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The Thought Leader’s Survival Guide for the Corporate Procurement Process

When you’re a thought leader selling solutions into a large organization, you may find corporate buying practices somewhat bewildering—especially if you’ve come from the world of academia or small business. You’ve spent a lot of time thinking about your content, and then someone says, “We’re putting out an RFP for this type of solution for 5,000 employees. Would you like to bid?”

At first blush, it’s flattering to be asked to submit a proposal. A new thought leader may see stars and comets, but it’s important to temper your enthusiasm. Understand what you’re doing before you commit!

The world of corporate procurement makes buying decisions complex.

Instead of working with a single buyer, you’re often working with a committee that represents various stakeholders in the organization. That committee is empowered to make a buying decision, and spend company money on solutions to meet the organization’s needs. Here’s an important thing to know in advance: no single individual on the committee has the authority to unilaterally say “yes,” but every single individual can block a deal by saying “no.” In addition to a buying committee, you may need to deal with the company’s procurement department. That department is used to negotiating large, multi-year contracts with key supplier, and you can bet they are used to working with legal counsel to make sure such deals are in the organization’s best interest.

When you are asked to sign a contract, be careful, take your time, and get counsel of your own before agreeing. You may be presented with a “standard arrangement” that presents a thought leader with significantly disadvantageous terms. Such contracts may contain a “work for hire” clause, where the organization asserts by buying your services, they claim to all work-product and intellectual property related to those services. They want the rights to your whole thought leadership? Whoa! Such contracts are appropriate for many consulting projects, but they are anathema to thought leadership.

I’ve seen plenty of other disadvantageous terms over the years. Watch out for “Net 120” payment schedules, multi-million dollar E&O insurance requirements, and disaster plan recovery documentation that far exceeds reasonable terms. I’ve also seen a “standard contract” which required the thought leader to attest that they had appropriate Nuclear Waste Safety handling certificates. It’s crazy out there.

Procurement can be bewildering and even exhausting.

Some of the most famous thought leaders started as academics, publishing diligently in management and business journals and creating theoretical, not-yet-applied solutions. But when you get out into the actual business world, you’re going to face procedures, contracts, and red tape that can be difficult to navigate. If you want your content to have an impact, reaching thousands or tens of thousands of people, you need to also know how to deal with the labyrinth of corporate buying committees and procurement.

Bill Sherman works with thought leaders to launch big ideas within well-known brands. He is the COO of Thought Leadership Leverage. Visit Bill on Twitter

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