“Off-White” Paper #15 – Face Time: SIGs & Associations

One of the arguments used to get money for trade show participation is the “value of face time with customers and prospects”. No one argues that face time is valuable – but at what cost? One of the most underutilized venues for companies selling to (or wanting to sell to) the Federal government in representation in special interest groups (SIGs) and other associations where Federal employees involved in specific areas spend time. Active participation in these groups gets you lots of quality time with a carefully defined audience – much more than a trade event will ever give you. But you have to be willing to spend your time. In the 20 or so years I’ve been involved in the government market, I have found SIGs for just about every niche imaginable: mail managers, IT-ers of any stripe, facility managers, transportation managers, publication managers, virtually any audience you are looking for will have a SIG. Hell, when the Pentagon Mac Users Group re-launched, it got mentioned in the Wall Street Journal! One of my favorite groups, where I’ve spent time making friends for about 10 years is the Special Interest Group on CD/DVD Applications & Technology ( SIGCAT, http://www.sigcat.org/). “Founded in 1986, SIGCAT is the world’s largest users group dedicated to educating the public and promoting the growth of applications based on CD and DVD technologies. With over 11,000 members throughout 75 countries, SIGCAT is the largest member of the Federation of Government Information Processing Councils (FGIPC). SIGCAT helps government agencies, corporations, and individuals better understand CD and DVD-based technologies to enhance their information management and data dissemination activities. SIGCAT has evolved from a small user group started at the U.S. Geological Survey to a self-sustaining 501(c)(3) non-profit foundation.” The chairman, Jerry McFaul, is one of the nicest and most accessible people I’ve ever met. A corporate sponsorship for SIGCAT is $375.00 a year: think you can afford this? Another group I’ve spent time with (on and off) for several years is the Industry Advisory Council (IAC, http://www.iaconline.org/). The IAC is the industry advisory group for the Federation of Government Information Processing Councils (FGIPC, http://www.fgipc.org) – of which SIGCAT is a member council. The IAC represents the 200+ companies which account for 75%+ of the total IT contract dollars awarded by the federal government. When I was advising companies on marketing major contracts, I spent a fair amount of time there. If you want to play in the major government IT contract arena, is this time well spent? Trade shows generally run from the high five figures to the low seven figures for participation. You could hire someone to participate in the SIGs for the minimal trade show fee, and, if they were any good, you’d be meeting more of the right people in a better setting. The “problem” with SIGs is they aren’t sexy because they are generally “off the radar” and they involve grunt work and extra (non-9-to-5) time. But the payoffs are real. The government employees you want to meet are there. They see that you care enough to spend real time with them. They become comfortable with you, and, consequently, when they can, they will remember you come purchase time. The bottom line for SIGs is that there is probably one for the audience you are looking for. And if you want to build relationships with government buyers, there is no better venue. Copyright 2000, Amtower & Company