In a 2020 survey, 79% of small business owners said email is “important” or “very important” to their businesses. Take time over the coming weeks to establish an effective email marketing strategy for the holiday season. Start by adopting email marketing best practices, such as using email marketing software, dividing your email list into specific demographic groups, locations or other characteristics, and writing engaging subject lines. Next, consider what types of emails will be valuable to your customers during the holiday season, such as highlight sales, new products and services, pre-ordering and curbside pickup options, and shipping timelines that may interest your customers. After a customer first signs up for your email list or makes a purchase, follow-up with a “thank you” note and a discount code to stay connected to your customers. Avoid sending too many emails each week, or you risk losing subscribers (no matter how compelling your emails are)
2. Engage with customers on social media.
Social media is another great way to directly communicate with customers and market your business. Through social media, you can show why current and prospective customers should buy your products or services. If you’re a retail business owner, broadcast a Facebook Live event to showcase some of your latest merchandise and why they make the perfect gift. If you provide a service, consider marketing gift cards as holiday presents. Alternatively, you can explain how your services can ease the stress of the holiday season. Use hashtags and partner with other businesses to help your social media posts reach as many potential customers as possible.
3. Add a personal touch.
In some cases, you might not be seeing your customers in-person this year due to local regulations related to the pandemic. If you have a direct mailing list, send handwritten notes to customers to maintain personal connections. Post a compilation video of your staff on social media thanking customers for patronizing your business in 2020. As always, provide top-quality customer service by responding promptly to messages by phone, email, and social media. Small things can make a big difference when distinguishing yourself from the competition.
For an expert second opinion on your holiday marketing plans, reach out to local SBA resource partners, who can provide one-on-one advice and are available remotely. Take advantage of SBA marketing resources, including SBA Learning Center courses such as Marketing 101 and Social Media Marketing. Focusing on marketing this holiday season will not only boost your sales at the end of the year, but will also help you generate leads and build brand loyalty for 2021 and beyond.”
“The Covid 19 crisis has forced Feds and contractors alike to a new level of “digital transformation,” a forced migration to tools we were aware of but not necessarily using often or well: online meetings, telework, and leveraging social networks like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook more fully and more frequently.
With the physical re-opening of federal sites still in question, the need to adapt has never been greater. I have heard from different sources that federal offices will not return to any semblance of normal in this fiscal year, and possible not until calendar 2021.
In the meantime, here are a few ideas to win more business at the end of fiscal 2020 on Sept. 30.
First, relevant content, well written or produced, then properly deployed after production. Content can take many forms, from articles and blog posts, to videos and podcasts, from webinars to white papers, and much more. Studies from Market Connections, Inc, Hinge Marketing and others have not only demonstrated the value of content in the procurement process, but have shown it to be a critical factor when you are targeting specific contracts, going after business with a specific agency, or developing and showcasing an area of expertise.
Producing the content is step one, putting it where your target audience will find it is step two.
All content should be resident on your web site under a “Resources” button. After that, share it via social sharing and email. If you post it on LinkedIn, it automatically goes to your 1st degree connections via their “Home” page. If someone else shares it, it goes into their 1st degree network the same way.
Your content should be educational in nature and avoid any overt sales message. Just include contact info at the end and encourage readers and viewers to share.
Second, virtual events. By this time we should all be ZOOM-masters, right? I had been on ZOOM before Covid 19 sequestered us, but now I feel like I cannot live without it. ZOOM is massively more personal than a call.
Many events, even larger ones, have gone virtual with varying degrees of success. For those that didn’t quite make it, the problem may have been the tech backbone or the partner you chose to produce the event.
Vetting your virtual event provider and testing capacity is key, so start by asking your peers who they are using. If you attend an event that works, or that does not work so well, find out which platform was used.
If you are hosting an event for govies, make certain it is on a platform approved by their agency. If it is FedRAMP compliant, you should be OK. If not, rethink your platform.
Virtual events are here to stay.
Third, social selling. Social selling has been growing in importance over the last few years, but has now become critical. LinkedIn is the primary venue for this and the traffic on LinkedIn since the “stay at home” order has risen significantly.
Social selling is not traditional selling. It is the art and science of getting on the radar of a defined audience and staying on the radar in a non-intrusive way by leveraging social networks. It is not designed to replace traditional sales or business development, but to supplement and support them.
Sharing the content you develop is a social selling technique. Finding, liking and commenting on content shared by your prospects, is another technique. “Following” your prospects before reaching out is yet another. There are several easy-to-do social selling tactics.
Reaching out to connect with your prospect audience can be a social selling technique as long as you don’t send the LinkedIn connection “form letter.” Find a way to put the connection request in context of what the prospect does and what you bring to the table, but not a sales context.
“The government’s mobilization in the recent weeks to design a network of citizen-focused programs has been profound to watch—and in many ways represents the future of experience.
