7 Steps to Crafting the Perfect Call to Action (CTA) When Marketing at Government Conferences
Trade shows and government conferences are one of the costs that companies take into account in the annual marketing budget. This makes sense as conferences and events are one way companies solve the challenge of identifying how to find government contracts. It makes sense that you go into each event with a strong game plan for how your company will achieve the maximum Return on Investment (ROI). How many times have you heard the phrase “government conferences and trade shows are a waste of time and money” from one of your colleagues? Probably quite a bit. In fact, many companies are frustrated with government conferences because they don’t achieve the results they want.
The reason most companies don’t acheive the expected ROI from government conferences boils down to one simple problem that you can fix before your next event. It’s called a Call to Action or CTA. A call to action is simply a CLEAR ACTION that you would like prospects to take. Now before I get into the steps of creating a call to action, let me be clear about something. There is such a thing as a bad CTA. So if you think you have a CTA but you aren’t getting the results you want, you may need to review the CTA to see if it’s any good.
If we can get a decent response from a blind list, we know we’re going to get a good response from people that know us.
In our business, RSM Federal, we are always testing our CTA’s with sample lists to validate conversion rates. My sample lists typically consist of 2,500 blind emails. These are people that have never heard of us. The reason I do this is that I want an unbiased review of the CTA to see what the best and worst possible responses may look like.
So let’s talk about how to craft the perfect CTA for government conferences.
1. Start with a Goal in mind
When I use the word goal here, I’m not saying: “How many sales do you want” or “How to find government contracts” or “what is your overall goal for the government conference.” I’m simply saying: What action do you want people to take when they see your CTA? What you should be thinking is: How do I get qualified people into my system / pipeline / funnel? You DON’T want raw volume here. You want qualified prospects. And the best way to do this is to have a really juicy piece of irresistible content that you are giving away.
While our model is B2B and B2G, most of our work is supporting other companies. So once or twice a year, we give away something called the Government Contractor’s Success Kit (GCSK). The kit comes with some really cool templates, a graphics pack, and a bonus video. The rest of the year we charge for it.
When we go to government conferences, we hand out business cards with instructions on how to download the kit on the back and we offer it at the end of our sessions, webinars, and keynotes. Our goal is to generate 100+ downloads of this kit at each conference.
So why is this the main CTA that we use? Because we have tested it against several other CTA’s and it performs the best. It has the highest conversion rate from a blind subscriber to downloading the kit and it’s an easy entry point into our system. For companies that want to learn how to find government contracts, this kit provides solid value. When used in combination with other CTA tripwires, it produces amazing results. I’ll explain more about tripwires below.
2. Make it easy, but not effortless
The one CTA that I hate at government conferences and events is the old drop your card in the bowl to win a TV or something. That CTA is effortless and it puts a lot of unqualified prospects in your database. This clutters up your database. Quick bit of marketing trivia: Did you know that a single unqualified lead in your database is estimated to cost as much as $1,000 over the course of time? Think about if for a second. If you market to them just like they are qualified, you may spend $500 alone on postage, direct mail pieces, time writing emails, and phone calls. Unqualified prospects suck precious minutes out of your day that you should be spent talking to qualified prospects.
So back to my point of simplifying your CTA’s at government conferences. There are a lot of ways to fill your pipeline, both government representatives and perspective teaming partners, to help you identify how to find government contracts. We love using a handout like a business card or postcard with a link on it. This also allows you to setup custom url’s so you can track where leads come from. You can also use QR codes, setup signup stations in your booth, or use social media, to name a few.
Filling out an application or watching a demo is not easy. Don’t do that. It’s irritating.
3. Remove the risk
Before you can remove risk, you have to understand what is risky to a cold prospect. Being asked to fill out 15 fields of information (that are all mandatory) is risky. Most people are willing to give you their name and email. That’s not nearly as risky as giving out a phone number and mailing address.
Marketing at government conferences is one activity to help you identify how to find government contracts – but you still have to remove the perceived risk. So when you are asking people to fill out a form, just ask for name and email. It’s proven that this method converts the highest and it’s also proven that qualified prospects won’t typically give you their phone number and / or mailing address without having a stronger relationship with you or your company.
4. Qualify the prospect.
The easiest way to do this is to create an offer for your CTA that matches the greatest needs of your ideal prospects AND lines up with a service that you want to provide them. Back to our Government Contractor’s Success Kit as one example of how to find government contracts, or in this specific case, how to identify and qualify government contractors. Our headline on our CTA is: Win More Government Contracts. Download the Government Contractor’s Success Kit Today. This headline talks about a need of our ideal prospects. To win more government contracts. AND it ties to our services, which helps our clients learn how to find government contracts and how to win them.
