Getting the Green Light: Securing Internal Buy-In for Products and Services in Higher Education

· by Jessica Swope

Imagine you’re a higher education professional at a conference. You decide to stroll through the exhibit hall and pick up some free swag to take back with you. Some of the booths are more relevant to your job than others, but the people are friendly and the swag is enticing, so you spend a few minutes in each booth, checking out the product information.  Then it happens: you stumble on a product that could solve the exact pain points you and your team have been wrestling with every day. You leave the expo hall with your bag full of swag and your head full with ideas about how this product you discovered could be a game-changer for you, your team, and your students. But where do you go from here? How do you transform this idea into a reality?

Implementing new technology or services in higher education can be a lengthy and complex process. While each campus is a little different, there are a series of steps you can expect to take to gain internal buy-in for products and services in your department. This blog post will guide you through the process at a high level, and how it may differ depending on your specific role. Throughout, we’ll use our automated rental platform, RecRe, to illustrate the steps we’ve seen our campus partners take to get the approvals they’ve needed to bring our product to their campuses. 

Step 1: Book a Demo or Consultation

No matter your role, it’s important to start with a demo or consultation to learn more about the product features and potential benefits. With RecRe, for example, the process almost always begins by booking a demo so that our account executives can better understand your specific needs and challenges, provide relevant product information, and show you what our solution looks like in action.

Step 2: Collect Information from the Vendor

Following the demo, your representative will provide you with detailed information to help you understand how the product works, what to expect, and how it fits into your overall goals and priorities. At RecRe, for example, we send our product catalog and any additional information you or your decision-makers need, including: 

  • Product benefits and features
  • How our automated rental system works
  • Box configurations and standard use cases
  • Pricing
  • Implementation timeline
  • Staff training and onboarding
  • Case studies and testimonials

While much of this information will reiterate what was covered in the demo, having it in document form can be valuable for internal discussions and decision-making (see next steps). 

Step 3: Schedule Meeting with Internal Stakeholders

This step is all about helping decision-makers understand the product and its budgetary implications so they can make informed decisions in the following steps. 

For directors or AVPs: Depending on your campus or internal processes, you may not have to go through any additional internal “hoops” at this stage; you could, in theory, skip this step and move straight into decision-making and budgeting. However, meeting with the internal stakeholders that could be impacted by the new product is a great way to 1) solicit feedback up front that can help with decision-making, 2) gain buy-in for the new initiative out of the gates, 3) build positive forward momentum internally. 

For associate/assistant directors, managers, and coordinators: It’s essential to involve decision-makers early to gain their support and approval for the budget and implementation process. Their buy-in is crucial for moving the project forward. Depending on your org chart and internal processes, this step could entail 1) presenting your idea in a team meeting, 2) presenting your idea in a 1:1 meeting with the decision maker, 3) a combination of both.  Either way, here are some tips:

Before the meeting: Familiarize yourself with the information you collected in the previous step, including implementation timeline, case studies or testimonials from other institutions. You might even consider reaching out to the vendor and letting them know you’ve scheduled this meeting and asking them to help you prepare. At RecRe, for example, we’re always more than happy to brainstorm effective approaches for these meetings and to help our contacts to identify the key pieces of information that can move the needle on decision-making.

During the meeting:

> Highlight the Problem: Clearly define the inefficiencies or issues the new product or service will address.

> Present the Solution: Explain how the new product will solve these problems and improve operations.

> Provide Data and ROI: Use data to support your claims and outline the expected return on investment.

> Outline the Implementation Plan: Provide a clear timeline and steps for implementation, including training and support.

> Prepare for Questions: Anticipate potential questions and concerns from decision-makers and be ready with answers.

After the meeting: Send your director or AVP any information they request with an eye towards simplifying and streamlining the information you’ve already collected. 

Step 4: Get the Green Light

Again, those with decision-making power (like AVPs and directors) may be able to skip this step, but associate/assistant directors, managers, and coordinators will need to secure  approval for the project before moving into budgeting (see next step). 

In some cases, getting a verbal green light to move forward may happen as part of Step 3, but in many cases, decision makers will want some time to consider the product in the context of other initiatives and priorities. They may also have questions that require additional coordination with the vendor before they can give their stamp of approval. 

For associate/assistant directors, managers, and coordinators here are some next steps you can take after your 1:1:

> Send any requested information: Send your director or AVP any information they request with an eye towards simplifying and streamlining the information you’ve already collected. If any questions have come up about the product that you’re not sure about, don’t hesitate to reach out to the vendor.

