Reproduced with permission from © Copyright 2023 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc.

When business-to-business (B2B) companies step into the federal market, they usually know their products and services will need to stand up to rigorous defense and civilian government requirements. They also accept the risks and rewards of a long, complex procurement process in a highly competitive market.

However, what many B2B companies overlook are the nuances of business-to-government (B2G) marketing. While some channels and tactics of B2B marketing are useful for government contractors (GovCons), the underlying approach should be different to meet federal customer needs.

What do government buyers really want from your GovCon marketing? Here is a glimpse of the differences between commercial and federal buyers and tools to support your government customers through your sales and marketing campaigns.

Differences in Commercial, Federal Buyers

Because commercial and federal buyers have different goals, interests, and decision-making processes, they have different needs for your sales and marketing cycle.

Courtesy Boscobel Marketing Communications
Federal government and defense buyers value education from and relationships with their contractors.

Successful marketing strategies align with the customer buying journey.

For business-to-business, the buyer moves through a process of:

  • Awareness: A buyer initially becomes aware of your brand—your company name and your product/service category.
  • Interest: The buyer is interested in your brand, your products, and how you can impact their business or experience at work.
  • Evaluation: At this stage, a buyer is interested in buying something. They are evaluating products, services, and companies to see which is the best fit for their needs.
  • Purchase: The buyer (team) selects two or three finalists before making a final selection and purchasing with one.

A business-to-government customer moves through a somewhat different process:

  • Awareness: A buyer initially becomes aware of your brand—your company name and your product/service category.
  • Education: The buyer is interested in learning about the kinds of products and services that may be able to advance their mission or operations.
  • Trust: Over time, the buyer gets to know a short list of people and companies. These people will want to know about the GovCon’s expertise, past performance, and reputation. Once trust is built, the buyer may create and maintain a small pool of contractors who serve as educators and sounding boards as the customer gets closer to selecting a solution.
  • Award: Contract awards go to the vendor partner who provides the greatest value. Technical excellence, price, and collaborative support are all key factors.

Courtesy Boscobel Marketing Communications A successful GovCon marketing strategy aligns tactics and communications with each stage of the buyer process to build relationships and trust. Ideally, marketing works closely with business development and capture teams to coordinate activities.

Building Awareness

Getting your brand in front of potential buyers can be a numbers game. The more times you insert your brand into the market, the more likely a potential customer will see you. Quantity does not outweigh quality, though. Each content nugget may be the one that creates a first impression for a potential buyer. Be strategic in what you do, how you look, and what you say—even with your shortest content.

To build awareness with federal buyers, start with these tactics:

  • Social Media. Government executives use LinkedIn first, followed by Facebook and Instagram. Post regularly on your social platforms to share your company’s perspective on hot industry topics, promote relevant industry news articles and the reporters who write them, showcase your culture, and highlight company milestones. Make sure it appears as thought leadership rather than self-promotion.
  • Press Releases. A press release sharing “hard news” (e.g., contract awards, executive hires, partnerships) can be both timely and has some “staying power.” When you post a well-written, timely release on your website, it can boost your search engine optimization (SEO) for months. When you post it on a newswire, it can boost SEO for a year or more.
  • Podcasts. Most companies are staying away from producing their own podcasts since they’re a heavy lift. However, there are many good, active government podcasts out there. Find one that fits your marketing goals and connect with the producers to see if your company’s key executives may be a good fit as interviewees. Again, the goal is to educate and not self-promote.
  • Industry Awards. There are awards for innovation, leadership, service, culture, and more. If you belong to industry associations such as AFCEA, SECAF, ACT-IAC, or PSC, nominate your people and your company to showcase accomplishments. There are also local technology councils that host awards. Just being named a finalist is something to celebrate. You can tout the recognition on your website, sales presentations, and proposals for years, making it a worthwhile investment in time and resources.

Educating Your Market

Government buyers are not looking to be “sold” to. They are eager for education about the industry, issues, technologies, and processes. Providing educational content that is NOT product or service-focused, helps to position your company and experts as resources for customers.

Thought leadership may be a heavy lift for small and mid-sized GovCons, but even a few strategic blogs or white papers could support the view of your company as an educator and collaborator.

Educational content can include:

  • White Papers. A good white paper will be relevant for a year or more. Resist the urge to use a white paper to sell your products and services. Instead, use the paper to take a deeper look at evolving technologies or to connect the dots across industry trends. Offer potential buyers a better understanding of the challenges federal agencies may be facing and what’s happening in the market that could help address them.
  • Blogs. Blogs have a shorter “shelf life” than a white paper, but they’re also faster to write. A blog or a blog series can be a practical, valuable tool to share information about trends, innovations, and breakthroughs in the market.
  • Webinars. Like a white paper, a recorded webinar can be useful for a year or more. Your company can host the web event or participate in a webinar with an association. Just make sure that your subject matter expert clearly communicates best practices that are valuable to government participants.
  • Events. In-person events are back, and the government is attending. When you go, plan how your conversations, your booth presence, your sponsorships, and/or your speaking engagements will educate and serve potential customers and partners.

Building Trust That Lasts

Trust comes from repeated contact over time and affiliation with trusted others. Relationships that are formed in the first two stages can be strengthened and reinforced with the right marketing activities.

  • Associations. Which associations do your customers belong to? Join those associations and become actively involved! It doesn’t help the company if you just pay the fee. Real trust is built by working side-by-side on committees, papers, and panels.
  • Co-Branding. Small GovCons get big rewards through relationships with large GovCons and trusted primes. If you’re entering into a partnership agreement, mentor-protégé relationship, or joint venture, outline joint marketing activities in the teaming agreement upfront.
  • Public/Private Collaboration. Government agencies and educational institutions are eager to collaborate with innovative government contractors. Look for ways to engage with standards bodies and educational programs to help shape best practices for the future.

Earning the Contract Award

Make it a practice to engage with government buyers before, during and after a big contract RFP is released. It can be a multi-year process to generate awareness, provide education, and build trust in the government market. But every strategic effort you put forth to serve the customer will bring you progressively closer to earning a contract award.

Over time, as your brand and reputation precede you, you’ll spend more time in the later stages of the buyer journey. But keep up the “awareness” activities, too, because your next government customer may be just about to discover you!