“The random approach taken by some is not marketing. It is wishful thinking, the misapplication of a valid and useful marketing tactic to satisfy the whim of a CEO desperate to create awareness for themselves or their company.“
“There are always new shiny objects littering the various avenues along web 2.0 (soon to be web 3.0?), tools that can be snarky or fun, tools employed in the realm of business to consumer, with Generation Zs or even with the Millennials.
Then there are mainstream tools such as videos and podcasts, animation tools and others that, when used well, have legitimacy across markets: B2C, business to business, and GovCon, tools that help the company gain real traction toward a definable, measureable goal.
But when you have a neophyte in the role of marketer, a person with the power of making decisions for the company, you have the potential for disaster.
Too often in companies of a certain size, the role of marketing, by default, goes to the founder, president, CEO. This often results in marketing by whim, the result of seeing a shiny object used by others, becoming enamored of that shiny object, and wanting to get one of your own. “Did you see that YouTube interview of John Smith, the CEO of Small Company One, the one with the cartoons? That was so cool! We need one of those…”
I have had numerous conversations with the owners of small companies regarding shiny objects. Some of those conversations go something like this:
Owner: “Hey Mark, did you see that (video, podcast, blog post) from Small Company Two? They got 2,750 (views, likes) and they probably got a ton of business from that. Can you help me do that?”
Mark: “Maybe, but to drive that much traffic you need to share information that resonates with your audience and you need to develop a following (subscribers, followers on LinkedIn, etc). It takes time. You’ll need to set realistic goals for what you want out of this and set some metrics. Are you prepared to do that?”
Owner: Sure, let’s try it and see what happens.”
One month later…
Owner: “We did two (podcasts, videos, blog posts) and we only got 12 views. This doesn’t work.”
This reminds me of the numerous times I’ve heard “We did a white paper and nobody read it.” I wish I was exaggerating but these conversations have occurred for years, and they are recurrent.
Getting traction from any marketing effort takes planning. Growing an audience takes time. With a little planning and guidance, many smaller businesses attract more attention.
These same founders/CEOs understand that winning business in this market takes time and planning.
They also need to understand that good marketing requires the same mindset.
“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.”
“Is a winning proposal a good proposal? Some argue that by definition, yes, a win is a good proposal. However, we all know that a proposal can be the winner for reasons unrelated to proposal quality—such as a price shoot out.
Therefore, when we look back at our win-loss track record, we miss a lot of important data if wins and losses are the only measures of successful performance. As a result, we may re-use a poor-quality proposal or dismiss a losing proposal that has some successful elements.
Are your proposals good?
In a Deltek webinar, Bob Lohfeld polled the audience to ask: “Are your proposals compliant, responsive, AND compelling?” Interestingly, only 15 percent of 150-plus respondents believed that their proposals were consistently achieving all three measures of quality. Another 35 percent responded that their proposals sometimes achieved all three. Meanwhile, 35 percent stated that their companies consistently do NOT achieve all three, while the remaining 15 percent responded that their companies do not even understand the importance of all three performance measures.
In my experience, bidders do focus on compliance (although often do not achieve that measure as I pointed out in a recent Washington Technology article). However, many do not fully understand the difference between a compliant proposal and a responsive proposal. And, many do not grasp what makes a proposal compelling.
Compliant versus responsive
Your proposal can be compliant but not responsive. How does that happen? The narrative complies with the instructions, evaluation criteria, and work requirements. The format, whether electronic or hard copy, conforms with the instructions. The proposal even includes a compliance matrix. However, the content fails to focus on the meaning behind the RFP words. The outline is correct, but the proposal narrative misses the mark, perhaps providing too much detail on topics the customer does not care about and too little on what they value.
Another common mistake that makes a proposal non-responsive is focusing too much on your company rather than the customer. The proposal can be compliant, but if every paragraph begins with your company rather than the customer, it is not responsive. Too much fluff, words that don’t matter, and unsubstantiated bragging can all reduce responsiveness. When evaluators read non-responsive content, they lose interest. Non-responsive content also reduces the evaluators’ trust in the bidder as a potential contractor.
Responsive versus compelling
Similarly, a proposal can be compliant and responsive, but not compelling. A proposal is compelling if it is rich in Strengths. Strengths in the federal market are features with proven benefits that have merit: exceeding requirements or significantly reducing mission or contract risk in a manner the customer values. The only way to understand what the customer values is to spend a lot of time with the customer listening to needs and then returning to discuss potential solutions. It is an iterative process, leveraging information gathered from a variety of customers to formulate potential solutions and then gathering feedback to refine the solution.
Using a Strength-based solutioning approach helps you identify potential Strengths, vet them with customers, and then articulate them in your proposal as part of your discriminating value proposition. Strengths make responsive content more compelling and make it easier for government evaluators to score your Strengths. Strengths also build trust because the proposal then demonstrates that the bidder understands the customers.
Other measures of goodness
Certainly, there are other valid measures of goodness. Lohfeld Consulting has seven proven quality measures that include compliant, responsive, and compelling as well as customer-focused, easy to evaluate, well-written, and visually appealing.
In proposal post-mortems, consider not only whether the proposal was a winner, but also whether it met the seven quality measures. If not, why not?
Was capture insufficient?
Did capture fail to identify Strengths?
Did proposal writing fail to articulate the value proposition in a compelling and customer-focused manner?
Was the proposal hard to read and lacking in visuals?
Was the narrative simply poorly written?
Even if your proposal resulted in a win, asking these questions is still valid because the proposal may have won despite its faults. There is always room for improvement.
Winning doesn’t validate the proposal’s goodness
I do a lot of proposal reviews and post-mortems. I have read proposals that are good and lost as well as proposals that are bad and won.”
“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.