> Follow-up: Give your decision makers adequate time to consider your proposal then send a friendly email asking if they’ve made any decisions and/or require any additional information to make the decision.

Step 5: Include the Product in Your Budget

If you’re a budget manager or you have budget responsibility, you’re already well-versed with the budgeting process. Once you have the pricing information from your vendor (see Step 2) and have given the project the green light, the next step is simply to allocate the amount necessary in your budget. 

If you’re an associate/assistant director, manager, or coordinator, it’s important to know how your area’s budget works so you can discuss implications. Since budgeting is campus or department specific, and very nuanced—too nuanced to cover here—it would be best to talk through these details with your director. You can also check out this presentation by NACUBO on the essentials of college and university budgeting, or research information provided by your professional association of choice.

Step 6: Navigate the Procurement Process

After securing internal buy-in and budget approval, the next step is to navigate the procurement process to officially bring the product on board. This stage involves several key actions and considerations to ensure a smooth transition from decision-making to implementation.

Understand Institutional Policies: Every institution has its own procurement policies and procedures. Familiarize yourself with your institution’s specific requirements, such as vendor approvals, contract reviews, and purchasing guidelines. This knowledge is crucial to avoid delays and ensure compliance with institutional standards.

Sole Source Justification: In cases where a specific product or service is unique and no other vendor can provide a comparable solution, a sole source justification may be necessary. This document explains why only one source is capable of meeting the institution’s requirements, addressing factors such as unique features, compatibility with existing systems, or proprietary technology. 

Work with your procurement office to draft and submit the sole source justification, ensuring it includes:

  • A detailed explanation of the product’s unique attributes.
  • Evidence supporting the lack of viable alternatives.
  • The impact on the institution if the specific product or service is not procured.

Your product vendor may be able to work with you to create this document, eliminating some of the hassle for you. For example, at RecRe we frequently work with our contacts to create a tailored sole source justification document that explains why RecRe is uniquely positioned to meet their automated rental needs.

Prepare Necessary Documentation: Gather all the required documents for the procurement process. This typically includes:

> Vendor Agreements: Ensure that all vendor agreements are reviewed and signed by the appropriate parties.

> Contracts: Collaborate with your institution’s legal department to review and finalize contracts.

> Purchase Orders: Prepare and submit purchase orders according to your institution’s procedures.

> Compliance Documents: Include any compliance or regulatory documents required by your institution.

> Sole Source Justification: If applicable, include the approved sole source justification in your documentation.

Coordinate with the Purchasing/Procurement Office: Engage with your campus buyer or purchasing agent early and often. They will provide necessary steps and help expedite the process. Establishing a good relationship with the procurement team can also assist in resolving any issues that might arise.

Vendor Onboarding: Work with your vendor to ensure they meet all institutional requirements for onboarding. This may involve:

> Vendor Registration: Ensure the vendor is registered in your institution’s procurement system.

> Compliance Checks: Confirm that the vendor complies with all necessary regulations and institutional policies.

> Payment Terms: Agree on payment terms and schedules that align with your institution’s financial processes.

Internal Coordination: Coordinate with internal departments such as IT, finance, and facilities to prepare for the product implementation. This can include:

> IT Integration: Ensure that the new product integrates seamlessly with existing IT systems.

> Financial Coordination: Align the procurement process with your institution’s financial cycles and budgetary constraints.

> Facility Preparations: If applicable, prepare physical spaces for the installation of new equipment or systems.

Implementation Planning: Develop a detailed implementation plan that outlines the steps for rolling out the new product. This plan should include:

> Timelines: Define clear timelines for each phase of the implementation process.

> Milestones: Establish key milestones to track progress and ensure timely completion.

> Training: Plan training sessions for staff to ensure they are equipped to use the new product effectively.

> Support: Arrange for ongoing vendor support during the initial implementation phase to address any issues that arise.

Communication and Follow-Up: Maintain clear and consistent communication with all stakeholders throughout the procurement process. Provide regular updates on progress and address any concerns promptly. After implementation, follow up with stakeholders to gather feedback and ensure the product is meeting expectations.

By following these steps, you can navigate the procurement process efficiently and bring valuable products and services to your campus, ultimately enhancing operations and achieving your institution’s goals.Interested in building efficiency in your department and boosting student engagement with automated rentals? Take the first step towards optimizing your campus spaces by booking a demo with a RecRe team member today.