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Mark Amtower's Ten Quick Tips for Successful Government Mailings

The U.S. government market, including Federal, state and local governments, is huge. Counting the Federal government and each state as one each, there are over 70,000 governments in the United States, accounting for $2.5 trillion for goods and services each year! Though much of this is spent through specific contracts, much of that budget is “discretionary”. This is spent on "small purchases" (micropurchases), through purchasing offices, small field offices and regional offices, by government credit card users (Federal government and some state governments), and others who need to acquire goods and services quickly to do their jobs in a timely manner.

Indeed, Vice President Gore wrote in the Report of the National Performance Review (September, 1993):

"Federal managers can buy 90% of what they need over the phone, from mail order discounters."

The use of the Federal "small purchase" credit card (once known as IMPAC, now called SmartPay), for instance, was over $17 billion in FY 2004.

Governments, like businesses, buy all legitimate business products and services. What can you do to increase your marketshare in the vast and misunderstood government marketplace?

Although there are no easy answers to this, you can start by using your direct mail more efficiently. Here are ten tips to help.

1 - Know your audience. Who are the users of your product or service? Who are your buyers? Are they the same people? Are they part of a team? Are the buyers the actual users of the product, or are they simply the purchasing office? Develop a profile of the user(s), including their job function, office function, and agency or office mission. For products with a broad application or use, you need only define who buys. Publication audit statements can help you define, then find, your best customers.

2 - It's the list, list, list. List selection is critical. Work with a list broker who knows the government, and who will work with you to develop the profile. In many cases, smaller list segments of your customer profile will be located in various lists. Instead of overlooking these sources because they don't make "minimum," find a way to access these names.

3 - The mail package should be suited to the audience. Catalogs and line cards go to purchasing offices. Purchasing offices don't care about features and benefits, because they are not users. Purchasing offices care about competitive pricing, contracts, and delivery. Success stories and brochures with features and benefits go to the user and others involved in the buying decision: what product and which source. Decision-makers then designate specific products and sources to purchasing offices. Develop mail packages for each group.

4 - The message is critical. Government decision-makers receive lots of mail each day, and you have only a small window of opportunity to grab attention and influence a prospect. Features and benefits for users and others on the decision-making team, price for purchasing offices. If you are a "small business" (defined by the Small Business Administration, by SIC), or are a minority or woman owned enterprise, say so. If you deliver in 48 hours, say so. Anything that legitimately distinguishes you from the competition, state it clearly. If you accept credit cards, make it clear that you accept government credit cards (SmartPay, formerly IMPAC) there is no difference.

5 - If your product is on GSA Schedule or another government contract, state it clearly.

6 - Response devices are equally critical. Make it as easy for them to respond as possible. Include a BRC or BRE, a fax-back form, your web address, your 800 number, fax number and main office number. If you have a dedicated government rep or office, give the extension. One-dimensional response devices lessen response.

7 - Your response device should capture all necessary data for your database, including all the addressing components, plus phone, fax and email address.

8 - Avoid saturation mailing of military bases. Mail arriving in quantities of 25 or more the same or consecutive days from a single mailer will be trashed! Mail bi-weekly to ensure penetration.

9 – Use the SmartPay logo on all promotional material.

10 - Survey your customer base regularly so you understand their information gathering habits (how they make decisions). Find out what they read, what seminars and conferences they attend, and what groups (formal associations as well as informal intra-agency groups) they belong to - anything that can help you refine your customer profile (see #1).

11 – Bonus tip: rent lists for multiple use. Being in front of the right audience multiple times increases their awareness of who you are – and increases your chances of capturing that business.

These are generic tips for marketing to Uncle Sam and are not a panacea for your marketing program. They are part of an ongoing process to define and refine government marketing programs. And direct marketing should be a part of an integrated marketing program targeting each of your B-to-B and B-to-G audiences.

Since 1985, Amtower & Company has studied direct marketing to the government, and we offer knowledge and experience in this market that is unparalleled. Services from Amtower & Company include mailing lists, consulting, mail package and catalog evaluations and executive level in-house seminars.

Amtower & Company has provided mailing lists and consulting services to many top GSA Schedule vendors, as well as several top B-to-B catalog firms, manufacturers, systems integrators, publishers, and event companies. Even advertising agencies have come to us for assistance in government marketing programs.

Mark Amtower’s articles have appeared in Catalog Age, Catalog Success, DM News, DMA Insider, Direct, Federal Computer Week, MC (Marketing Computers), Reseller Management, Target Marketing, VAR Informer (the house newsletter for Ingram Micro’s 70,000 resellers) and many others. He is a frequenter presenter at industry events, including the Business Mailers Group, DMB (Direct Marketing to Business) FOSE, ItsGov, MeritDirect Business Marketers Conference, and MacWorld.

His book, Government Marketing Best Practices, was published in January, 2005.

Copyright 2005, Amtower & Company

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