In my last post I talked about the importance of talking to the buyer for your project. I introduced the idea of the gatekeeper there. To recap, the gatekeeper is anyone that doesn’t appear to have the power to approve a project. If they cannot give approval for moving a project forward, then you need to talk to someone else who can help you properly understand the value of the work you’re going to do before you’re ready to write a proposal.
Today, let’s talk about the ways you can woo the gatekeeper to make sure that you are talking to the right person: the buyer.
Only Say Yes to RFPs You Helped Develop
The first method you can use is to only say yes to RFPs if you helped to develop them. My response email looks something like this:
Thanks for reaching out about your project. Unfortunately, I only work with RFP’s that I helped to write. This is in order to ensure the project scope is correct for the company, and there is value in the work I may perform. Good luck with your project.
Most of the time, I never hear back from the company reaching out if it is a general RFP. In a few cases every year, I do hear back in some form.
It could be a single website owner that didn’t know how to get someone to work on their project so they went with an RFP; this happened to me once. He had lots of highly technical (and not needed) features he put into the RFP because he read somewhere that they were needed. While everyone else just sent in a proposal for the features as listed, I got on the phone and talked with him to understand what features he actually needed.
Needless to say, I got the project and have continued to work with this client for a few years. I won it because I was the only one that took the time to dig into his real needs, instead of replying back to the RFP based on the specs provided. Their responses ended up being much more costly, because they were trying to meet requirements in that RFP which would not have brought value to the client.
The other response you may get is someone that is a buyer reaching out directly. I had this happen with the Director of IT at a Fortune 500 company. I was directly recommended by the Director of IT, which was why I received the RFP. In this case, I dealt with the Director of IT and the engineers that wanted the work done, bypassing the RFP process entirely. They still had a meeting to “decide” which company would get the work. I was present at this meeting where they pointed to the other responses to indicate they got the required number of bids, and then we talked more about payment terms. I also won this contract, as you might guess.
Create a Win-Win
The second tactic is to talk about the win-win scenario that will come from you getting to talk directly to the end buyer of the project. You want to appeal to two things here:
- You want to create a scenario in which you make the gatekeeper look like a stellar employee to the buyer.
- You also want the real reasons that the project is getting done.
You want to be able to tailor a proposal to their needs specifically, and address their concerns. Many times the purchasing department (another common gatekeeper) has no idea about the ramifications of building out a new site.
To woo the gatekeeper and talk to the buyer – create a win-win scenario – I say something like:
I need to speak directly with the buyer for this project. I’ve found that talking to the end user of the project uncovers a bunch of concerns that others are not aware of. We both want to make sure that those bases are covered right?
Having bids that directly and properly address the needs of the end buyer makes whomever is getting the bids look good. This is going to help them in their career, and you want to make the people that you work with look good – including the gatekeeper.
Appeal to Using Time Effectively
If you’ve proposed a win-win scenario and haven’t been able to woo the gatekeeper to talk to the buyer, then you can appeal to the gatekeeper’s use of time.
If I’m taking this approach, I’d say something along these lines:
In the past when people have represented me to their bosses and the end users, they haven’t been able to answer the questions adequately they get asked about the project. They often end up going back and forth a few times to get all my questions answered, which isn’t an effective use of your time or your supervisor’s. I also want to ensure this proposal aligns closely with where the buyer’s vision is for the company over the foreseeable future.
If you only talk to the gatekeeper before you present a proposal then expect to be out of touch with the values of the end users of your work. You need to make sure that you gather as much information as possible before finalizing the proposal.
Networking with the Buyer
Get creative about how you talk to the next person up the ladder – ideally the buyer. If you’re local, what type of networking events would the buyer go to? Why don’t you show up and strike up a conversation?
Even tell them that it was great to meet them because you had a few questions about the project that haven’t been answered yet. Don’t ask them right then and there (unless you’re invited) but ask for permission to follow up later via phone or email. Make sure to grab their card for their direct line.
In most cases he/she will say yes. And – not only have you got to talk to the real client for the project…if you’ve done a decent job of being interesting then you’ve possibly jumped ahead of your competition because of the face to face meeting!
If it feels odd the first time you meet them, then go to a second or third event. The goal is to land the project, and maybe the client for the long term, so put some investment in to the relationship to earn their trust.
The Goal is to Become a Trusted Provider
Becoming a trusted provider is what business is about. All of these tactics can be leveraged to woo the gatekeeper and talk to the buyer so that you can get to know them better and address their concerns. When you can address their concerns well, and talk with them about how you can create value in their business, you’re much more likely to win the work.
Sometimes, despite trying all of these tactics, you just can’t woo the gatekeeper. Almost every time there are a very specific set of reasons why you can’t speak to the buyer, which is what I’ll talk about next time.
Until then, try the tactics above to talk to the end buyer of the project so that you can properly understand the value that you need to bring to the table.