Gaining a competitive advantage by understanding your customer's acquisition process

When you get lucky and your customer reveals something they’re thinking about doing or buying in the future, your next step should not be to pitch them on selecting you as the vendor. Instead, what you should focus on next is:

  • Gaining an information advantage
  • Influencing the specification
  • Building the relationship so that more revelations may follow

Besides, any deal is weeks or months away. Maybe even years. And more importantly, the customer isn't ready to think about selecting a vendor. They're still trying to figure out what to get and how. At this stage, you'll get far more out of helping them then you will out of selling yourself.

If something is big and complex, the customer can’t just go out and buy it. They’ve got research to do and an internal procurement process to follow. While the time is not right to sell them, the time is right to help them navigate their procurement process. You have probably heard about how important it is to start your pursuits before the RFP is released and to influence the specifications. Now is the time.

First, you need to study up on your customer’s procurement process and buying habits. If they have a procurement manual for their own staff that is online or available, download and study it. Their procurement manual will describe the steps they have to go through. More importantly, it will describe the approval process and who will be involved. Studying their procurement process will tell you what they need to do next so that you can help them. It will also help you anticipate where the project could get sidetracked so that you can act to prevent it.

The customer’s acquisition process will involve things like deciding what contract vehicle to use, budgeting, writing the RFP, performing market surveys of potential vendors, establishing the evaluation process and criteria, etc. Often a procurement specialist will get involved to guide the actual buyer through the process. You can help them by supplying the information they need to complete the process. Just simply understanding the steps will enable you to better track the lead and anticipate when the RFP will be released.

At each step you should consider what you can do to help your customer, and how you can position for competitive advantage:

See also:
Influencing the RFP
  • What contract vehicles can you offer that will streamline the paperwork for your customer? If the customer needs to conduct a market survey to establish things like the competitive range and the number of potential bidders, who can you recommend be included?
  • What advice can you give them regarding the budget? An amateur will simply seek to make it as large as possible. An expert will show the customer what things will drive the price up or down and let the customer maximize their budget while influencing the requirements.
  • If the customer’s process calls for issuing a “Sources Sought” notice to determine whether any small businesses are capable of being the prime contractor, what can you do to influence the specifications in either direction?
  • What can you tell the customer about what’s important in selecting a vendor that might be useful when the customer has to prepare the evaluation criteria?
  • What specification do you want or not want included in the scope of work? Can you help the customer by providing information in a white paper that they could use to help write the RFP?

It’s all about being there at the right time with the right information. If you try to influence the contract vehicle after the customer has determined their acquisition strategy, you’ll encounter resistance. If you try to change the specification after the RFP has been written, you’ll encounter resistance. But if you show up with the information they need to complete the next step in their procurement process, you are being helpful. Being helpful grows the relationship and generates goodwill. But doing things to gain influence at the wrong time achieves just the opposite. How well you know the customer's acquisition process can make all the difference.

Here is an article describing 24 Ways to Influence an RFP. It's taken from the get into position to win before the RFP is even released.


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Carl Dickson

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 carl.dickson@captureplanning.com. To find out more about him, you can also connect with Carl on LinkedIn.

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