Ask Joe: Five Common Mistakes Marketers Make When Targeting Government

Joe Morris, vice president of research for e.Republic, Government Technology's parent company, writes about pitfalls people make when trying to market to the public sector.

by / September 29, 2017

Editor's note: Ask Joe will be a recurring series where Joseph Morris, vice president of research for e.Republic, Government Technology's parent company, answers commonly asked questions from those working in the government technology market. It has been edited for length and cohesion.

What are some mistakes and misconceptions marketers have about selling to government?

Right now, I’m seeing a lot of confusion coming from advertising agencies and marketers in the state and local government market. This confusion results in these organizations making mistakes with leads that ultimately result in a lack of a return on investment (ROI). Let’s walk through the most common and costly mistakes with leads.

1. Once they download my content, they are ready to buy

Just because a person downloads a paper or attends a webinar or event doesn’t mean he or she is looking to buy now, or ever. Each lead represents a person with an interest in the topic, and they may be a decision-maker or an influencer. You need to think of a lead as a traction point in an account that must normally be nurtured into an eventual purchase. Leads can come in at different stages in the purchase cycle, so understanding the customer journey and where your lead is at in that process will be key. 

2. The CIO is my buyer, so I should focus all my marketing on them

There is a tendency to focus only on IT decision-makers and senior-level roles and toss out all other titles/leads. Clearly, having the CIO read your whitepaper is a good thing, but tossing out all roles is like throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Our research has shown that public-sector organizations spend upwards of 12-18 months conducting research prior to procurement. This research is typically assigned out to various staff members. One of our 10 laws of sales and marketing to the public sector is that buying decisions are made by groups. You cannot neglect the multiple points of purchasing influence in the procurement process. These individuals can be an early indicator of a future procurement. 

3. My sales team should reach out to every lead with the same information

Pursuing each and every individual lead is not always worth your time. However, working the list in a thoughtful way can lead to more success. For example, I tend to look for the following things:

  • Roles and titles

I segment lead lists by roles and titles. While I don’t toss out titles, I will prioritize them based upon their role in the decision-making process. Understanding who makes the decisions within the target jurisdiction determines how you follow up with them. 

  • Concentration of activity

Beyond roles and titles, I look for concentration of activity over the duration of the campaign. Are there six or seven people from the same city downloading the content? If so, you may want to change your approach and immediately engage a senior-ranking person like the CIO to discuss what they are doing related to the topic area.

  • Alignment to content

Remember that these individuals have an interest in a certain topic and your sales enablement efforts need to be aligned to it. You should understand the needs of your lead by role type and develop content (e.g. budget, authority, need and timeline questions) that can be used to further qualify or nurture these leads. 

Map out the key purchasing influencers and their specific roles for your product. Do a little bit of homework and understand your government prospect and clearly position your product against their specific needs and challenges.

4. Sales pushes should come near the end of the agency’s budget year because that’s when they have more money to spend

Timing is everything. I’ll see a company get a batch of leads and immediately turn them over to inside sales and have them call upon the list only to find out that their leads weren’t ready to buy. The natural result then is to think that there is no ROI. However, it is most likely due to timing and them not understanding the decision-making and procurement process. Remember, it can take 12-18 months from a lead downloading content for a procurement to be issued.

5. We should focus on getting all of our hot leads closed by the end of the quarter

You need to be in it for the long haul. With a 12-18-month development cycle, you need to be committed to engaging and working these accounts. It is important to establish a clear and well-thought-out protocol for handling leads based on the realities of the market. Here are some additional things to consider:

  • Length of the decision-making cycle for your product 

Leveraging a sales intelligence tool like Govtech Navigator can provide insight on historical award information. You can compare your leads lists to issued and awarded RFPs and bids to establish how long it took them to go from engagement to procurement.

  • Procurement process 

Government purchasing is controlled by specific rules and regulations. These vary by jurisdiction and product. You’ll want to know all the contracting vehicles available to you. Additionally, Navigator can give insight into the buying seasonality and the average duration of procurements within a jurisdiction. 

  • Content 

Given that the development cycle is 12-18 months, think about creating additional content to engage these leads throughout their discovery phase and to communicate additional information that may help others involved in the process as well.

Have a question for Joe? Submit questions by sending an email to jmorris@erepublic.com.

Ben Miller Staff Writer

Ben Miller is the business beat staff writer for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes breaking news, business, community features and technical subjects. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lives in Sacramento, Calif.