Those familiar with the beltway market are likely aware that fee-for-service (FFS) organizations in government are pretty common. These are government entities that provide services for other government programs when the other organization doesn’t have the expertise or function in-house.
Perhaps the most well-known FFS group in government is the General Services Administration Federal Acquisition Service, which administers the GSA Schedule — the most popular contract that agencies across government use to procure services from private sector vendors. GSA charges a fee to negotiate a favorable rate that applies to all agencies that use the schedule to facilitate that matchmaking process. Some of the other most prominent FFS organizations in government are NASA’s SEWP acquisition service, which helps agencies procure IT products and services (often from qualified small/disadvantaged vendors), and the Department of the Interior’s Federal Consulting Group, which provides executive coaching, performance measurement and strategy consulting to agencies.
But with all the procurement options out there, why should government agencies use an FFS provider at all? And even still, why should they use yours?
Show them how you’re fee-for-customer service
If you’re trying to get other agencies or departments to use your services, think about your approach. FFS groups are poorly named. No one likes to think about fees. But the service part – that’s important. If you provide procurement services or a contract vehicle, other agencies need to know that your customer service exceeds that of other alternatives and that your program actually makes it easier and cheaper to purchase services and products. Are you staffed with expert consultants and acquisition officials who understand the unique needs of government? Great — but no one knows if you’re not out there talking about it.
It’s not just about exhibiting at events, though that’s a start if you’re choosing them strategically and tracking results. You need so much more to ensure everyone who should be aware of the value you provide actually is aware of it.
Strategically message about how you stack up against the competition and what outcomes you provide. Use research and existing data to ensure you get that message in front of your target audiences in all the right places. Your web presence (on all devices) needs to be top-notch. But ensure your strategy and message are optimized before you spin your wheels getting tactical.
What’s the right process to communicate your value?
NASA SEWP’s mission involves managing a suite of government-wide IT product solution contracts that provide NASA and all federal agencies with timely access to mission critical-technologies. It makes procuring IT solutions faster and easier for federal agencies. To achieve that mission, NASA SEWP must continuously raise awareness for its contracts. It needed to highlight the range of solutions and manufacturers represented on SEWP. NASA needed to communicate the advantages it offers agencies, including rapid order processing and very low surcharges. And perhaps most importantly, it needed to show agency users and contracting officials how to expedite their procurements with its online tools for finding solutions, requesting quotes and tracking orders.
The Federal Consulting Group (FCG) of the National Business Center (NBC) in the U.S. Department of the Interior provides consulting services and has been the executive agent for the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) measure in the federal government for more than a decade. They are similar to SEWP, although they provide services as opposed to IT products. The organization needed to communicate its identity effectively among target audiences as an organization that could compete with private sector consulting firms, and even outdo them because of FCG’s government knowledge. That, combined with unique messaging, is one of the most valuable assets an organization can have. The brand sets the stage and positions the organization before a customer ever truly evaluates services. A strong visual brand builds credibility and reinforces a prospective customer’s decision to choose your organization by conveying security and a solid business presence, all of which makes customers feel more comfortable about doing business.
Getting off on the right foot for your agency’s FFS program should follow four steps:
- Stakeholder relations – Meet with agency executives, associates and current and potential customers to gain consensus on business and communication objectives, attributes, benefits, differentiators, constituencies, customers, business problems and competitive issues. Conduct research to understand your audience’s current perceptions about your value, their understanding of, and need for, the services you offer and how they currently fulfill their needs.
- Brand credibility - Develop a new or refreshed visual identity to visually communicate your image. This could include a logo, a standard color palette and fonts for print and online uses. If you face competition from commercial organizations that offer government groups similar services, you’ll need to definitively and distinctively position your FFS’ brand against competitors to become a go-to source.
- Ring-true messaging - Create a strategic messaging platform that gives program officials a consistent way to describe the FFS’ value. Messaging such as a tagline, elevator pitch, proof points and extended value propositions serve as the foundation for all messages and can be customized for each audience segment.
- Right tactics, right audience – not activity for activity’s sake - When the core brand identity and messaging are in place, then you can get tactical. Design materials and prepare content for presentations, speeches, social media, websites, trade show exhibits, signage, brochures, websites and PowerPoint presentations. The important part is to ensure your tactics directly align with consumption styles and medium preferences identified during the audience research step.
Because SEWP and FCG followed a process similar to this, more people in government procurement recognize their brands and understand their value.
Image courtesy Flickr user dannymac15_1999