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Addressing an Evaluation Committee

We’re all in the position from time to time of facing a group of people who are evaluating our approaches. Sometimes the economic buyer assembles them for advice, but more often they are feasibility people seeking to “filter out” consultants from the process and “protect” the real buyer’s time.

This session is sometimes unavoidable, so we might as well get good at it.

First, find out something in advance about the people in front of you. When you’re asked to meet with them, inquire about who you’ll be in front of. You don’t want to condemn past human resource practices, for example, if a long-time head of HR is sitting at the table. Sometimes you can get brief bios, or talk to them on the phone. Try not to be a “stranger” when you show up.

Second, don’t become a “circus act.” You’re not there to perform or entertain. State what you understand the objectives of the project are, what the key challenges might be, and how you would tackle them. You don’t have to provide extensive detail about your methodology, but you do owe the group an idea of your overall strategy and tactics. Also, don’t try to provide solutions or make the approach seem simple. They’ve been living with this and don’t expect a miracle resolution in twenty or thirty minutes.

Third, engage the group in discussion. Don’t be a “talking head.” State your points and then (as opposed to asking, “Any questions?”) ask, “I wanted to use this opportunity to clarify some issues I’ve been considering. Could some of you explain the prevailing culture in terms of perceived corporate loyalty?” (or whatever). The more the group is, itself, debating the issues and involving you as a peer, and not a vendor, the more you’re forming a partnership.

Finally, demonstrate that your intention is to work with all key parties on the implementation. This is not something that you are “doing to them,” but rather a project which you will all jointly support and move forward.

Remember that you can’t make a true sale here. Your real objective is simply to achieve the next “yes” and get to the economic buyer. Don’t be afraid to ask them about the process they’re using, or what the next step might be. Resist providing them with a proposal at all costs. Tell the group that, ethically, you’re obligated to hear the objectives of the person who is actually approving the budget expenditure, to absolutely ensure that you can reasonably meet his or her goals. And stress that, in your experience, that is a key step is obtaining long-term sponsorship and support for all of you. Never submit a proposal to a feasibility group, because it will only be used as a commodity comparison with others.