If you already work in higher education or you are hoping to do business with colleges and universities, you know the drill. You can expect every conceivable delay in the decision making process. In many institutions, you may find that your desire for speed and action clashes with the internal culture of collaboration, inclusiveness, deliberation and consensus building.

How can you avoid contributing to the delays?

Consider these 5 tips.

  1. Identify the key decision makers as early in the process as possible – even if they are not part of the first round of meetings. Is there a committee in place and if so, who are the important voices on the committee? Will the president or his/her delegate be involved in the final decision? Are there regulatory requirements that must be followed?
  2. Understand the budget cycle. When is the start of the fiscal year? Will this be a cost that must be built into the budget cycle or will the institution use current (or discretionary) funds for the purchase? Is the institution in the midst of a fundraising campaign? Will that have any impact on their ability to move forward with purchasing decisions?
  3. Set realistic timelines and prepare yourself and your team for the reality of the decision making process. Avoid setting optimistic expectations – the consensus building process takes time.
  4. Listen carefully and keep communication lines open. Communicate frequently with timely and useful updates and related information. Try to make sure that your proposal stays at the top of the list – push gently and frequently.
  5. Follow the rules. A college or university may request certain formats or certain forms. They may require certain project descriptions and references. Don’t ignore these hints. Listen carefully and play by their rules – not by yours.

And finally, never stop listening. Without warning, the initial requests may change or evolve over time. Always be open to finding creative flexible alternatives that may be more easily (and more quickly) accepted and approved. If you offer the right solution at the right time, there is a higher probability that the job is yours.

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