Business-to-Government (B2G) White Papers: A Relationship-Building Tool

By Steve Hoffman, Hoffman Marketing Communications, Inc.

“People do business with people they know, like, and trust,” says Rachelle Disbennett-Lee, PhD in her article by the same name [1]. Government contracting officers and project managers are people too. If you’re a government contractor, how can you become known, liked, and trusted by them?

Building Relationships with Government Personnel

In A Guide: How To Market To The Federal Government, the General Services Administration (GSA) states: “It is important to recognize that federal agencies tend to be risk adverse [sic]. They will usually make a safe choice over a superior one, which means agencies tend to stick with the companies they know or are known by other agencies/bureaus that they trust” [2].

The perceived catch-22 in building relationships with a new government prospect is this: You need to become known and trusted to gain government contracts, but you don’t become known and trusted until you have the contracts. Some forward-thinking contractors are finding ways to overcome this dilemma. These savvy vendors demonstrate to government buyers their in-depth knowledge of a subject area by writing white papers and sending them to the prospect. This is a form of what is sometimes called B2G content marketing.

Government buyers seek out industry’s best thinkers on government-focused solutions. White papers are an excellent way for a vendor to convey useful information about a topic of interest to government prospects. In the process, the paper demonstrates thought leadership. Smart contractors use white papers as door openers to highly coveted government/contractor meetings. These phone or in-person meetings are the key to relationship-building.

Differentiating Your Company

A vendor’s capabilities and competence means little if the contractor 1) does not stand apart from the competition, 2) is not visible, and 3) is not viewed as an expert in the eyes of the government buyer.

Companies that share knowledge assets, such as white papers, demonstrate their willingness to support the government’s efforts. These contractors offer no-cost, high-quality information (in the form of white papers) that is beneficial to the government prospect.

To build trust and distinguish themselves from others, proactive contractors engage government managers in two-way exchanges. To do this, high performance vendors seek government feedback on draft white papers [3]. This practice integrates government perspectives into the paper. Of equal importance, it builds a relationship between the vendor and the government decision maker through the white paper review process.

Offering a Contractor “Experience”

Sophisticated contractors study the target government decision maker’s mission, culture, and pain points. Smart contractors 1) learn about the government’s priorities, 2) inquire about planned procurements, and 3) demonstrate a real interest in establishing a teaming relationship. By incorporating this information into white papers, the vendor demonstrates their responsiveness to the government’s particular needs.

In-person meetings combined with well-developed contractor content (white papers) afford the government an actual vendor “experience.” The government buyers learn of the vendor’s grasp of the agency’s pain points, subject matter, and culture. The ultimate goal is for government buyers to view the contractor as a value-added partner and a bridge to noticeably superior solutions.

The Power of the Written Word

A commonly overlooked yet powerful means of communication is the written word. Written content has a much longer lifespan than meetings or phone calls. White papers, for example, live on as exhibits and reference documents long after a meeting adjourns. Written content can produce a greater impact on a government decision maker than an unstructured or ad hoc meeting.

Resourceful vendors leverage digital and print content to transfer knowledge and establish thought leadership. Leave behind a tangible white paper that the prospect can hold in their hand and show to others. This approach greatly improves the vendor’s chances of educating and influencing the target client.

Recommendations

Relationship building is a two-way street. Both contractors and government buyers seek to learn about the other. A wealth of information on the needs and interests of government agencies is publicly and readily available. Conversely, there is much less useful contractor content readily available to government buyers. This means that vendors who develop such content and make it easily accessible to government buyers gain a distinct competitive advantage.

High quality content matters because it can create a favorable first impression. Positive first impressions can ultimately lead to a potential contract award.

Recommended success strategies for providing white papers to government prospects include the following:

  • Enhance contractor website pages, blogs, and LinkedIn profiles to allow for “on demand” access to white papers and content beneficial to government personnel.
  • Encourage government readers to provide feedback on “draft” white papers. The best white papers incorporate government input.
  • Time the release of the content to coincide with federal budget and acquisition planning cycles. For example, introduce new practices, strategies, and services before the government formulates budgets.

Send Us Feedback

Please send suggestions and comments on the draft blog to steve@hoffmanmarcom.com or call Steve Hoffman at 408-710-1717.

About the Author

Steve Hoffman, president and founder of Hoffman Marketing Communications, Inc., has written hundreds of white papers for leading clients around the world over the last 30 yearsTo learn more, download a free copy of Steve’s white paper entitled The Mother of All White Papers: Content Marketing to the Federal Government at www.hoffmanmarcom.com/B2G-content-marketing. [DUNS: 612084280 / CAGE: 7PAX3]

References

[1] Rachelle Disbennett-Lee, PhD, “People Do Business With People They Know, Like, And Trust.”

[2] GSA, “A Guide: How To Market To The Federal Government,” June 2009.

[3] Hoffman Marketing Communications, Inc., acknowledges David Lowe of isiFederal for this excellent idea.