It’s been really interesting to watch different organizations respond to the pandemic and economic crisis. Some have withdrawn and are quietly trying to weather the chaos. Others are more status quo; they aren’t doing anything much differently today compared to February 2020.
But some organizations are adapting, trying new things, finding ways to get closer to their customers, and even growing revenue and profit. I think it would be more fun to talk about that third group of organizations. Don’t you agree?
Ways Progressive Organizations Are Generating Growth
So what are companies in the public safety sector doing differently that’s making such a positive difference? How are they getting it right? Here are 5 ideas for your consideration.
1. Sell more to existing customers
OK, this seems obvious. But it makes sense on many levels. As we all know, the cost of sales to generate business with existing customers is typically significantly less than the cost of new customer acquisition. If you can increase customer retention at the same time, all the better.
We’ve seen a couple successful approaches:
Upsell with new products/solutions. We know one organization that offers a fantastic, game changing new solution, but only a fraction of their current customers have it. So, they are doubling down on educating and marketing to these existing customers, and focusing efforts on accelerating adoption now through 2021. They know new customer acquisition will be a more difficult path in 2021, with uncertain public safety budgets, and the potential lack of conferences and other in-person options for lead generation (more on that later).
As a result, they are going all in by quickly executing an upsell program that would normally take years. The revenue generated via the upsell to existing clients will help offset any lack of new business in 2021.
Bonus: This process also offers an opportunity for them to get closer to their customers and build a stronger relationship with them.
Providing consulting/expertise services. Many organizations sell their technology, services and products and then provide consulting and expertise for free. But we’re seeing organizations recognize the extraordinary value of their expertise and they’re starting to find ways to charge for it. In some cases, it’s a new business line, whereby they are providing the expertise they already have to public safety agencies, cities/counties and others.
Without any significant adaption of the business, they are responding to government RFPs asking for consulting services—and they’re winning! Sometimes it’s easy to forget just how much expertise you have in the people of your organization. No one said you have to give that expertise away for free. Assess the needs, see where you can bring value, and charge for it.
Caution – Here’s the danger. If moving in this area will cause a major distraction, taking your eye off the ball and draining precious time and resources, don’t do it. This is only a good option if it’s a seamless fit with your existing staff and operations.
2. Find alternative funding sources
Even during all this tumult, there’s money for public safety. True, local governments and private businesses are especially cautious with spending right now. In some cases, agencies are being told no new purchases at all (overcoming this is where Chiefs earn their salt). But there are other dollars out there.
Grant funding. The CARES Act is just one vehicle of countless grants public safety agencies can access. There are lots of other federal, state and local grant opportunities, many created specifically for these current challenges. At the same time, private funders are still funding, and public safety agencies can reap the benefits of that.
Some organizations are helping customers identify and secure these grants (being abundantly cautious to follow many related rules). Other organizations connect customers with grant writing organizations and consultants who can do that for them. Either way, don’t overlook this way of helping your customers fund the technology, products and services they need.
3. Streamline purchasing
Purchasing by government agencies can be a slow and cumbersome process. Two-year sales cycles and longer aren’t uncommon, especially for major purchases. The RFP process can be daunting. Cooperative purchasing or Group Purchasing Organizations (GPOs) are one way companies are able to accelerate the process.
One example in Fire and EMS is FireRescue GPO, which was created by the Western Fire Chiefs Association and is now part of Sourcewell. Companies that are awarded a cooperative contract may use that contract to meet the solicitation requirements of their customers, thereby eliminating the need to compete in the local solicitation process to close business. (It’s a little more complex than that, but that’s the general idea). For Fire and EMS departments, it means they can choose to purchase from a company that holds a cooperative contract—saving the time of conducting a solicitation process and the risk of having to make an undesirable “low-bid” purchase. Again, there’s quite a bit more to this, but it’s definitely worth checking out.
4. Engage in virtual events that don’t suck
During the last 7 months, we’ve seen some bad virtual events, and some great ones. And we’ve been pleased to see some of our clients have amazing experiences, coming away with hundreds of leads. But we’ve seen other companies in the industry absolutely bonk on virtual events.
There’s really no doubt that virtual events (webinars, conferences, roundtables, etc.) are here to stay, even beyond COVID. And they may just be the mainstay for 2021. Here are a few things we’ve learned so far:
Content above all. People are attending virtual events for the content, especially if it’s content they can’t get anywhere else. Every day in public safety, thousands are attending webinars with a narrow subject matter crafted for targeted audiences. A recent virtual EMS conference saw sessions with 200 attendees—compared to the same sessions with only 50 attendees at live events. These can be fantastic sponsorship opportunities for your brand’s positioning, while driving highly qualified sales leads.
If your company is associated with great content, you’re going to win—whether it’s something you produce, or something you sponsor that an association, conference organization or media channel puts on.
Caution: The platform/logistics associated with these events is super important. Make sure you or the organization you’re working with know the platform cold. Rehearse and record what you can ahead and save the live element for questions/discussion. Glitches with the execution can leave a bad taste for both the attendee and sponsor. Be proactive and make sure you’ve done the prep work.
So far, virtual exhibit halls are a no go. The idea of replacing the anticipation, excitement, buzz, camaraderie and networking of a live expo with a virtual one is so far a pipe dream. This will improve eventually; the platforms will get friendlier, the vibe will get better. One key is to stop trying to replicate the feel of a live event, which is impossible, and instead create a great feeling virtual event. But so far, we’d advise spending your marketing dollars on great virtual event content rather than static virtual booths. Unless you really like watching digital paint dry.
5. Watch your competitors, but don’t obsess
I have a colleague who’s a Chief Marketing Officer at a technology company who looks at the competition this way: through his rear-view mirror. As you drive along, you keep your eyes on the road in front of you about 90% of the time, right? You regularly check your rear-view mirror—you need to know what’s going on back there, and you don’t want any surprises.
There are others who are fixated by the competition, constantly obsessing on them, staring at the rear-view mirror. Not surprisingly, things don’t go so well—and sometimes they just crash and burn.
The organizations we see that are innovating and growing are the ones keeping both eyes on the road in front of them. Yes, be aware of what your competitors are doing. Hell, maybe there’s even an opportunity for collaboration. But you need to be focused on your customers and prospective customers, bringing new solutions and answers to age-old problems.
Join the organizations that are thriving in the midst of a pandemic and economic crisis. Growth in 2020 is happening for some organizations. You can make it happen for your organization as well and set yourself up for a great 2021.