The customer is more than one person. And different people have different perspectives. Developing a reliable relationship with the customer means interacting with as many levels and stakeholders as you possibly can. Here are some areas to focus on.
Who to reach out to
Each of these requires a different strategy. Each has different needs, priorities, and expectations. Each has a different perspective and can be a source for different information. All are worth contacting and getting to know.
- Executive level. If you can’t get face time, then pay attention to what they say when giving presentations and talking to the media. Your customer's leaders can be a good source for learning about the long-term trends impacting their organization and what might be pressuring them to change.
- Contracting officers (COs). COs are concerned with following proper procurement procedures. They are not there to help you. They also may not understand what they are buying and probably don’t need to. But they are the authority on how the customer buys. Understanding their needs can help you interact with the procurement process that they will implement.
- Contracting Officer's Technical Representatives (COTRs): COTRs often play a key role in writing the statement of work. After award they play a key role in monitoring performance and compliance. Make their life easier. Help them with their paperwork. Help them translate technical issues into the requirements language they will need to resolve those issues and fulfill their organization's needs.
- Operations staff. The end users who need what is being procured are only one group of people involved in the procurement. They tend to be mission oriented and care the most about the technical requirements. They often don't understand their organization's procurement procedures, and they may or may not play a role in proposal evaluation. They may control the budget that will be used to make the purchase. The recognition of needs and initiation of the procurement process often starts with them.
- Internal stakeholders (other departments that interact with your targets). The group that is doing the buying may not be the only ones at the customer impacted by the procurement. Internal stakeholders may or may not have a competing agenda. They may or may not be collaborative. But they probably have another perspective if you can get them to share.
- External stakeholders (outside groups or organizations impacted by or interacting with your targets). Your customer might serve, collaborate with, or get input from outside organizations and people. The happiness of external stakeholders may or may not be critical to the buyer. While they probably won’t have insider insight, you never know…
Ways to research and make contact
Finding out who to contact is a solvable problem. Actually making contact is hard. Remember, it's not about your needs. It's about their needs. So reach out in a way that's helpful to them and you have a better chance of holding their attention. Here are some ways you can try to reach out to them.
- Telephone. Cold calling is sometimes worth it. Warm calling, where you have an introduction or are following up on something relevant, is even better. Make it worth their time to talk to you. Or at least return your call.
- Email. It's a great way to share info of value to your customers. Try sharing highly relevant and useful website links.
- LinkedIn. LinkedIn provides multiple ways to research and contact people, including groups and direct messaging. You may be able to gain an understanding of the customer's organization just from studying their LinkedIn profiles. In his 2019 LinkedIn Federal Employee Census, Mark Amtower reports there are over 2 million civilian Federal Government and DoD members on LinkedIn.
- Conferences. Conferences are a great way to meet and greet, present, watch, etc. They are a great chance to quickly show some depth beyond selling. Make your outreach of value to them, instead of the other way around like most vendors so they’ll respond back to you in the future. Don't go in blind or fish for random contacts. It's worth putting some effort into learning which conferences your potential customers attend so you can get in front of them.
Meetings. Can you land a meeting? The odds go up if you make them about the customer and not about yourself.