At the end of the day, a networked customer experience is not just the result of a technical solution; rather, it’s a deeper philosophical shift in a move from top-down transactional experiences to more integrated, co-equal relationships between government and citizens.“
“In a matter of weeks, and in some cases days or hours, many businesses have pivoted because of the pandemic to meet the needs of their customers and offer a completely different customer experience (CX). Similarly, hospitals and medical practices have started to pivot their business model to focus on telemedicine, and many small businesses that were never in the delivery space have shifted quickly so they can continue to bring goods and services to customers—and remain profitable during a challenging time.
But the private sector is not the only space innovating and taking a customer-centered approach to the public health crisis. Government agencies have also had to shift in significant ways to operate in this unique environment and interact with citizens differently. Here are just a few examples of what federal organizations have done in a very short period of time to continue meeting their mission to serve citizens:
On April 15, the IRS launched the Get My Payment web tool so the millions of Americans who will receive stimulus checks can track the status of their payment. Shortly after deploying this tool the IRS began monitoring usage trends and customer feedback to drive the creation of coronavirus stimulus-specific FAQ content and iterative agile application improvements. The IRS has been, and will continue, deploying updates several times each week since launch.
In order to stay accountable to the public and report on the nearly $3 trillion stimulus funds, the Treasury Department is updating the Data Act systems to update its tools to account for increased submission requirements by agencies spending CARES Act money. The department is making that information available to the public on USAspending.gov and the Data Lab in new visualizations and data downloads.
In order to re-open recreation areas safely and in accordance with safe distancing guidelines, federal land management agencies are using Recreation.gov as one of their tools to provide advanced reservations, manage visitation volume, distribute information, and offer online payment solutions to visitors.
And the General Services Administration’s Technology Transformation Services pivoted up to 20 percent of its talent pool, at times, to fast-paced response efforts—including the development of authentication technology for the Paycheck Protection Program run out of the Small Business Administration and which is keeping so many businesses afloat.
Moving Toward Networked Customer Experiences
In both the private and public sectors, customers are expecting interactions that are seamless, with access to a collection of features simultaneously. We refer to this as a “networked” experience model, where customers create value with multiple providers, and the experience depends on the value those providers deliver collectively. There are still experience challenges that are unique to government given its organizational and mission complexity.
There will be a time soon when those responsible for delivering federal services like social security, veterans’ benefits, and medical programs will be able to rethink the entire customer interaction. At the end of the day, a networked customer experience is not just the result of a technical solution; rather, it’s a deeper philosophical shift in a move from top-down transactional experiences to more integrated, co-equal relationships between government and citizens.
It’s clear that a networked services model has in many ways operationalized during this public health crisis, in which customer experience has taken on heightened significance. Federal organizations can’t afford major missteps, and agency leaders should take advantage of support resources for help navigating this complex new normal. Over the past few years several organizations and programs have been established, including the United States Digital Service, OPM Labs, GSA’s 18F and their IT Modernization Center of Excellence for Customer Experience, to help agencies evolve with a rapidly changing experience landscape. Lighthouse agencies (such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture) and Lead Agency Partners (such as the Department of Veterans Affairs) for customer experience have had fully operational CX practices in place since before the crisis, and their models can serve as a blueprint for others along their experience journeys.”
“We all know that, at a minimum, proposals must be compliant and responsive. If a proposal meets this minimum bar, the evaluator is likely to award it an Acceptable rating. But what if, despite several rounds of color team reviews, the proposal barely meets this mark?
A Mediocre Proposal
We can assume that an Acceptable proposal will not win in a federal government competitive best value trade-off, unless other bidders also submit Acceptable proposals, and price is the determining factor.
Under the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), government evaluators must make an award based on benefits offered by the proposer. Those benefits may include features of the proposed offering with proven benefits, or a low price, or some combination of the two. Still, unless the win strategy is based on a low bid, the goal of our color team reviews is to improve proposal quality. As a result, we would hope that our proposal rises from merely Acceptable to Good or even Outstanding as we move from Pink to Red to Gold Team.
However, we encounter situations where despite the best efforts of reviewers and writers, the proposal never rises above mediocre. Why did this happen? In the case of some recent reviews we at Lohfeld Consulting joined as consultants, there were too many reviewers with no training or direction, too many comments and too little consensus, too little time to recover between reviews, and an ill-defined solution.
A Compelling Solution is Rich in Strengths
Writers cannot create masterful text with no direction. Communicating the win themes to writers is not enough direction. Writers need annotated outlines and/or content plans with Strengths mapped to evaluation factors.
If the capture team did not work with subject matter experts and solution architects to craft a solution of merit, and/or failed to vet potential Strengths with customers, then the writers will not write about Strengths. The reviewers will therefore not find any Strengths. The proposal will therefore remain mediocre.
Ten Lessons Learned
The lessons learned below assume that the team has developed and vetted a solution rich in discriminating Strengths. Assuming there is a well-defined solution, here are ten lessons learned our team identified to improve color team reviews and proposal quality.
