Q: You’ve combined your expertise as a former artillery officer and a Madison Avenue ad exec to help defense contractors drum up new business. What’s different about generating sales for a defense contractor than, say, marketing shampoo for P&G? Or is there none?
A: It’s a more complicated sale. The sale that a defense contractor makes can require extensive research and development, take a lot more time and involve more people. The sales cycle can extend for years depending upon the customer’s requirements, contract approvals, funding process and political climate. The people involved in making the purchase include the end users (from Private to General and all the Pentagon civilians in between), an almost endless bureaucratic procurement apparatus, and elected officials (which is where it can get most complicated). The role of marketing in the sale is to provide the right content to the right people at each critical step of this sales labyrinth.
It’s a more emotional sale, too. When a consumer buys the wrong shampoo, the implications are fairly minimal. They are out the cost of the shampoo and perhaps the appearance of their hair (or dandruff), but it can be fixed relatively quickly and inexpensively. When a defense contractor makes a sale, there is a lot more at stake than just a bad hair day for one person. For a Pentagon purchase, at stake are the careers of key government bureaucrats and elected officials, millions or billions of dollars, people’s lives and the state of world peace and security. A defense contractor’s sale is far from a linear, logical, unemotional process.
Douglas Burdett is the author of Fire Support, a marketing blog for defense contractors. A VMI grad and former U.S. Army field artillery officer and Madison Avenue ad man, in 2001 he founded Artillery, a B2B marketing agency.