September 23, 2016 | Article | Public Relations
Gaining Insight into State and Local Government Marketing Best Practices
There were several really great sessions at today’s GAIN 2016 Conference and the last one for the day was focused on state and local government (SLG) marketing insights – was truly exceptional. The goal of the session was to help attendees figure out where to start when planning their (SLG) marketing strategies and tactics. With 40,000+ counties and municipalities, it’s a daunting task.
Led by Tim Karney, editor, All Hazards Emergency Network, the session provided insights into the different players in the SLG procurement process, what kind of tradeshows they might attend, and the best ways to get your messages in front of the SLG audience.
The first big thing Karney pointed out is that there are many differences between federal and SLG audiences. The federal level is where policies and funding decisions are made. SLG is where those policies are implemented and services are provided.
It’s important to understand that SLG is where the rubber meets the road in terms of delivery to citizens. In Karney’s mind this makes marketing even more important to a SLG audience.
He also touched on the need to collaborate with sales to understand how they close sales. Do they use channel sales or direct sales? What about bids, or e-commerce, or some hybrid of the two options? The way you structure your marketing plan will be different based on how they plan to close their sales.
One of the biggest takeaways from this session was a breakdown of the different roles involved in the various purchasing process at the SLG level. Per Karney, the process begins flowing through initiators, evaluators and approvers before ending in the lap of procurement. Here’s how he broke down each of these groups:
- Initiators. These are the people who are focused on the mission and need a specific technology to solve a problem. Initiators could be agency managers, department heads, police chiefs, etc. They could also be IT buyers looking for technology to make their systems run better.
- This is typically the most important level in the buying process, and the person filling this role is often the program manager. In an ideal world the evaluator’s process would entail undertaking an industry survey of possible solutions, managing technical evaluations, writing the justifications behind business cases, and ultimately recommending the solutions or vendors they feel is best suited for the project.
It should also be noted that this is the part in the process where most organizations focus on the wrong people. While the CIO may initiate the process, he or she will not be the one evaluating the products. Keep this in mind when creating your marketing plan.
- After a suggestion is made it is often sent to the agency or department manager who manages the budget to make a final decision. This could also be the agency CIO or IT director but, per Karney, it is rarely, if ever, the enterprise CIO (s/he only gets involved in a project if it impacts the enterprise architecture) or the CSO (s/he is only worried about a project if it compromises security).
- This is the final step in the process. Procurement only gets involved once a solution is selected and approved. The role of procurement is to select the contract vehicle and make the purchase.
However, it’s important for organizations to know and understand the procurement process and what contract vehicles they prefer. Don’t only list your product or solution on the GSA Schedule if you want to work with SLG.
In order to improve your odds of being chosen, Karney had the following suggestions:
- Do your jurisdictional homework. Spend some time researching key or sample jurisdictions that are similar to the one you are considering.
- Familiarize yourself with the elected official’s agenda. This can typically be found on the website. If the problem you are proposing a solution for isn’t there it’s going to be hard to get it funded.
- Look for the IT strategic plan. Again, if the pain point is on there to be fixed you’ll have a much easier time getting the attention of initiators and evaluators.
Karney also noted that while program managers at the federal level often prepare a business case justification, this is not always necessarily true at the SLG level. Therefore, he suggests that if you’re going to move the needle on sales you need to help the program manager understand the business case justification. A few questions to ask:
- How does your solution help managers achieve a desired result?
- What measureable benefit does it give them? Does it offer a reduced cost of delivering service, productivity gains, or improved citizen service or safety?
There are a few ways to do this. Some of the most popular are webcasts and white papers. One thing to note, though, is that in both circumstances there is more credibility given to those that are produced by a third party rather than the vendor. Additionally, if considering a webcast, try to get a customer to take part. People like to see others who have had similar challenges and hear how they overcame them.
Lastly, Karney warned to beware of what he called “the association trap.” At the SLG level there are hundreds of associations, and they can quickly eat through a marketers budget. Instead of jumping to be at every big event and tradeshow out there, Karney advises really looking at the audience profiles for each event. For example, the average life span of an agency CIO is 38 months, so events that cater to the CIO may not be the right audience. Instead, events that pull in the department CIOs, the initiators and perhaps evaluators, might offer better bang for your buck.
And with that, GAIN 2016 came to a conclusion. It was a great two days with lots of interesting sessions. We hope to see you there next year!