Types of Reviews: Not all color team reviews are created equal. Determine, up front, what type of color team reviews you will conduct and the purpose of each. We recommend that at least one group of reviewers act like a mock government source selection board to score and rate the proposal like the customer evaluation team. Every type of review should have discrete, well-defined roles that are clear and manageable.
Team Composition: Get the right people committed early and get the reviews on their calendars. Keep review team membership consistent across reviews. Involve proposal professionals in the review to inspect for quality of proposal writing tradecraft (including graphics). Also, involve independent reviewers who know nothing about the opportunity.
Training in the Art of Review: The right reviewers are trained reviewers. Make sure all the reviewers understand the proposal color team protocol. Set expectations for the reviews, provide agendas and scoresheets, and offer guidance/training on using automation, virtual proposal sites and/or evaluation tools.
Team Size and Review Duration: Size the review team and review duration to the proposal size and complexity. Ensure each reviewer has adequate time to review assigned sections. A good rule of thumb is 25-30 pages per day per reviewer. Ideally, two or more reviewers will review each assigned evaluation factor or proposal section for a complete picture.
Preparation: Ensure all review team members prepare in advance. Advance preparation includes reading the RFP, Q&A and amendments. The review team should also have access to the proposal manager’s compliance matrix and the capture manager’s win strategy. (If some reviewers are to act completely independent, do not provide the win strategy in order to see what a fresh pair of eyes finds).
Horizontal and Vertical: Review horizontally for cross-section consistency. Review vertically to determine if the proposal is compliant and responsive (Acceptable) as well as persuasive and compelling (Outstanding). Do reviews at multiple entry points in case customer evaluators review only one section or one evaluation factor.
Consensus: Review teams should have different roles. Some may be reviewing like a government evaluator. Others may be doing a compliance review. Still others may read the proposal for persuasiveness. No matter how you divide the roles, require each review team to provide a consensus out-brief including the proposal score or rating as well as perceived Strengths, Weaknesses, Deficiencies and Risks.
High Level Out brief: Avoid time wasting, long-winded out briefs. Instead keep the group out brief under an hour with a focus on a prioritized set of recommendations for improvement. Save details for one-on-ones with authors to speed recovery and improve quality.
Writer One-On-Ones: Too often, writers receive hundreds of comments and must fend for themselves during proposal recovery. Assign reviewers to fully brief the writers on consensus findings. Conduct iterative reviews before the next formal color team to ensure recovery is on track.
Lessons Learned: After proposal submission, conduct an internal lessons learned using a standard template. Which review processes worked, and which didn’t? Do you need more training in proposal solutioning, writing, and/or reviews? Develop and implement corrective actions as needed.
It All Begins with a Solution
Just write and solution later is the worst way to develop winning content. Yet, too often, reviewers are expected to evaluate proposal drafts that reflect the lack of a compelling solution. If you want color team reviews that work, solution before you write. Give writers effective templates and fully developed content plans with Strengths mapped to evaluation factors. Then, implement the ten lessons learned above, and see your color team reviews improve and win rates soar.”
“First, and always foremost, make sure your profile is up-to-date and fully represents what you do and who you do it for. An out-of-date or incomplete profile will probably cost you business instead of helping you win business. LinkedIn is the top venue for vetting professionals in our market, so present yourself well.
Second, find things to share. As you’re reading the GovCon trade media, listening to podcasts or reading blogs, find things that are worthy of sharing, things that your connections will find interesting and useful. I share events, podcasts (like Nick Wakeman’s Project 38 or Amtower Off Center), contract updates and more. And of course I will be sharing this article when it runs.
Third, reach out to key accounts. Touch bases with all of your connections and look for new connections to make in those accounts. When I am reaching out to new people in a company I am working with, or want to work with, one thing I always do is see who our “shared connections” are. If you share twenty+ connections with someone; that may be worth noting when you reach out. I have people with whom I share over 1,000 connections. Steve Cooper (yes, that Steve Cooper) and I share 1,328 connections.
Fourth, there are a lot of soft touches that you can make through scanning your Notifications page. There are always people who have changed companies, moved up in their current company, have birthdays, and more. For each of these I look at their profile before I send anything. I look to see who else I know at the company and glean anything I can to help me formulate a more personal message rather than simply send “Happy birthday” or “Congrats on the new job.” The more personal it is, the more memorable you become.
For example, a friend of mine just got a new position with a government contractor and I happen to know five other people at that company. So in my congratulatory message I referenced knowing these people and offering to do an introduction. In normal times this might not be necessary, but during the stay at home situation, she may not meet these people for a while. I’ve worked with this woman before and I know she’s extremely competent in what she does so in my introductions to the other people I know I have a high degree of confidence in saying “you just added a great person to your team.”
