It can be difficult to find the right person to talk to at big Government Agencies and companies. That’s a major reason why people don’t do pre-RFP pursuit. It’s also why many companies are in perpetual sales mode, with no real inbound marketing.
Before you can influence the RFP or gain pre-RFP customer insight, you have to make contact with the right people at the customer. Here are some ways to do that:
- Past contracts. Sometimes the best source of data about future purchases starts by identifying who the buyers were for similar purchases in the past. So start with mining the data and looking up past contracts through online databases. The points of contact may not always be up to date, but it’s a good place to start.
- Associations. What associations might the customer belong to? Do they publish their membership or attendee lists? Do they hold meetings where you might meet face to face? Do they publish presentations or documents that might mention names?
- Councils, standards setting organizations, and committees. Are there any other organizations the customer might participate in? In addition to their membership list, do they publish minutes or other documents that might provide insight or contacts?
- LinkedIn profiles. Can you find your points of contact on LinkedIn? If you do, can you find their co-workers and business partners? In addition to searching by demographics, you can also search by acronyms, technical terminology, program names, functional terminology, etc.
- LinkedIn groups. Look up what groups on LinkedIn your customers have joined. If they post, see what you can learn. If they read, you have an opportunity to put words in front of them. Just simply knowing what groups they are in can provide insight. If you can’t find your customers’ profiles on LinkedIn, maybe you can find them in a relevant group.
- Trade shows and events. What trade shows and events do they host or participate in? Can you get introduced? Can you meet face to face? What can you learn? What can you demonstrate?
- Websites and org charts. Does the customer have a website? Does it name names? Does it have an org chart that can help you navigate? Can you do an image search for a relevant org chart?
- Publishers. There are companies that research, aggregate, and publish databases that include customer contact information. Some can save you a huge amount of time.
- Google. Learn how to use Boolean search operators. Then combine fragments of names, email addresses, titles, projects, technology, locations, etc. to see if you can find the needle in the haystack.
- Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). If it’s a Government customer, you can try doing a FOIA for rosters, staff directories, points of contact, organization charts, committee memberships, attendance lists, etc.
- Teaming partners. Who do your subs or primes know? Can you get a referral or introduction?
- Personal networking. Who do you know? Who do they know? How wide can you cast your net? Are you actively seeking to expand your network?
- Alumni. Not yours. Theirs. Where did they go to school? Can you track them down through Alumni organizations or discover someone else who knows them?
- Certification registries. If their job requires specific certifications, are there lists or registries of people with that certification?
- Look for coordination points. Where does the customer’s organization need to coordinate with the outside world? That’s where people will be visible.
- Look for common interests, platforms, tools, and requirements. Show interest in their interests. Be where they will be. Then be helpful when they arrive.
As much fun as tracking down your customer can be, it’s not always the best approach. Why go to all that effort when you can get them to come to you? Doing that is not as hard as you might think. You have to look at things differently. You have to practice marketing instead of sales. You have to get past the need for immediate gratification. Here are some approaches you can take:
- Host the event. Don’t go to an event where they might be. Host the event. Have them come to you. Make it worth their while. And invite them. The event could involve training, or something else. Do it on a regular basis so that word of mouth can bring you more.
- Start a LinkedIn group. This is the same as hosting events. Only instead of face-time, it brings them to you online.
- Start an association. If you are trying to reach particular people, but you are having difficulty locating them as individuals, try starting an association that targets them. While this one is a long term proposition, it also has a high potential payoff as it can combine all of the other approaches.
- Create a forum. Whether online or otherwise, a forum encourages discussion. If your customer will participate. They have to perceive the value in it.
- Publish and gain followers. When you create content that the customer finds interesting, usually because they find it helpful, they’ll seek it out. They’ll invite you to put words in front of them. Instead of selling, try being an asset. Prove your value. Give them a way to follow for more and a way to invite their coworkers.
- Philanthropy. Host and support charitable events that your customers are interested in. Better yet, collaborate with them on philanthropic efforts. Let the customer come to you in support of your cause.
- Advertise. It costs money. It may or may not produce results. But it’s an easy way to get attention. It’s what you do with that attention that counts.
Many of these work best when you don’t push your branding and you leave your corporate identify in the background. Selling can chase people away. The mere expectation that selling will occur can chase customers away.
They’re not going to call you because they want to buy from you. When they want to buy they issue RFIs and RFPs. It’s not about selling. It’s about getting to know each other and working together. It’s about professional development. It’s about brainstorming and a quest for solutions. It’s about their mission. It’s about anything besides sales.
This is inbound marketing. It’s something that government contractors rarely do, and almost never do well. But which do you think is mostly likely to result in a sale - you cold calling them, bidding blind, or them contacting you?
Carl is the Founder and President of CapturePlanning.com and PropLIBRARY
Carl is an expert at winning in writing. The materials he has published have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is also a prolific author, frequent speaker, trainer, and consultant and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out more about him, you can also connect with Carl on LinkedIn.