How to Drive Federal Buyers to Your Web Site (950 words)
By Mark Amtower
If you seek a customer who buys just about every type of product and service imaginable, look no further than Uncle Sam.
Ignore the horror stories you may have heard about arcane processes such as needing a GSA number or some other government contract, or how slowly the Feds pay vendors.
The federal government has more than 500,000 small purchase (i.e., less than $2,500) credit cards that were used more than 25 million times in fiscal year 2000. Total spent: $12.2 billion. By far the greatest beneficiaries of this largess are catalogers and other direct marketers selling on the open market—no contracts.
Market Connections, Oakton, VA, released a survey in April 2000 that describes the best methods for reaching federal buyers and influencers. Among the results presented were federal Web buying and browsing habits. The survey showed dramatic increases from 1998 to 1999, and predicted, based on the results, continued growth of the Web as a tool for information-gathering and buying, especially among the government's credit-card holders. As the Web becomes even more pervasive, the more b-to-b and b-to-g (business-to-govenment) buying will occur, experts predict.
In "Reaching Feds on the Web" (Target Marketing, December 2000), I covered basic features your Web site should offer to federal buyers, namely: easy navigation, quick page loads, accurate information, good presentation and indexing, current links, and the government credit card logo. Please keep in mind these are baseline "musts," without which you can't hope to make any gains in selling to the Feds. In fact, without these, you probably won't even get return visits to your site.
Attract and Retain
How do you get federal buyers to visit and return to your site?
First, get the word out to a targeted audience. Employing direct mail, (opt-in) e-mail, selected space advertising and your usual mix becomes critical to getting out your dot-com address. Make your URL prominent on all marketing materials—and don't let your creative folks deter you from doing so. Each of the marketing elements you employ should be used to drive traffic to your site.
Setting up an opt-in e-mail program at your site with industry news, as well as news or specials from your company, should become an ongoing part of your marketing effort. An e-mail newsletter with real news about your niche, even if it simply links to other news sources, can become an important resource for buyers and influencers. Encourage your subscribers to pass along your newsletter to friends and colleagues with similar interests.
The goal is to become the preferred site for a specific product or service. To do so you need to do several things, including encouraging people to bookmark your site. Provide new information to encourage users to visit regularly. This means not simply having good product information, but also content on (or links to) information pertinent to your niche.
For instance, if you sell furniture, offer information on the ergonomic benefits of using an appropriate chair, especially if you sell both ergonomic seating (more expensive, better margins) and economical seating options (cheaper, less margin). Give site visitors the choice, then give them information to drive their decisions.
Search engines, though important, may become less so, unless you're a pure Web play like Amazon or Insight.com. The more people use the Web, the less likely they are to require search engines. Being creatures of habit, most people will have their favorite sites to visit. But in the long run, being linked in search engines can help.Web diva Amy Africa of Creative Results notes: "Search engines may decline somewhat in importance and then come back again full-force. The new models will be page popularity and consideration. Those are long-term models that will work."
However, she adds, "Search engines will continue to be important to all companies, because they help people get new customers, and they help old customers find you. If you're not linked, you're not going to be found.
"Remember," she continues, "Amazon is among the top 100 most popular searches in the top 10 search engines. That means people are going to Yahoo! to find Amazon, one of the top brands online, and some people still don't know how to find them."
This being the case, get your URL listed in the major search engines. You can do this yourself or use a service like webgarage.com or Top-10.com.
Make It Easy to Find You
Meta-tags also will be important. Embedding key words and phrases on each page throughout your Web site will allow those using search engines, especially engines like google.com, to find you.
If you're using the "Federal Procurement Jumpstation" (http://nais.nasa.gov/fedproc/home.html), look for government sites where you can link. Many federal sites have links to companies that provide specific products and services, regardless of whether the company has a government contract.
You also can go to the General Services Administration Web site (www.fss.gsa.gov/) to determine your competitors. In my experience, there usually are several companies in each niche that sell only to government—competitors you won't find outside of the government market and are probably unaware of because of that. Visit their Web sites, and don't be hesitant about borrowing ideas from them. Many of these competitors are small, regional firms targeting geographic areas. But with adequate knowledge of the market nuances, they can be significant players.
Your site must be ready for traffic. It must have the basics as outlined above. And it must offer both product information and an easy method for buying. If your site isn't ready, no one, not even hard-working federal employees, will return.
Mark Amtower is a partner at Amtower & Co. Federal Direct Marketing. He can be reached at email@example.com, or through www.federaldirect.net.