A key market that is often overlooked by small or medium size enterprises is central government. It has a substantial budget, and it has publicly declared its intention to offer more opportunities to SMEs. For instance, In 2018/19, the government spent £14.2 billion with small and medium-sized businesses. Speaking at the time, Cabinet Office Minister, Oliver Dowden, said: “We’re committed to using the power of government spending to support small businesses across the country.”

Marketing to central government may appear to be a niche and narrow activity, but it is surprising how wide the definition of central government is.

Aside from the Prime Minister’s Office, there are over 450 central government departments, agencies and bodies. According to the government website these comprise of:

  • 23 ministerial departments
  • 20 non ministerial departments
  • 413 agencies and other public bodies

The public bodies include specialities as diverse as the Met Office, the Parole Board and The Royal Mint.

Here are our top tips and marketing tactics if you’re selling to central government:

  1. Know who you are marketing to

The first pointer is that central government encompasses a wide range of specialities, so you need to target your marketing according to which department or agency you are selling into. Demonstrating experience and knowledge of working with Her Majesty’s Prison & Probation Service may not be relevant when trying to impress the UK’s national weather service!

Research your target market and ensure you have case studies or thought leadership features that are relevant.

  1. Promote accountability

Central government spending inevitably comes under a high level of scrutiny. It is, after all, public money that is being spent. Poorly commissioned contracts will rightly be criticised by political opponents and by the media, so suppliers will be expected to demonstrate accountability.

When selling to central government, it is advisable to have evidence and key documentation in place. Accreditations such as ISO: 9001 (Quality) and ISO: 14001 (Environmental) are recommended or even essential.

Gaining an accreditation requires hard work and commitment. If you have achieved an accreditation, don’t keep it quiet. An ISO logo at the bottom of your web page does not suffice. Make sure your website includes a prominent page about why you believe being an Investor in People, for instance, is important. Talk about your company culture and your commitment to equality of opportunity and employee engagement.

Furthermore, don’t forget to highlight the work you do with your local community and any Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities you undertake.

  1. Be the expert

Securing a central government contract is a competitive business, so you’ll have to stand out from the crowd. One of the most powerful methods of achieving this is by demonstrating your expertise and passion for the work undertaken by the department.

For example, if you are looking to work with the Department for International Trade (DIT), then presenting yourself as an authority on exporting could be advantageous. Your website could include tips on customs rules or advice on how to trade with a particular country. Such content would highlight your interest and understanding of the work of the department.

Presenting yourself as a thought leader or expert can be achieved in many ways. Key marketing tactics to get in front of central government officials could include:

  • Blogs and opinion features on your website
  • Attending trade fairs and relevant central government department events
  • Taking stands at trade expos
  • Speaking at industry conferences and seminars
  • Being active on social media on trade topics
  • Authoring magazine and newspaper features

By presenting yourself as an authority on the activity of a specific government department, there is a greater likelihood that you will get to meet or network with key decision makers. If you do get the chance to meet with professionals, such as trade ambassadors, it can open doors and present opportunities.

  1. Demonstrate your experience

When commissioning a project, the committee or person who awards the government contract will need to feel confident that you can deliver.

The best way to demonstrate this is by presenting detailed examples of previous projects you have completed. Take time to create well-written and nicely designed case studies and ensure these are easy to find on your website. Include the client’s objectives, your methodologies and outline how you made a difference. In addition, always ask for personal testimonials from satisfied clients. Social proof will

  1. General Marketing

Targeted marketing is effective and recommended, but it is important to remember general marketing basics. Your business or organisation will need to be visible and credible. Businesses spend a great deal of money and time in building their brand because familiarity builds trust.

General marketing basics include:

  • Creating a well-designed website with relevant informative content. Your website should be easy to navigate and allow people to find what they need with ease. Ideally there should be a mix of written and video content, all of which should be updated regularly.
  • Being proactive with Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). If you are not easily found, your website is irrelevant. To get on the first page of Google for your desired keywords, you’ll have to ensure the on-site content is optimised, and the user experience of your site meets their expectations. One example is ensuring the copy demonstrates Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E-A-T). SEO is a wide-reaching discipline which requires time and effort.
  • Keeping up with social. The power of social media shows no sign of subsiding, a fact confirmed by the fact that Elon Musk’s reported bid for Twitter was believed to be in the region of $44 billion. Whether or not this goes ahead remains to be seen, but it certainly demonstrates the importance of the platform. Your marketing should include a social media strategy. Continuing with the example of the DIT, the department can be followed on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram. You should be there too.
  • Looking for opportunities to promote your brand. Website and social activity are essential but keep looking for opportunities to stay in people’s minds. Whether it is advertising, email campaigns, hosting events or networking, keep your brand out there. The more creative and innovative you can be, the better.

Summary

The principles of marketing to the private sector and the public sector are largely consistent. The main difference is that central government contracts can be more heavily scrutinised. You should, therefore, remember to market your accreditations and authority, as well as your ability to perform the task.

Finally, to successfully market to central government, you must be prepared to invest in yourself. You need to showcase your expertise at every available opportunity to develop and grow your brand. Sponsoring and speaking at relevant events will play an important role in this – as you’ll be able to network with key industry thought leaders. Promoting your accountability and expertise can be the route to winning those big central government contracts.