Fifth, scroll through your homepage to see what other people in your network are doing. This is like a Twitter feed and the more active your network is the more information will be there in real time. So scroll through and look for things that you can comment on, or congratulate people for, or otherwise acknowledge in some meaningful way.
LinkedIn offers you a 24/7/365 way of staying in touch with your 1st degree network. In our current stay-at-home environment this is extremely important.
These are some tip of the iceberg social selling techniques that I have been using and coaching my clients on for several years. They are especially effective at helping you stay top of mind in difficult times.”
“Next time you have something to share, people are likely to remember that you make your point quickly, and they may be more likely to give you another look. Violate that by boring them with verbosity or rehashed ideas and you are toast.“
“From 1989 to 1995, HBO presciently produced a comedy that predicted a phenomenon beyond our control, the ever-decreasing attention span. The show, Short Attention Span Theatre, soon become known as SAST (representing yet another growing phenomena- the acronymization of our language…talk about a short attention span).
As one might surmise from the name, SAST was a series of short skits and interviews, many of which were LOL (sic) hilarious. Among the hosts was a rising comedic star, Jon Stewart. This was eminently watchable TV for the simple reason that things happened quickly, and if you only had a few minutes to spare, you could watch, laugh, and move on without fear of missing a plot twist. Look it up on YouTube- it stands the test of time
I did a little research on attention spans recently and found that some people’s attention spans were now under ten seconds. TEN seconds.
Our attention spans are getting shorter. I won’t speculate as to why except to say that with the various technologies available the craving for instant gratification continues to outdistance our desire for deeper understanding. I’d blame Gordon Moore (see below), but he was simply pointing out the obvious.
Not only are attention spans getting shorter, but the majority of people are multi-tasking, especially the younger ones, which further reduces the attention given to each task.
So now we get to the crux of this matter: in marketing “content is king.” Companies seeking to grow marketshare have an ever-increasing need to put content into the hands of people who make buying decisions. Unfortunately, it’s likely that their audience lacks the time to consume the tons of daily content that’s coming at them from multiple directions.
And, like most, they probably have a shrinking attention span.
So, we have the collision of short attention spans with the desire to get the attention of decision makers, an audience that may or may not pay attention to your content even if it crosses their screen or even lands in their inbox.
Add to this the fact that content is being produced and shared at a breakneck pace. Think of this as Moore’s Law(1) where computing speed is replaced by the amount of content being generated, and instead of doubling every two years (Moore’s original concept), now it takes maybe a couple of months to double the amount of content being generated. As Moore implied, this is not a reversible condition.
With this addition to our “content is king” premise, how do we get the attention of the audience we seek?
Many marketers understand that being concise is key. I call it the word-per-idea ratio (2) where you strive to keep the ratio as tight as possible while retaining the ability to convey a concept. This is why many business videos, podcasts and blog posts are short. It is why I try to keep most of my articles and blog posts to under 500 words. Make one good point and make it fast. Next time you have something to share, people are likely to remember that you make your point quickly, and they may be more likely to give you another look.
Violate that by boring them with verbosity or rehashed ideas and you are toast.
The biggest problem is getting your content in the queue of the decision makers, and this is never a given. Even if it gets in the queue, a variation of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle(3) occurs: the timing– will it be found and read or will it miss being seen because it was not delivered in the venue (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) when your prospect was present?
Short attention spans + so much content + timing issues = black hole absorbing unseen content.
There is no simple solution to this puzzle. However there are ways to increase the odds in your favor, including
Try to produce good content that is germane to your audience
Only one main idea per piece of content
Use a compelling headline or title that highlights the topic you will discuss
In written pieces, use graphics
Cite original sources as necessary and when you can link to those original sources
Hashtag people and companies mentioned
Re-purpose the content into multiple formats
Place the content in venues where it will most likely find the right audience
Place it in those venues more than once (retweeting is great, posting on LinkedIn in different places should work)
Send it directly to those you really need to reach IF you have a relationship with them
Generate content on a regular basis, not on rare occasion
Make certain the content is edited for clarity and grammar
Ask viewers and readers to share (“If you liked this, please share it with those who might find it useful.”)
Care and feeding of regular viewers/commenters – comment back on comments and remember to say thank you
All of your content (or links to it) should be in one location on your web site
Is this too much to keep in mind when producing content? Initially, yes, but most of it becomes muscle memory with practice.
If and when I come up with a more practical solution, I’ll call it Amtower’s Content Marketing Law.
(1) Moore’s law: IT executive Gordon Moore wrote in 1965 that the speed of computing would double every two years predicated on the number of transistors a microchip can hold.
(2) I first heard the phrase “word per idea ratio” from Chris Trelease, then with telemarketing firm Sturner and Klein. I worked there while in graduate school and a short time beyond that, and I met and worked with some great people.
(3) Uncertainty principle, also called Heisenberg uncertainty principle or indeterminacy principle, statement, articulated (1927) by the German physicist Werner Heisenberg, that the position and the velocity of an object cannot both be measured exactly, at the same time, even in theory.”
