Creating the Batphone

One of the most common stumbling blocks most contracts people encounter is simply getting their business folks to come to them for help.  In a great article from the Wisconsin Technology Network, Mark Foley lists 10 questions a business person should ask themselves to find out whether they should go get contracts assistance in a technology acquisition.  Mark’s triage review happens a little late in the process and the comment from Erik Phelps drives that point home – earlier involvement can lead to better deals.

So how do you get your business owner(s) to call you?  How do you create the red Batphone from their desks to yours to alert you to every new deal that’s coming down the pipe?

Well, Batman responded to the Batphone (and Commissioner Gordon called) using the same rules you should:

1.  Speed.  You’ve got to be quick.  Batman picked up that phone within seconds.  Turnaround time for initial contact should be less than 8 business hours.  Seriously – you can call someone back (yes, CALL them, not e-mail) in less than a day.

2.  Triage.  Deals should be ranked for importance and severity.  Learn to let the little things go.  Commissioner Gordon didn’t call Batman for every petty thing his police could handle and you shouldn’t be doing every purchase order.  There is a hierarchy of purchasing tasks – and dollars and company impact are key to understanding that risk.

3.  Trust.  Your business folks have to trust you.  Which means that you have to be honest with them.  If they think you’re slowing things down just to get a word or two into the contract, that’s going to tick them off.  In one of the Batman movies (the one with Val Kilmer and Nicole Kidman), the phone was replaced with the Batsignal – the giant light.  In one scene, Nicole had the hots for Batman and used it to lure him to the rooftop to seduce him.  Batman reminded Nicole that it wasn’t a dating signal.

4.  Value.  This one’s not as easy, but you have to get a few wins in early.  Which means that if you’re just starting out, you need to prove that you know what you’re doing.  If Batman didn’t actually save a life or two, the trust and value component of his vigilantism would drop.  Even if the police wanted to use him, they couldn’t because he’d just look like a raving lunatic in a cape.  While contracts people don’t have capes (well, I don’t… do you?) – we have the tendency to be seen as lunatics.  We push for intangibles that very few people understand thoroughly.  So we have to eventually (hopefully quickly) show value.

5.  Process.  You have to teach your business owners the process you want them to follow.  Don’t assume they know your name or e-mail address… or where you sit.  SHOW THEM.  Develop a process flow to teach them when to call, what you’re doing and how everything fits together.

Oh, one last thing:

6.  Give them the Batphone.  Batman, both on TV and in the movies, gave the city the way to get in touch.  HE covered the costs, so to speak, of making contact simple.  Today, that means asking your telecom folks to help you get a dedicated “contracts line”  – an easier to remember phone number.  If your department has an acronym, see if it’s 3 or 4 letters and find out if the number equivalent is available.  Or ask for a repeating digit (like x1111).  If you have an internal phone extension system, there are a lot of opportunities.

Get a dedicated e-mail address (two or three, actually). ; ; etc.  They can be aliases to e-mail lists to make sure that everyone on your team gets the message if someone calls – even if it’s just you.  Give out contracts@ to your internal folks.  Give out vendors@ for generic things from your vendors (like for insurance certificates and on your templates for a notice address).

Do you have anything else you do to get your business folks to come to you for help?  Let us know in the comments or start a forum topic.

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