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What agencies want to hear when buying IT

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Federal agencies can be great customers because they remain some of the biggest spenders and their budgets stay fairly stable even during economic downturns. Yet sales and marketing teams used to marketing to consumer or commercial enterprise customers often find that their efforts fall flat in the government space -- wasting everyone's time in the process.

That’s because talking to the government customer can require a different approach, including the channels used to reach that audience and the messages included. Understanding those needs and preferences can help contractors and feds alike.

We recently surveyed 150 top government executives involved in the decision-making process for IT purchases, to understand directly how they get the information that helps inform their purchasing decisions. The results provide a road map for targeting this audience -- and a valuable look in the mirror for agency leaders who wonder if there are better ways to gather the information they need.

For example, when it comes to learning about new IT services, solutions and products, it’s clear there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Forty-four percent find that the most valuable attribute when considering their options is having previously worked with a contractor or hearing good things about that contractor from others. Nearly the same number of those respondents -- 39 percent -- find that vendor websites are important to them, followed closely by technology trade publications (38 percent). Further down the list are trade shows (25 percent), webinars (23 percent) and social media (21 percent).

What this means is that an organization targeting the government customer must plan carefully to be in the right places with the right messaging. The survey results suggest that marketers must first emphasize messaging that reinforces the customer’s familiarity with their brand; agency decision-makers need to feel that the selection is not a risk. Second, a dedicated website or landing page that targets this market and is readily findable is essential. Third, marketing efforts should be supported by a thought leadership campaign. Trade shows, webinars and social media should also be part of the mix.

It’s not that any one strategy is consistently favored over another. It’s that resources must be allocated to a blend of activities, mapped carefully to how these audiences prefer to get the information they need.

Government IT decision makers want information on products and solutions, and they want to be able to find them easily and targeted to them. In our survey, 43 percent found an information website on that solution to be the most useful type of information, and 30 percent said that specific digital campaigns were effective for them.

Our takeaway is that this target audience is happy to go to your website and engage with your digital campaigns if those resources provide the information that agencies need to evaluate their IT challenges. What’s important is having digital resources that speak to mission needs, and that are not hidden behind a larger commercial-focused website or campaign.

We asked how likely these decision makers would be to download information to learn about new IT services, solutions and products. Forty-three percent said they would download a white paper or case study, while an additional 33 percent said the same for an infographic and 31 percent for other premium content. The lesson here is that good content is in demand.

Our survey also found that several key messages resonate with government IT decision makers when trying to decide on a set of services, solutions or products. First and foremost, they want to choose a brand that they are confident has the ability to deliver -- a contractor with a record of solid IT support and specific experience on that issue. Cost is less important, but agencies want a contractor who understands the issue at hand, who has experience with the specific project tasks under consideration and has a solid reputation for past performance. Here are some of the specific findings:

  • 75 percent want confidence that the contractor can deliver.
  • 70 percent want to know that they have experience specific to the agency’s needs.
  • 67 percent cite good service as a key factor.
  • 62 percent focus on the quality of that solution.
  • 55 percent report that innovation is important.
  • Cost is the least important differentiator.

When these types of messages are delivered across multiple channels, companies can see great results with the government market. Without recognizing the significant differences in what resonates with this audience, those efforts may just fall on deaf ears.


About the Author

Donald Goldberg is a co-founder of Bluetext.

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