides valuable information about what your clients like about your products and services, and what you need to do to keep their business and get more like it. For many small and even mid-sized companies, focus groups are often seen as cost prohibitive. Compare the costs of pioneering a little-known path, driven by untested assumptions, however, and focus groups may actually add up for your organization. The caveat, of course, is that you absolutely must have clear objectives on the outset.
5. Increase touch points into the customer base
On a tactical level there are many ways for you to begin increasing touch points—and measuring results. Encourage buyer feedback and user content on your web site, through blogs and newsletters, webcasts, etc.
If the idea of opening your kimono to the world to express their opinions about your company scares you; start off slowly with content you can closely monitor. The feedback you will get can go a long way to understanding the merits (and shortcomings) of your offerings and helping you craft effective strategic marketing.
As the headline said, “Incumbent, Shmincubment”, the worst thing you can do is ASS-UME that your contract is safe. The only safe thing is to think creatively, not accept conventional wisdom, and do your marketing home work.