Today’s blog post was contributed by networking colleague Karen Sullivan, founder of Sullivan Solutions, which helps entrepreneurial companies augment their in-house marketing. Many of the insights offered here are useful for blog content writers…
In a world of so many choices, shopping can be harrowing. Whether you are shopping for the perfect pair of athletic shoes or for the best professional service provider for your growing business, you have so many options.
The shopping experience as education
Shopping is essentially education. Of course, in the case of an afternoon at the mall or a late-night binge on Amazon, it can also be largely entertaining. It’s exhilarating to find something that we didn’t know we needed. Maybe we buy it on impulse or make a mental note to consider it in the future.
In the case of buying professional services for your business, it’s often hard to understand the differences between providers. You don’t shop for bookkeepers or web developers very often, so you may feel you need to educate yourself by interviewing several. You might be frustrated because you get a different sales pitch every time. It’s never an apples-to-apples comparison.
The buyer has the biggest role in identifying a differentiator
In the age of the internet, there’s no reason not to do your homework before you start your shopping. You’ll find a wealth of good information with a simple and thoughtful Google search. Don’t be afraid to ask even casual business colleagues for some guidance or referrals. There’s no need to start from scratch.
1. Do start with a budget.
Don’t worry, your budget can be a broad range. However, you’ll waste everyone’s time, especially your own, if you start shopping features without some budgetary guidelines.
2. Identify your 3-7 key deal breakers.
These are only the absolute must haves. Keep them simple because these are the first things you will use to qualify or disqualify candidates. Don’t forget some deal-breakers may be soft-skills like “prefers to communicate by phone rather than email”.
3. Your short list probably should be more alike than not
When you finally invite sales pitches, your candidates should look pretty similar. They should certainly all be capable of meeting your deal-breakers. If they are vastly different in features or benefits, you may not have done enough homework.
4. Transparency is two-sided, too.
Don’t come to the table with the intention of getting free consultation buried in the pitch. That may be a pleasant bonus. However, healthy relationships are built on mutual respect. Be honest and open with your expectations and your budget. At the same time, you have every right to expect the same honesty in the pitch.
5. Ask for clarification.
Proposals shouldn’t surprise you. If you receive competing proposals that look significantly different in terms of deliverables and costs, consider whether you’ve been misunderstood or simply over-sold. Regardless, if you don’t ask for clarification, you may miss your best choice and your best, unsolicited learning opportunity.
Karen Sullivan may be contacted at Karen@sullivansolutions.com