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Tips on selling technology to the federal government

Tips on selling technology to the federal government

We (Ogilvy PR’s tech practice) often hear from business to business technology marketers and tech PR professionals looking for a better understanding of Government – selling to it, benefiting from stimulus spending, and how the regulatory environment may evolve. I want to share a great piece that our Ogilvy Government Relations team has developed. Having access to thinking like this is one of the things I love about working at a full-service firm that knows tech PR but thinks far beyond. 

For any of you with an interest in marketing products and services to the federal government, please take a look at these tips on how to build a stable and thriving federal sales market. 

Selling to the Federal Market: Complications and Opportunities

With declining commercial sales and an uncertain economic climate, many tech and IT companies are looking to the one certain growth market in today’s economy – the federal government.  Given the growth in federal spending projected over the next four years in every area from healthcare to border security, there is no doubt that federal agencies will continue to procure record amounts of IT services and equipment.

However, selling in this market can often be a frustrating dead end for companies not attune to doing business with the government.  Most adventures in government sales for the uninitiated bear little fruit for many years.  The most frequent refrain from disappointed vendors is that the government could not “see the wisdom or merits of their technology or services.”  

There are ways to build a stable and thriving federal sales market, but it takes commitment, time, money and savvy to realize that goal.  Below are a few tips for those looking to break into the federal market or to significantly expand their presence.

1) Know Your Market and Capabilities – Whether it is health IT, communications, data storage and retrieval, or complex systems integration, you must have active intelligence of federal opportunities before word hits the street.  This task requires active knowledge of agency plans for future budget cycles, agency requirements and Executive Branch and Congressional Initiatives.  Furthermore, you must know whether your technology aligns with that particular need and is either competitive or can represent best value to the government.

2) Be in Your Market – Simply coming to Washington from the home office, armed with minimal intelligence to meet with a government official is totally ineffective.  At best you will get a meeting.  At worst, you will be regarded as an outsider with an unproven track record.  Government purchasers are loathe to trust the untested and unknown.  Without a consistent physical presence in Washington, you will never gain the trust of careerists whose futures depend on making the right decisions.

3) Staff Up – To be successful at both step one and two, a company must have a dedicated federal sales force and a lobbying team to open doors and provide intelligence on an almost daily basis.  In addition, the company must have employees who have experience in the complex world of government contracting and requirements, and relationships with agencies that they have worked for or with in the past.  This is a particular type of expertise that is no different from that of a software engineer or other technician and it can prove invaluable in winning contracts.

4) Team Up – Often the easiest way to win government business is to team with larger corporations or trusted government service providers who already have large, flexible contracts in place with agencies.  Going after large contracts with major players as a sub can get the company in the door and begin building relationships for future opportunities.

5) Brand, Brand, Brand – As noted above, lack of familiarity in Washington breeds contempt.  A company in the federal market must be able to tout not only its name and technology, but its past and present performance as a government contractor.  Again, without the commitment to advertise and use public relations in the federal sales arena, few government purchasers will feel comfortable enough to take a chance on an unknown vendor.

Just like everyone else, I am following with interest and a smidgen of anxiety the swine flu epidemic (my in-laws live in Mexico City).

As a tech guy, I started to look at some of the technologies that can be used or have been used to help contain the flu and solve this global threat.

This is what I have found so far.
First of all, Internet technologies have been tapped to track the spreading of Swine Flu. Here an article on this topic from IHealthBeat. This is a Google map. And this is the CDC Twitter feed so you can follow the updates real time.
As Ogilvy PR we have developed a simple aggregator where you can follow the latest news as well as some interesting information.

But what about technologies that prevent or that can help cure the flu?

I found a press release of a company, Qualsec, that says to have  a technology that can screen individuals for Swine Flu and provide instant results.

So apparently not much from the tech community to help solve this potential pandemic . Much faster and more creative is the professional spanner. Read this blog post on the LA Times  on how spammers are using celebrities such as Salma Hayek to get the attention of  recipients. Maybe Diego Luna and Santana are the next ones? And according to McAfee computer viruses may be the next part of the swine flu outbreak. Virtual world and reality coming  together?

I have found that corporate communications briefs for technology companies tend to have one thing in common.  “Make people see the amazing innovation we have here” they say.  Sometimes that innovation is easy to find, sometimes not.  The motivation for wanting that innovation brand association however can be murky but often has an undercurrent of ‘we want our brand to be more respected, valued, get us out of commodity positioning’.

So when real commitment to market- and economy-moving innovation comes along, you have to applaud it.

In this economy, you need to scream your sincere appreciation for it, because it shows a commitment to be stronger tomorrow than you are today.

Example: Intel announcing this week a $7B investment over the next two years as they upgrade their facilities for 32nm technology used for the production of new faster, smaller, energy efficient chips.  (Note: Intel is a client).

Intel CEO Paul Otellini said it so well this week on NPR.   http://tiny.cc/4FLW7   “New technology is what pulls companies in technology out of recession,” he said.

And when asked what feedback he gave President Obama on the stimulus package, he did not hesitate to support plans to spend on much needed infrastructure investments, with the National Science Foundation, quality of classroom infrastructure, and tackling long-overdue problems that technology can solve, like electronic medical records.  “My God,” Otellini said.  “How long have we talked about that (Health IT)”?

How long indeed.

And just how long have we applauded brands for ‘innovation’ when there was little substance beyond an island in second life?

Intel has set a bar.  And the best thing about that bar is if you really listen to what they are saying, they want more companies to meet and beat that bar.  A rising tide raises all ships.

Lets not get amnesia about that bar on innovation when things get better, OK?  Who else do you see raising the bar?  I’d love to applaud them.

Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide