December 14, 2009

Buyer turned seller

I had an interesting conversation last week with a professional sales person who joined a sales team selling into the transportation sector just before the markets went pop. I am recounting part of our discussion because this sales person used to sit on the buying side of the table and secondly because he made some points that we all need to be reminded of from time to time:

  1. Sometime we need to slow down and operate at the client’s pace
  2. Don’t push for a meeting for a meetings sake – meet contacts where there is relevancy based on what has been delivered to other clients
  3. Tell stories, buyers like to hear about other peoples successes and how they have overcome challenges
  4. Access – you earn it and need to explain why it’s needed. Ensure you are heard, don’t rely on others to do it for you
  5. Sell payback & management of risk, its what buyers are measured on at the moment
  6. Know what you don’t know and get others involved.

Here is a bit more detail on the conversation we had.

Q. How has the last 12 months gone?

“We are alive and kicking and most importantly we see opportunities emerging. Our team is making the transition back to solution sellers a place I am most comfortable operating in.

You see when I started selling two years ago, we sold solutions, then we started to compete on price and now we are back selling solutions where we rightly belong.  As you know I worked on the other side of the table for close on ten years, (I was the engineering buyer) and I knew solutions only ever get bought or leased if they had a proven payback but we all seemed to forget that fact over the past 12 months.

Proven Payback is that not stating the obvious?

Well you might think so, but over the past 12-16 months, it’s been dog eat dog and as a result our industry and many others reverted to competing based on price. To be frank I think many sales teams have forgotten how to sell benefits and address risks with their customers. Most of the people we have been competing with gladly moved to sell based on price and dragged others with them, not a good thing for any of us as you know.

So what did you do?

Well to be honest we responded to price pressures and we also competed on price. In the past few months we did some sole searching and put ourselves back in the buyer’s shoes and have adopted a new mindset. We have proven our capability time and time again, we deliver and we manage risk, our clients know that too, so we have slowed down and started to question more carefully and input to our clients metrics. I know what they are, so I suppose I have a head start on what you might call the traditional sales person. I don’t know everything, I am out of the engineering space about six years now but I totally understand when a client needs more details on how we have affected other peoples businesses and I always know when to say I don’t know. 

What is the major challenge in 2010?
Making the number but you would expect any honest sales man to say that! I would say we have two challenges. Firstly we need to be wiling to operate at the pace of the buyer even when we need the deal and secondly we need to focus on accessing the right people at the appropriate level.

Why is access such a problem?

As you know we are leaders in our field which does help however there are some bigger players who like to keep us at arms length from the operational buyer. They want to sell the total solution which sometimes leaves us at a bit of a loose end in the buying cycle. It’s also worth noting I am finding professional buyers want to limit access to executives in order to ensure the buying process is being adhered to.

So what can you do about this?

I am doing three things; firstly I have some great customers and am asking them to help me with referrals.  Secondly I am contacting my target customers and telling them how we are helping others manage risk and insure the highest level of utilisation. I am not pushing them to meet unless they see relevancy. Thirdly I am explaining to the bigger players (most of whom we have some partnership with) why involving me can help them. Most of theses partner’s sales team never occupied a role in a customer buying team, my insight into the buying process helps me help the buyer and helps us sell together.

The fact is we all need to put ourselves in the buyers shoes and we all need to continuously consider the ever changing complexities of buying & selling.


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