“Entering government contracting as a small businesses is indeed a challenging time, but there are many opportunities awaiting you. Capitalize on those opportunities and win your first federal government contract.“
“One of the biggest challenges for a small business in government contracting is achieving that first major contract. A small business entering the field does not have a government contract past performance record to include in proposals to federal agencies. At the onset, the only qualifications that can be referenced are commercial successes and the individual expertise and qualifications of the owner (s), employees and management.
Here are seven small business management techniques to assist in achieving that first government contract:
1. Contingent Hire Agreements – Recruit prospective employees and associates who have previously worked in businesses that have contracted with the government. Such individuals bring expertise and qualifications with them and lend credibility to your enterprise.
A contingent hire agreement is one way to approach an experienced employee with the prospect of joining your firm at a later time when the business base is there to permit professional advancement. Under such an agreement the prospective employee agrees to contribute time and effort on a proposal for a new contract and is assured on paper by your company of a position on the project when it is awarded to your firm.
Such arrangements are generally recognized by the government as a credible way for new or start-up businesses to grow and agencies will accept resumes of experienced professionals in proposals from small business contractors with signed contingent hire agreements even though the personnel may not yet be on the company payroll.
Prospective employees of this type are often available from the retired or downsized ranks of prime contractors. Be aware that government procurement integrity regulations apply. Individuals should not be considered who have a potential conflict of interest in the project you are bidding due to a former association with the buying agency in a source selection authority role as specified in FAR Section 3.104.
You can download a recommended draft shell for a contingent hire agreement from the BOX “References” file in the right margin of Smalltofeds and obtain further guidance at the following link: Contingent Hire Agreement
2. Seek government solicitations for taking over incumbent work forces. In some cases the government designates base operations contracts, system support contracts and other service contracts at military installations or federal agency locations as small business set-asides. In certain of these contracts the services may have been performed until now by a large corporation which is no longer eligible to compete due to the small business designation of the current procurement. The employees of this large company become available for recruitment since they will lose their jobs at the location if they do not join the winning company. These individuals have built-in technical expertise on the project and government contracting backgrounds. Acquiring an Incumbent Work Force
3. Build government contract business system infrastructure such as estimating, pricing, proposal preparation, long-range planning and job cost accounting processes. These processes are particularly important if you do not qualify to sell under FAR Part 12, “Commercial Contracting” and you are in the services business. Having these key elements in place enables your company to bid large scale jobs consistently and to forecast, estimate and account for new government business. They also permit the company to pass site surveys and audits by DCAA and DCMAO in connection with proposals and contract awards. Having key infrastructure in place creates a favorable impression to prime contractors and other prospective teaming partners. Framework for Government Contract Business System
4.Team with large business contractors who have experience in the government contracting field. As part of such teaming arrangements they may be willing to trade-off their expertise and assistance for your particular technical skills and your small business participation as a subcontractor on new contracts. Remember large government contracting businesses are required to submit and perform to annual plans or buying from small business to the government. Failure to do so can jeopardize their current government contracts or place in danger the award of a project where a small business plan is required.
You have motivated large business prospective partners available to you in the government contracting community. Protect yourself with proprietary data agreements and insure that your company’s work scope for a given project is well defined in a thorough written teaming agreement. Large businesses will respect you for your professionalism when you demand a formal business approach. Teaming in Government Contracting
5.Submit and negotiate a General Services Administration (GSA) Schedule. Pre-establishing pricing and terms and conditions with the GSA lends credibility to your enterprise. Schedule periods can last from 5-10 years and simplify buying for your prospective government customers They can have confidence that the GSA has reviewed and determined that your rates are reasonable and they can be assured that the terms and conditions of your schedule have met the approval of the GSA. All they need to do is place a funded delivery order request for the supplies or services with the GSA against your schedule, negotiate the technical statement of work and delivery requirements with you and the deal is done. You can read more about pursing a GSA schedule at: Achieving a GSA Schedule
6. Pursue contracts which are set-aside for small business enterprises. If you are a woman-owned, minority-owned, veteran-owned or disabled veteran-owned business, seek government business solicitations which have been set aside with these designations. It is more likely that you will be competing against enterprises at that same developmental stage as your company by taking this approach.
If you are a small business with no other set-aside designations, seek teaming arrangements as a subcontractor with minority-owned, veteran-owned or women-owned businesses. 51% of a project (work scope, dollars and hours) must go to such designated businesses under such arrangements, but your part of the program is still significant and earns past performance credit. Your team members will not usually be your direct competitors but will be involved in lines of work that usually complement your business and enable the team to fulfill a scope that is larger than any single member could undertake alone. Teaming arrangements can result in winning larger jobs that can span a number of years in duration and mean good, solid cash flow for all participants.
