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Cracking one of B2B’s trickiest customers: the public sector
September 15, 2021
There’s a well-documented disparity between the average person’s expectations when it comes to digital experiences and the capabilities of legacy government infrastructure; a disparity which has become more pronounced during the pandemic.
The public sector should be fertile ground for a company whose core proposition is a cloud platform that streamlines digital workflows, then? Well, yes and no.
Before you can start marketing to public sector buyers, you need to navigate central and local government organisations that can be Kafkaesque in their complexity. You need to speak to them in a language that reflects their unique terminology and showcases your solution in their specific contexts. And your arguments must be compelling: you’re likely to face an understandable resistance to change from prospects who are responsible for the smooth running of critical services.
I asked Rubert Rietkerk, customer marketing manager at ServiceNow, to talk us through how he and the team at The Marketing Practice (TMP) cracked this particular conundrum to generate opportunities in the public sector.
What was the trigger for a new approach in your public sector marketing?
Our existing marketing tactics – which had worked well in other industry segments – weren’t generating the volume and quality of opportunities we needed within government bodies. Senior decision-makers were hard to pinpoint and even harder to reach and convince. Our marketing and sales teams realised that to have a significant impact on the quantity and quality of opportunities, we needed to start speaking the language of government. More than that, we had to convince CIOs, senior civil servants and directors for digitalisation across ministries that ServiceNow was not ‘just an IT service desk provider’ but a credible partner who fully understood their challenges and aspirations.
How did you get started?
I think it always pays to start small, refine your approach, then roll out more widely. So in this instance we started with a pilot focused on Norway.
Our marketing team worked with TMP to pick sales’ brains for their knowledge of the Norwegian central government targets. Then they carried out research into how the various bodies were structured and what initiatives were underway around digital transformation and the citizen experience.
Messaging houses were created to map ServiceNow’s offering to the Norwegian government’s policy goals. We had a limited budget for this campaign, so we made the most of existing assets; adapting what we had to make them specific to relevant government departments in terms of messaging, terminology and case studies.
How did you open up conversations with public sector decision-makers?
It started with a meticulous data build to make sure we could reach out to all the relevant stakeholders. The account team sent out LinkedIn connection requests to kick off the communications flow.
Content was aligned to the ‘discover’, ‘explore’ and ‘justify’ stages of the buying process. We built credibility early on through regional government case studies with an introduction to the sales team. At the ‘explore’ stage, we mapped out typical life events (such as starting a business or migrating to Norway) to show how ServiceNow could support the digital experience. At the ‘justify’ end of the spectrum, we demonstrated the role our platform can play in digital transformation for central government. A virtual event on the topic of citizen experience was used as a call to action in the communications. Everything was produced in Norwegian and used terminology familiar to our prospects.
Our outbound emails and InMails were supported through one-to-one outreach and follow-up from sales development representatives (SDRs). Marketing ran bi-weekly calls with the SDR team to review results, provide new account intelligence and tailor the approach.
When did you realise the strategy was starting to pay off?
Because we were using bespoke landing pages with built-in analytics to host our content, we could quickly see that some influential decision-makers were interacting with what we’d shared. That information also bolstered the campaign as the sales development reps used it to prioritise their outreach and choose which topics to lead with.
As with any marketing and sales campaign though, the ultimate measure is whether meetings, opportunities and closed deals are coming through. So far, we’ve generated 14 meetings with senior decision-makers and $1.85m pipeline from the Norwegian pilot and the subsequent campaign into Belgium. Our return on marketing investment sits at 1,714%. The success of the programme means it’s now being rolled out to four other countries in the region.
My thanks to Rubert for sharing what made this programme successful. I think what’s most interesting is that the approach is one that’s open to any B2B business – it doesn’t rely on any unusual technology or skillset. What it does require is time and resource for diligent research, database management and mapping of content to prospects’ objectives. And, perhaps most importantly, trust and information-sharing between the marketing and sales teams, with these two functions working hand in glove to maximise the likelihood of success.