This chapter becomes increasingly relevant as the potential volume of business with a buyer increases. Becoming a trusted advisor enables you to really understand and influence the business plans of potential buyers and consequently to be confident that you understand where you can add most value. As a trusted advisor you will understand what language to use and be able to communicate your ideas effectively to key decision makers.
Some buyers want to be influenced, and will create opportunities for those they trust to talk to them. Others may feel uncomfortable and think that they are being manipulated so be sensitive, particularly where your aim is competitive positioning rather than helping the buyer with policy objectives or cost reduction.
As a trusted advisor you will be better placed to identify and convince people trusted by chief executives to help you. In contrast to the private sector new thinking is best introduced through advisors to chief executives who listen to their recommendation, whereas in the private sector a direct approach to chief executives is often more effective.
Image and relationships
Government buyers are looking for honesty, trust and an understanding of risk, and for strategic projects they will be looking at varying levels of partnership. They will primarily listen to people coming from organisations that have a positive reputation and who understand them.
You’ll find that the rules of the game make it difficult to promote an image through, for example, sports sponsorship or to use sports events as opportunities to build personal relationships. Whilst a government employee will not like to say they’ve accepted a ticket to Lords or Twickenham, they will probably feel happy to be seen at a professional / business event. You should therefore consider arranging such events with subjects such as “practical innovation” followed by a reception to discuss the talk with the presenter and other attendees.
Most industries have bodies that represent member organisations so that they can lobby and communicate as a group; Intellect does this for the ICT industry in the UK. There is also EURIM bringing together the ICT industry, politicians and civil servants. The events they organise are useful for getting to know individuals and for putting over an industry view.
Meeting regularly, one to one or in small groups is important in building relationships but only works where there is something worth discussing. I like to look at image and relationship as a container holding credibility, positive events where the buyer gets something of value add more credibility but pointless meetings and phone calls lose credibility. This captures the dynamic nature and if one adds in a natural decay over time, with some credibility rotting away each month, you have a useful model.
There is a wider discussion on building and maintaining networks later.
Creativity and differentiation
Being different and standing out from the crowd isn’t always a good thing, but it usually makes it easier to be heard. If you stand out because of your creativity you will often be invited to talk about how business challenges can be addressed or beneficial changes achieved.
Whenever you meet or communicate with a potential buyer you have the opportunity to demonstrate your creativity. For example, take the effort to step back from the meeting or proposal and see it as contributing to a longer term relationship. Instead of simply answering the questions look creatively at what the buyer is trying to achieve and show how you can not only answer the question but create benefits they haven’t considered.
A good test of whether you have achieved creative differentiation is whether you are invited to help buyers understand what they can achieve. Whilst criticised as providing free consultancy, it can be a worthwhile investment in understanding and shaping opportunities.
During tight market conditions investment in creativity and differentiation is particularly important as that’s the time when you need to stand out. Investing in people who have the capacity to think, and in creating opportunities for them to research and think creatively about potential clients business is a wise decision.
 EURIM – The Information Society Alliance - brings together politicians, officials and industry to help improve the quality of policy formation, consultation, scrutiny, implementation and monitoring http://www.eurim.org.uk/