7.Self-market to federal agencies with your capabilities statement and ideas for government programs. If you are a Minority-owned 8(a) or a Hub Zone-located small business, a government agency can sole source a procurement to you without competition under the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR). Even if you are not an 8(a) or Hub Zone firm, self-marketing has tremendous potential. There are over 50 federal government agencies with facilities, bases, locations and offices housing contracting officers and buyers all over the United States. Find the nearest locations to you via the agency search filters at SAM Contract Opportunities and send them a capabilities statement with a request for a meeting with their small business liaison officer. Your Capability Statemenr
Federal agencies are required by statute to meet with you. Once you are there find out the names and contact information of their technical management authorities who define requirements for acquisitions. Determine what the agency needs through research with the technical decision makers and on the web. Most agencies forecast their long range plans at sites available to the public. Define a creative project in terms of meeting your client’s needs and offer it to the agency points of contact as a prospective set-aside contract.
If the agency posts your self-marketed project for competition, you will still be in the driver’s seat during the proposal stage, having developed the concept and positioned yourself well ahead of your prospective competitors in terms of a solution with your customer. You may well have convinced the agency to set the program aside for a small business category in which you qualify Small Business :Set-aside :Designations . That leg up cannot be achieved after a solicitation has been posted to SAM Contract Opportunities.
“At its core, an effective marketing budget focuses on reaching strategic business goals. So before you start trying to estimate costs, it pays to set goals for exactly what you are trying to accomplish with your marketing.“
“As we rapidly move toward 2020, it is critical to build your marketing budget and plan for the year ahead. Here’s a step-by-step guide.
Step 1. Identify your business goals
If you want your firm to grow, for example, try to get specific about such questions as by how much, and by when? Your goals can also clarify which practice areas are the best targets for growth, based on such factors as where you’re already experiencing growth, and where you’re able to deliver the most value.
Step 2. Conduct target audience research
One of your key decisions is what type of research you need. Secondary research means locating studies that have already been done by other organizations on relevant industries, markets or trends. One example is the marketing budget research my firm does for professional services firms, but there are many other choices out there as well. Primary research, on the other hand, involves commissioning a study of your target audiences, and is more expensive.
Step 3. Establish your marketing strategy
This involves doing high-level planning to set the overall direction for your marketing. These decisions will help guide how you position your firm in the marketplace and deliver key messages about your firm to individual audiences. In general, an effective marketing strategy should have four key elements:
Findings about target audiences, including which of your services they value most, and why.
Your firm’s differentiators. This is one of the most elusive goals for many firms, but it’s worth every minute you can spend on it! Each of your differentiators must be true, provable and relevant to clients.
Your market positioning. Incorporating your differentiators, your positioning provides a cohesive and compelling story that helps you stand out from competitors.
Messages for each audience. These should be customized for each audience, and must support your overall market positioning.
Step 4. Identify your marketing techniques
Your research into your target audiences will reveal the preferred communications channels for each audience. Based on those preferences, try to find a balance between offline and online marketing techniques. Traditional (offline) marketing techniques have many parallels with similar efforts in the digital space.
Step 5. Decide where and how you’ll measure success
Most professional services firms track marketing result in three broad areas:
1 Business Outcomes — based on such metrics as revenue growth, new clients and leads, and profitability, all of which are typically tracked in one’s financial or CRM systems.
2 MarketVisibility — the most useful metrics usually focus on external website traffic, and more specifically the traffic to such places as your careers section and social media pages.
3 Subject MatterExpertise — useful indicators can include such metrics as number of white paper downloads, blog post views, or speaking event attendance.
Metrics can also include performance on deliverables and milestones, such as whether webinars events are happening on schedule, articles/posts being published, and others.
Step 6. Set expectations for effort and resources needed
Another aspect of your plan is setting goals for the level of effort that will be required from various sources. These considerations can range from how frequently you publish blogs or offer webinars, to what sort of external resources, training, software or website development services you need. Ideally, your marketing team will work together with your billable professionals and external resources to produce the desired result. Coordinating all of these activities can be quite a challenge, too — so consider using a marketing calendar.
Step 7. Establish budgets
The final step is to create your “bottom-up” marketing plan budget based on your decisions about the assumptions discussed above. Asking your vendors to estimate on specific projects and tools is fairly straightforward. However, estimating the cost of such ongoing activities as blogging or placing articles can be more complex. For example, managing the involvement of busy subject matter experts in the marketing process can be time-consuming, and estimating the costs involved can be a challenge.
Now compare your overall spending benchmark to your detailed “bottom-up” budget. If they are relatively close, that’s a good sign. If not, you may need to sharpen your pencil and recheck your assumptions. If you find that you need to reduce your budget, consider eliminating an entire technique or initiative, rather than an across-the-board reduction. Based on our experience, doing fewer things, and doing them better, delivers better results.
