What We Can Learn from Winning Contractors

23 Jul What We Can Learn from Winning Contractors

This week Market Connections released their 2018 Federal Government Contractor Study in conjunction with Merritt Group and the Professional Services Council. Market Connections typically conducts this survey every other year, and this year’s survey focused on the intersection of business development and marketing within companies that sell to the federal government.

The primary objectives of the 2018 study were to:

  • Identify best practices of winning government contractors
  • Identify challenges of marketing and business development (BD) professionals
  • Determine how marketing and business development departments are organized and how they work together
  • Measure effectiveness of marketing materials, activities and tools
  • Determine strategies used when targeting and responding to RFPs
  • Quantify changes in personnel, budget, tools, teaming partners and communications

One of the first questions Market Connections researchers asked of the respondents was how often they win new pursuits or re-competes. In the slide below you can see just how difficult it is to win new government contracts. Only six percent of respondents win new pursuits at least 75 percent of the time.

This idea of the “winning contractor” was a key theme that ran throughout the presentation, and I thought I’d focus this blog post on the best practices of those contractors. For clarification, a winning contractor is defined as an organization that wins new pursuits or re-competes at least 50 percent of the time – and if you look at the above slide you’ll see we’re talking about the top third of contractors for new pursuits and the top two-thirds for re-competes (at least in this sample).

Winning contractors separate the marketing and BD function

Marketing and BD professionals that work for winning contractors are likely to report to different supervisors. Sixty-one percent of winning contractors separate this job function compared to 34 percent of less successful contractors.

Winning contractors are well differentiated

This seems obvious, but for many professional services organizations (i.e. the majority of respondents to this survey), differentiation can be really hard. As you see below, winning contractors (in the purple) are more successful in differentiating themselves beyond price and identifying the right “win themes” for their RFPs.

Contractors are spending more in 2018 on digital advertising and marketing research/intelligence

Contractors overall are spending more money on digital advertising and market research compared to last year, but if you look at below you’ll see how this breaks out by type of contractor and contracting opportunity. Less successful contractors (i.e. those that win new pursuits less than 50 percent of the time) plan to spend more on market research this year – perhaps to solve their differentiation and win theme problem?

Interestingly, winning contractors working on re-competes appear to be doubling down on digital advertising. These contractors anticipate spending 50 percent more on digital in 2018.

Winning contractors are more strategic in the RFP process

Winning contractors are more likely to anticipate an RFP and develop a specific campaign to support a re-compete opportunity. They are also more likely to develop tailored marketing content and position an RFP response to align with their company’s brand. Again, this seems like an obvious smart business practice, but plenty of contractors don’t take the time to position themselves in the best light when re-competing on a contract.

So what can we learn from all of this?

First, companies should invest in great marketing and BD people and let them focus on their specific job function. As this survey points out, there’s never enough budget, the challenges are many, and success doesn’t come as often as one might like.

And secondly, government contractors that want to win more often need a differentiated position. It’s a lot easier to create winning themes for an RFP if you can focus on what makes your organization unique. Finally, it’s critical to go the extra mile. Winning contractors continue to refine their positioning, invest in market research to understand the changing government landscape, and tailor RFPs and marketing campaigns for every opportunity.

You can see the full report here. Thanks again to Market Connections for another great event.

Katie Hanusik
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