How do you feel when people send you emails or call you, asking what you think about various topics? Do you feel flattered that someone is interested in your opinion? Will you showcase your expertise by going into all sorts of detail, far beyond the initial questions the caller asked you?
This is exactly what the person on the other end of the phone is hoping you will do.
They are taking notes as you regurgitate your intellectual property and engineering and sales know-how. You are providing them with free consulting. You are not relationship-building by demonstrating how much you know. It’s probably the one and only interaction you will have with these individuals.
Does this scenario sound familiar?
It’s played out daily in many technically-oriented companies. The phone rings; an engineer or technical assistant picks up. The caller identifies themselves from a company that your sales team has been prospecting. You may know the caller: they are an existing customer. Either way, the caller tells you about an upcoming project and asks you what you recommend they do.
If you are savvy, you will ask a few qualifying questions first – even if you know the caller personally. Asking questions like: “Is the project both approved as well as funded?” will let you know whether they are fishing for info to include in a spec they are writing. If they tell you yes, how about asking yet another question: “When will the RFP be issued?” Their answer should let you know if they are shopping your expertise because they may/may not understand what needs to be included in the spec.
Then it’s up to your gut.
Frankly, if the project is both funded and an RFP is imminent, I recommend your telling the caller that you’d like to share this information with your sales rep. Three of you can set up a meeting and address the caller’s questions, together. When you catch someone in the initial stages of specification writing for an RFP, often you can help them create an RFP for which only one vendor is qualified. And you know who that vendor is.
However, if you aren’t savvy, you will spew reams of information at the caller, who will thank you profusely. You will not win the bid. They will take your proposed solutions and shop it to someone else with whom they have a relationship or who will undercut you on price.
Become more savvy when dealing with this scenario. (Hint: collaborate with your sales folks on this one.) Otherwise, you are simply doing someone else’s homework for them.
Then there are the folks who send you emails or call you, asking for your time to discuss some issue of interest to them. That’s their complete request. They may be folks from another department in your corporation. They may be an individual from a company you’d like to work with or for. Perhaps they’ve read your stuff on social media platforms. They aren’t a reporter asking for an interview. They aren’t a blogger who will provide attribution links to your blog and fully credit the information from your discussion.
They want your time so they can basically pick your brain.
While their request is flattering, something sound familiar? As in the previous scenario, before you decide to showcase your thought leadership with what amounts to a private pro bono webinar for the other person’s benefit, give yourself credit for being a Person of Worth. Ask the individual making the request what they intend to do with the information you provide them.
You’re allowed to ask that question.
Otherwise, same deal as the engineer who gave away design knowledge and whose sales team wasn’t even considered during the bid process. Your designs, opinions, and intellectual property become the playthings of the person making the request. They won’t hesitate to take credit for them.
If you are completely altruistic, or like doing someone else’s homework for them, kudos to you. Otherwise, I suggest you become more savvy and perceptive about why people make requests of you.
Don’t be shy about asking these questions. They aren’t shy about making their requests of you.
Babette N. Ten Haken, Founder & President of Sales Aerobics for Engineers, LLC, catalyzes revenue-producing business transition, startup growth and professional development, one millimeter at a time. She works with manufacturing and engineering firms and small business entrepreneurships.