The Marketing Strategist:

Northrop Grumman Leverages Account-Based Marketing to Win a $2 Billion Deal

February 1, 2007

  • Account-based marketing

Northrop Grummans Information Technology sector knew a good opportunity when it saw one: In 2003, after the Commonwealth of Virginia created the Virginia Information Technologies Agency (VITA) to consolidate all state IT services under one single agency, the newly formed VITA began looking for a partner that could help the state improve its IT infrastructure and deliver managed services to more than 90 executive branch agencies. The $2 billion IT Infrastructure Partnership, the largest IT award in state government, would span 10 years and support economic development in multiple regions of Virginia.

Northrop Grumman knew it was well qualified to do the work, but it had a perception problem to overcome: In Virginia, the company was viewed largely as a builder of ships and submarines, and its depth of experience at both the IT and state levels was not well recognized or understood.

Understanding the Customer, Collaborating with Sales

To better position itself to win the contract, Northrop Grumman created a variation on the ITSMA Account-Based MarketingSM (ABM) approach. Early in the process, the company devoted significant effort to networking with key players to better understand VITA’s key issues, concerns, and objectives as well as to gain insight into how those influencers perceived Northrop Grumman.

It quickly became clear that VITA was looking for a partner with:

  • Best-in-class IT expertise
  • A significant presence in Virginia
  • A commitment to economic development in the most depressed areas of the state
  • A focus on delivering the best possible options and offers to the state employees potentially impacted by the program

According to Liz Schwatka, director of marketing and communications for Northrop Grumman’s Commercial, State, and Local Group, “Building a deep understanding of VITA’s goals and objectives was a critical first step in winning this contract, and our business development team played an invaluable role in defining key themes and identifying target audiences. Marketing and business development were ‘joined at the hip’ on this positioning and branding initiative for three years. We worked together to figure out how to reach the right people with the right messages at the right times and places. It was a very collaborative effort, and we couldn’t have implemented the campaign without them.”

Planning and Executing the Marketing Campaign

Building on its knowledge of VITA’s goals and objectives, Northrop Grumman’s communications and marketing team designed an integrated marketing campaign to raise awareness of the company’s technology expertise and solid Virginia roots. Consistent messaging across all communication channels was key to the campaign:

  • Advertising focused on Northrop Grumman as a vital, longtime member of the Commonwealth’s business community as well as on the company’s people-focused culture.
  • Sponsorships and speaking opportunities were selected based on the technology content, and subject matter experts were chosen based on their technology know-how.
  • The company’s grassroots efforts focused across the state, particularly in southwest Virginia, where company executives spoke at local community events and higher-education venues and submitted op-ed pieces to local newspapers.
  • The company also developed a video featuring Northrop Grumman employees talking about their individual experiences working for the company and working in Virginia.

As a result of its branding campaign, Northrop Grumman received more than 200 media hits in local, state, and national publications regarding the VITA contract. Anecdotal feedback also suggested that state executives were taking notice of Northrop Grumman, its presence in Virginia, and its technology expertise.

Communicating Via the Customer Experience

Schwatka was quick to point out that although the branding campaign certainly had a big impact on the success of Northrop Grumman’s bid, it was really the customer experience that clinched the deal. “At every single touchpoint with the client, Northrop Grumman wanted to reinforce that it had the expertise and Virginia roots that VITA was looking for. Our employees—from the most technically oriented delivery people right on up to Ron Sugar, our Chairman and CEO—went to great lengths to make sure that VITA felt confident in Northrop Grumman’s abilities and comfortable with us every step of the way.”

She stressed that the participation of senior-level executives was particularly important because their participation in media interviews, speaking engagements, and community outreach demonstrated to VITA just how committed Northrop Grumman is to the state’s success.


Northrop Grumman did a number of things right to win the 10-year, $2 billion contract with VITA. First, it made sure that the marketing and business development teams worked closely with each other to gain a deep understanding of VITA’s issues, priorities, and needs. Second, it took that insight and translated it into a highly focused branding campaign that was designed to widen the perceptions of key decision makers within the state to include knowledge of Northrop Grumman’s IT expertise and its deep Virginia roots. Third, it ensured that every interaction the customer had with the company would reinforce this new perception.

Today, the company is focused on continuing to demonstrate its commitment to the Commonwealth of Virginia and is looking to leverage its success in other states and municipalities across the country. According to Schwatka, “This is a huge contract that will result in capital investment of nearly $270 million and create hundreds of new jobs in the state. It was inspiring to see how the whole company pulled together to help make this happen. Personally, I found it highly rewarding to have a role in supporting this partnership, and I’m looking forward to supporting new opportunities through similar integrated marketing campaigns!”

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