Best wishes on your marketing budget journey! “
About the Author
Elizabeth Harr is a partner at Hinge, [http://www.hingemarketing.com/] a marketing and branding firm for professional services. Elizabeth is an accomplished entrepreneur and experienced executive with a background in strategic planning, brand building, and communications. She is the coauthor of Inside the Buyer’s Brain, How Buyers Buy: Technology Services Edition; and Online Marketing for Professional Services: Technology Services Edition.
“Dig into the market to ensure your strategy is on point and defensible. There’s a mountain of publicly available information out there on your federal customers to inform your strategy.
Are you targeting the right government agencies based on their spending plans and priorities? Do you know which personas and titles influence the decisions, and are you able to identify the right media channels and partners to reach those individuals? “
“I’ve been through this process multiple times in both B2B and B2G organizations, and while there are more similarities than differences between the two, there are also some distinctions that are worthy of exploration. Countless articles exist to walk you through the general ins and outs of crafting a marketing strategy, so I won’t attempt to cover those here.
Instead, I wanted to share a few practical tips for public sector marketers who are (or soon will be) knee-deep in the process of requesting buy-in, resources and support from outside their marketing organizations.
The Public Sector Dynamic Adds Complexity
Many B2G marketers undertake the planning process while facing some or all of these realities:
The public sector leadership team must authorize their plans and budget requests.
That team likely includes sales leaders who (understandably) prioritize short-term demand generation activities to fill their pipelines for the coming fiscal year.
Marketing executives at the corporate office also may exert control over public sector marketing resources, campaigns, messaging, and priorities.
Headquarters decisions are influenced by a broader set of business objectives, messages, and campaign tactics that don’t always translate well into the public sector marketing realm.
Even in the best case scenario, government marketers are unlikely to get everything they need and will have to be resourceful in how they approach budgeting, resource allocation, campaign execution, and engagement from key personnel across their public sector and corporate marketing organizations.
If this sounds like your situation, read on for a few suggestions that can improve your chances of getting the buy-in, funds, and support you need to succeed in the year ahead.
If you’re modeling traffic projections, potential downloads, or lead conversions from paid campaigns, do you have relevant figures to back up your assumptions? Challenge your marketing vendors to make sure they’re giving you realistic performance data.
This is important for a few reasons. First (and most important), you want to make sure you’ve selected the right strategic and tactical approaches based on the available data. In addition, your audience will likely want you to justify how and why your choices were made (hint: “because we’ve always done it” is not an acceptable answer). Having that information available will help you defend your decisions and lend credibility to your recommendations.
Know Your Audience
Executives and sales leaders tend to be direct, action-oriented communicators who respect numbers and demand results. Think about what their priorities are, how they’re compensated, how they interact with you, and what motivates them. Do they prefer it when you get right to the point with high-level summaries, or will they want to dive into details? Do they want to see slides, spreadsheets, or both? Are they familiar with the marketing jargon and methods you are pitching? If not, do they have the patience for you to educate them? Keep these in mind as you craft your story.
Educate the Corporate Office
If you’re trying to sell your plans to decision-makers back at HQ, consider what they’re dealing with and how your needs map to theirs. They may be rolling out company-wide campaigns that cut across multiple verticals. Maybe they’ve prioritized new product introductions, staff consolidation, international expansion, rebranding activities, strategic messaging realignments, implementation of new marketing platforms, or all of the above.
They may not be familiar with the ins and outs of the public sector or understand why the approach they’re applying to every other “vertical” won’t work for you. They might be intimidated by what they don’t know about B2G and don’t want to admit it. Or they’re struggling to allocate resources and plan to emphasize generic campaigns over segment-specific approaches.
Think about how you can utilize your market data, historical performance metrics, case studies, customer feedback, and vendor relationships to help them understand where your plans fit in. Look for areas of compromise and reserve some resources to customize what they give you or outsource what you can’t get internally. Communication and prioritization are key here, along with some give-and-take to ensure all goals are met.
Align to the Sales and Business Strategy
If you can’t demonstrate how your plans will help public sector leadership generate revenue, retain customers, or achieve their stated business objectives for the year, you’ll just be seen as a cost center. That’s not a label you want to wear.
Consider taking a top-down approach to map your plans to their desired outcomes. Think through how marketing can impact the major sales and strategic goals, and build your outlines with those in mind. That may mean shifting items on your list to focus on driving new leads, targeting named accounts, or supporting specific activities that lead to upsells, cross-sells, partner recruitment, new contract awards, or other business priorities.
Set Expectations Up Front
The actions you take now will affect not only the plan for the upcoming year but also your ability to influence future negotiations. If you and your leadership can’t agree on what success looks like up front, you’ll forever be chasing wins while putting your credibility and career at risk. Even worse, you may not get credit when your plans are successful.
