Winning business through government procurement can vault a company forward and secure its revenue stream for years to come. With local and state governments using competitive processes to purchase everything from health care and construction work to office supplies and technology services – to the tune of billions of dollars – the rewards of an effective procurement strategy can be great. But in a highly compliance-oriented environment, the risks of a misstep are also hefty.
The old adage that “no one ever got fired for buying IBM” speaks to the natural tendency of government decision-makers to favor the safe choice. If your company is trying to break into a new market or expand your presence where you lack a significant foothold, a well-crafted communications campaign can make the difference between failure and breaking through to multibillion-dollar success.
Here are six essential elements of effective procurement communications:
1. Establish a positive identity.
If your company is a new player or has limited visibility in a state or region, your work starts with building brand awareness to make sure decision-makers know your name and understand your proficiencies. This argues for a multi-dimensional approach that creates a “surround sound” of positive brand associations reinforced with advertising, earned media, thought leadership, philanthropic giving, and a strong online presence. That effort should run for several months leading up to the release of an RFP or ITN, as well as during the blackout period to keep your brand top-of-mind among decision-makers.
2. Study the landscape.
A winning communications strategy has to take into consideration the current dynamics of a region
A winning communications strategy has to take into consideration the current dynamics of a region – the political realities, the pain points, the influencers, and insight into what’s driving the procurement. Don’t assume that what worked in one location can be automatically replicated in another. Enlist a partner who knows the landscape and can help you avoid pitfalls and customize a strategy that’s responsive to the factors that aren’t obvious on the surface.
3. Build the right relationships.
Even as you create a 40,000-foot presence, down on the ground you need to be known by the right people – ones who can influence the process or at least ensure a level playing field where you can be competitive. That’s hard to do if you’re coming in cold. Well-connected strategic partners who know a region can extend their relationships to you, helping you identify and meet the people you need to know and building third-party validation with groups, organizations, and individuals who can vouch for your company and lend credibility. Their vote of confidence may take the form of an official endorsement statement, an informal conversation with decision-makers or influencers, an award that is publicly announced and touted, or a partnership that can yield news coverage or social media buzz.
4. Embrace philanthropy.
Directing a meaningful philanthropic investment in strategic local causes that align with your organization’s mission is a powerful way to generate positive visibility and gain the attention of key influencers. Besides the goodwill it creates with those who care about an important cause, a philanthropic investment demonstrates your commitment to a region and highlights your brand values. Plus, it provides a compelling story to tell on social media and a news hook to generate media coverage.
5. Strike a local chord.
In ways both subtle and overt, your actual RFP or ITN response should demonstrate your knowledge of the region, state, or city that is responsible for the procurement. This can be reflected both in the language of the response and in the tactics that are tailored to this particular submission. To ensure that your submission strikes the right local chords, involve your local communications experts in the RFP response – not just for the final editing, but ideally throughout its development.
6. Differentiate from the competition.
Even as you raise awareness of your positive brand characteristics, it’s necessary to distinguish yourself from the pack, especially from a frontrunner. What does your company uniquely bring to the relationship? What is your track record vs. others? Did a competitor have performance issues in another state while delivering similar work? There are ways to ensure that essential information about competitors is known without disseminating that information yourself.
What does your company uniquely bring to the relationship? What is your track record vs. others?
Above all else, ensure compliance. A single compliance violation can squander the sizable investment of time and money spent developing your RFP response. Make sure your communications strategy reflects a full understanding of what’s permissible at each stage of the process – and start early enough to build your brand presence even before a procurement hits the street. During a blackout period, know who can have contact with whom; understand what advertising messages and types are allowable, and err on the side of caution.
Effective communication is power – especially in a competitive bid process where millions or even billions of dollars are at stake. Having a well-thought-out communications strategy and a communications partner who knows how to navigate the delicate minefield of procurement could be the game changer that improves your win rate and takes your company to the next level.