Now, this doesn’t eliminate the people who can’t afford our services, but it does focus-in on people who have winning more contracts as a top priority and that gets us a step closer to qualified. Our tripwires help qualify people even further. This CTA will only attract people who want to win more contracts and it will position us as a company who can help them. How does winning a free TV qualify people? It doesn’t. It just puts business cards in a bowl.
In fact, the next time you’re looking at how to find government contracts and you’re planning marketing at one or more government conferences, how about a white-paper or case study that specifically targets government program managers? When a government decision maker or champion stops by your booth, tell them that based on your past performance, you’ve come to understand the four or five most common challenges faced by other agencies, just like theirs. You’ve written a case study called “The five most common challenges. . . [in your field] faced by federal agencies and the 9 most common solutions to those challenges.”
“If you’ll give me your card, I’ll forward the study to you.”
You only execute this CTA when you’ve confirmed it’s a government representative and potential buyer. Sure, you have to design and develop this, but what an excellent call to action AND you’re not only educating a prospect, your creating the perception that you’re a subject matter expert (SME). This is just one example.
5. Make it scalable.
Scalable equals automation and technology. I try to only use systems where people are entering their information on their phone, tablet, or computer. It’s just not feasible for me to do this any other way. That is why I love sending people to a form on our website. This allows the prospect to enter in their own information (saving me time and money) and it increases the accuracy of the data. If you have your own people inputting data, you will almost certainly have errors and lost leads.
Making the collection of information scalable also allows you to use the CTA in multiple places, which is excellent for government conferences. For us, we get to use the same CTA at our booth, while we’re walking around the event, and while we are speaking from the stage. This creates multiple collection points and this accelerates our results for how to find government contracts and the contractors who want to win them.
Another thing you want to do is integrate your marketing system with your CTA. For example, have the signup form on your website automatically add the lead to your email list (Constant Contact, MailChimp, Infusionsoft, or whatever email system you are using.) If you have an autoresponder, have the new lead assigned to the autoresponder so they get your ‘drip’ marketing.
Another reason I like having people input their own data is that it requires a little bit of effort. I want someone to go through a few hoops to get to me. Not large hoops because we know name and email is the best approach. Having prospects enter their own data shows they have interest. If you make it too easy to reach you. . . you will be bombarded with unqualified leads.
6. Add in some Tripwires
This is probably my favorite step in the process that helps us at government conferences. Tripwires are a simple and great way to engage your prospects at multiple levels and to further qualify them. The concept is very simple. Think about what you have to offer your prospects for free or even low cost and gently sprinkle that into the process of signing up for the original CTA.
Tripwires are used extensively for marketing across all industries. As soon as a prospect says, “Yes, I want that,” after entering their data, you put another CTA in front of them. You ALREADY have their contact information! Now you can place even more value in front of them.
If you sell or want to sell to the federal government, perhaps your first CTA is a case study and the second CTA is you’re willingness to have your project manager go to their office and discuss a contract with another agency that solves challenges very similar to the ones they be facing at their agency. This is just one example.
7. Measure it
Last but not least, you have to measure your CTA’s to find out what works best. I try to test 6 to 10 at a time. Obviously, this many works best online with your website or other landing pages. For government conferences, you probably only want two or three. Once I have a winner, I will often play with the headline, message body, and even the unsubscribe notice to see what converts best. Marketing is all about math and knowing your numbers.
What performs the best and what generates sales? A high conversion rate of “subscribers” may not be the right CTA for your company if it doesn’t generate revenue. In fact, you will sometimes find that a CTA with a lower upfront conversion rate may generate more sales.
For example, you will have a high conversion rate for giving out a free TV, but the odds are slim that it will generate sales for your company unless you sell TV accessories. That is why it’s so important to measure everything at every step. In our business, I not only measure the initial conversion rate, I measure the conversion rate from step to step and the overall conversion rate from lead to sale. This helps RSM Federal make marketing decisions based on data and facts instead of gut feelings.
Bonus Tip: Be Prepared to Be Patient
I get asked a lot how I became so good at marketing. My answer is simple. I try a lot of stuff and make note of what works and what doesn’t. I stop doing what doesn’t work and I ramp up what does work. It’s not a complicated formula, but the average person / business owner wants to craft the perfect CTA on the first round, “in a vacuum,” and pray that it works. That is NOT a good formula for success. If you want long-term success, create half a dozen CTA’s. Create multiple headlines for them, and test the crap out of them. That’s the formula for crafting the perfect CTA.
Need help crafting the perfect CTA for your company? Talk to us.
Michael LeJeune is a Partner and the Federal Access (FA) Program Manager at RSM Federal, a federal consulting and business-acceleration strategy firm that provides companies with the templates, processes, and strategies for winning government contracts. For more information about RSM Federal, please visit www.rsmfederal.com