Welcome to the new GO Strategies blog! Being successful at business development and marketing means listening carefully to your clients. To help, GO will routinely interview public agency and private sector clients to gain their insights and commentary on the consultant selection process.
This second opening interview is with Gillian Ockner, a senior policy analyst at the City of Bend, Oregon. According to The City’s website, “Bend is a thriving and growing City with highly engaged and active residents. The City aims to provide public service that is innovative as well as responsive to the community.” The City of Bend is one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the country and planned to spend over $225M in select programs for water, sewer, stormwater, and transportation according to their 2015 – 2017 adopted biennial budget. In her capacity as a senior policy analyst, Gillian facilitates City Council decision making on water, sewer and stormwater utility issues as well as city-wide strategic energy and sustainability issues. She meets with A/E/C consultants regularly and values good consultant/client relationships. Frank Lippert recently caught up with her recently and asked a few questions.
FL: How often do consultants come in and talk to you ahead of an RFP? What’s it like?
GO: I have had two different types of contact with consultants prior to an RFP. One type that I call, “fishing clients,” meets with me when they think there might be work, but really has no idea what might be coming. They are casting lines into the pond to see if they can get a bite. The other type are “hunting clients,” those tracking a particular RFP and know it is coming out at some point in the near term. They want to get more information so they have a better chance of hitting the target when it is time to pull the trigger and propose.
Fishing conversations are fun and explorative. Sometimes they give me ideas for how to approach a project. But sometimes, all the consultant wants to do is give me a sales pitch.
Hunting conversations are useful when I’m refining an RFP. The conversation can help me gauge the project understanding. It’s great, until the consultant starts shooting before the RFP comes out; giving me their sales pitch repeatedly, trying to write the RFP for me, or nagging for further information when I really don’t have it.
Lately, I am getting more cold calls. I got one today, in fact.
FL: What advice would you give a company that really wants to work with you?
GO: As local government, we are usually tight on resources to meet the long list of community needs. Give me two things: an approach that will be efficient in delivering results for multiple objectives and a solution that is long lasting and endurable.
FL: What’s the most memorable thing you ever saw when interviewing consultants (or read in a proposal from consultants)?
GO: I am a sucker for great visual aids with well-targeted communications. I remember one proposal that described a customer interface and showed how it worked. It was very clear and concise. I could quickly visualize how different age groups would use it and benefit from it. Importantly, it also showed how that made our job easier. It reflected that the proposer had actually put their skills and expertise to the test and benefitted from lessons learned over time.
In my opinion, municipal government is not in the business of gambling. While innovation is important, new technologies and software applications have to actually work for the general public from day one - there is little tolerance for do-overs. At the end of the day, it’s all about trust in government and the slightest misstep can significantly erode that trust.
FL If a company that hasn’t done work in Bend before decided to make Bend a target market, where would you suggest they start?
GO: I am always relieved when I am approached by a firm that has done their homework and knows what the big local issues are, who the key players are on the private side, and has good questions around where the opportunities are for external support of City projects. Most of this information can be obtained through our local media (The Bulletin, The Source, Cascade Business News), the City’s website (and, yes, City Council meetings online), and key community organizations like the
Chamber, Economic Development for Central Oregon (EDCO), Visit Bend, Bend 2030, City Club, and The Environmental Center.