Marketers tap into bids

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Marketers tap into bids
Marketers tap into bids

Government work can provide b-to-b marketers the opportunity for big contracts with some careful planning. However, marketing to the government is clearly not the same as marketing to the private sector.

"Targeting is important for any direct marketer, but it is especially important in the government market because your contract and your product have to match a particular need," says Mark Amtower, partner at Amtower & Company, a marketing company that specializes in government contracts.

Government agencies have to conform to a set of standards when they are making purchases, and they also have to follow schedules. Some government contracts might favor minority or women-owned businesses. This is often specified in the RFP, so find out before you pitch.

"The sales cycle for government is a long process; you need to take a long-term approach," adds Amtower.

A company seeking work with the federal government must register in both the Central Contractor Registration and Online Certs & Reps databases. Marketers can find government RFPs through services like Onvia.com or through the Federal Business Opportunities website (FBO.gov) for contracts worth $25,000 or more.

Many state governments host similar sites, such as California's e-Procurement site, www.eprocure.dgs.ca.gov/, and require companies to preregister for opportunities or obtain a specific certification. GSA accreditation, for example, is required at the federal level for any orders worth $3,000 or more.

Following the RFP requirements precisely will improve your odds. "Give them exactly what is asked for, including the format and font," says Amtower.

Like in the private sector, relationship building is a good strategy for the government market as well. This can be done through regular e-mail newsletters that offer helpful information for a client, or through webinars and podcasts, which also serve to keep a marketer top of mind.

"Government groups are about fulfilling their missions for citizens, and if you can help them do this, you have the opportunity to win business," adds Mike Mullen, VP of the federal sector at INgage Networks, a digital marketing services agency.

Case Studies

Acquisition: Decorating with Fabric

Decorating with Fabric, a contractor that sells window fixtures to architects and designers, was looking to reach a new audience after closing its commercial showroom, so it began targeting government business earlier this year.

While awaiting its GSA accreditation, the company began reaching out to government buyers for smaller transactions, and focused on building its contact list for future marketing.

"The toughest thing about the government is to figure out who the right people are for making purchases," says Neil Gordon, principal at Decorating with Fabric.

Decorating with Fabric started collecting e-mail addresses on its website, through webinar registrations and by plain old business-card exchanges at industry events. As the list grew, the company began sending e-mail newsletters in January that offered informational tips and news for customers or potential clients.

"I wanted to stay top of mind for customers, and give them something to think about, even if they may not have a need for window coverings today," Gordon says. "My goal was to collect as many e-mail addresses as I possibly could, and send out e-mails twice a month."

Since Decorating with Fabric began targeting government in January, the firm has grown its e-mail list by 8%. The design company continues to use regular e-mail newsletters and webinars to help educate customers and p

otential leads. "It's all about being educational," remarks Gordon.

After its initial foray into the sector, the company sees continued opportunity. As part of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's push to make New York City "greener," the city is retrofitting old city buildings with more modern window treatments to help maintain temperatures and save on heating and cooling. Decorating with Fabric plans to go after this business.

Gordon adds that Decorating with Fabric's e-mail messages that are about green subjects have a 3% to 4% higher click-through rate than regular newsletters.

Acquisition: CDW-G

CDW-G found that President Obama's economic stimulus program was a great opportunity to make further inroads with local and state governments. CDW-G is a unit of business and technology supplier CDW that focuses on government, education and healthcare. Localities that received funding from the government had to apply for money within a short time frame, and then turn around and spend it within a specific period in order to help stimulate the economy. CDW-G recognized this as an opportunity, betting that local governments would seek to spend some of the money overhauling their office technology like printers and Wi-Fi networks.

Instead of just blindly pitching products to governments, though, CDW-G took an aid-and-assist educational approach. It put together a how-to guide for localities interested in applying for the newly available federal funds.

"There was considerable confusion on the state and local side about how to apply for these funds, yet these local agencies were really in need," says Ann-Marie Clark, senior director, public sector marketing at CDW-G. "The catalog gave detailed information to help them apply."

The CDW-G campaign ran December 2009 and January 2010 using a direct mail catalog piece and e-mail. The direct mail piece included detailed information about how to apply and qualify for federal funding, and the e-mails offered an overview of similar information, which pushed recipients to a website where they could download a digital copy of the catalog.

CDW-G reported more than 1,000 downloads of the catalog. The campaign is ongoing as funds continue to be released, so the company did not yet have other metrics available.

"The strategy was really to help the customer figure out how to get government money that they could spend on information technology," says Clark.

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