Make sure the decision makers understand the risks in your plan and are willing to accept them. Discuss organizational dependencies such as financial investments, new hires, market feedback from customer service, and ongoing sales engagement, including what will happen if those don’t come to fruition. Clearly establish what your joint service level agreements are for things like lead follow-up times and CRM usage, as well as how each stakeholder defines the phrase “qualified lead.” Is there tolerance for long lead times? Will you have the latitude to try new things, fail fast, and adjust if needed, or will that be viewed negatively?
It’s best to find out now while you can still adjust your plans. It’s also important to define and agree on the metrics each side will use to evaluate the results of your activities, as well as the format and cadence for reporting on them.
Start with a Winning Game Plan
Every organization approaches this process differently, and there’s no perfect way to proceed. But behind every good “pitcher” a lot of preparation, analysis, communication, and teamwork.
Working out these details now, before you’re standing in front of a crowd defending your investment requests, will determine whether your marketing pitch falls flat or wins the day.”
“A systematic marketing planning process can be adapted to a wide variety of challenges, from launching a new firm or practice area to repositioning an existing firm. Here is a brief overview of the most essential parts of the process.”
“1. Understand the business situation you are facing.
To gain a clear understanding of your business goals and any related constraints, look closely at such factors as:
Have new competitors slowed your growth?
Is price sensitivity limiting your margins?
Has your market become commoditized?
Base your planning process on regular, systematic marketplace research. To name just a couple of types of research that may be applicable, a SWOT analysis can help you organize and evaluate your business drivers, categorized by strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, or threats, while opportunity research studies the viability of different markets or target audiences.
2. Research to gain insights into your target clients.
In my firm’s experience, practicing professionals almost always have some misunderstandings or blind spots about key elements of how their clients make decisions. Fortunately, client or persona research provides insights into target clients and their process for selecting a firm.
For example, many marketing professionals correctly understand that their customers value them as trusted advisors; but what they may miss, however, is that few prospects are simply looking for a trusted advisor. Rather, they’re almost always seeking a firm to solve a specific business problem.
If you do research to understand this basic distinction — and develop your marketing plan accordingly — you will win more new customers … and then evolve into their trusted advisor.
3. Be smart about positioning your brand.
At its most effective, positioning elevates a brand to the point where people can’t help but take notice. A brand that is different and unexpected stands out from the competition and has a distinct marketplace advantage.
This starts with identifying differentiators — which is easier said than done. To truly be effective, a differentiator must be:
True — You can’t simply make it up; rather, you must live up to your promise every day.
Provable — You must be able to prove it, especially to skeptical prospects.
Relevant — It must be important to prospects during the firm selection process.
Next, use your differentiator(s) to draft a focused, user-friendly positioning statement: a short paragraph summarizing what your firm does and for whom — and why clients prefer you over competitors. Your various audiences (e.g., potential clients, referral sources, and employees) are interested in different aspects of your firm, so develop targeted messaging for each.
4. Define your service offerings — and then refine them.
Service offerings can get stale over time, so it’s a smart strategy to update them to keep your competitive advantage.
For example, as customers’ needs change, you may want to introduce new services. Your research might uncover issues many customers are not even aware of yet, such as an impending regulatory change, suggesting a range of possible service offerings.
Whatever changes you decide to make to your service descriptions, they should be informed by your analysis and research into your clients and competitors.
5. Identify your preferred marketing techniques.
Once you have gathered insights into how, where, and when your prospects are looking for information about firms like yours, your next goal is to make your expertise more visible and tangible to them — a result that we call Visible Expertise.
Achieving this requires a balanced marketing plan. What works best, according to our research, is a 50/50 blend of offline (traditional) and online (digital) techniques, as shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1. Traditional and Digital Marketing Techniques
6. Identify any new skills, tools, and infrastructure you will require.
If you’re considering new marketing techniques, you may also need new tools and infrastructure. Some of the most common are:
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
To keep your marketing teams up-to-date on today’s ever-changing digital tools, your choices are to learn, retain or hire. The fastest growing firms, according to our research, tend to use more outside talent.
7. Document your operational schedule and budget.
Be sure to include specific timelines and deadlines so you can measure your progress. Develop a marketing calendar that includes every tactic you will be using (blog posts, emails, tradeshows, and webinars) during the upcoming quarter or even the entire year. You may need to adjust this calendar — possibly as often as weekly. Build in consistency and predictability, but leave room for last-minute changes.
To build a budget, start with the tools and infrastructure mentioned above. Use benchmarks when available, and don’t forget to allow for contingencies (usually 5-10% of overall budget).
The next step is yours!
Of course, doing all this is often easier said than done — so my advice is to gather your team, do your research, and get started on your marketing!”
Elizabeth Harr is a partner at Hinge, [http://www.hingemarketing.com/] a marketing and branding firm for professional services. Elizabeth is an accomplished entrepreneur and experienced executive with a background in strategic planning, brand building, and communications. She is the coauthor of Inside the Buyer’s Brain, How Buyers Buy: Technology Services Edition; and Online Marketing for Professional Services: Technology Services Edition.