Featured Article12 Questions to Get a Jump Start on the Year Ahead
Each December, like many other people, I reflect on the year past and the year ahead. I focus this reflection with 12 questions. I note highlights and lessons learned; how I have evolved; the memorable moments and the various goals I’ve advanced towards – and more. Often, I’m surprised by how much I achieved. As we trudge through our busy lives we are often thinking about all we have not done or achieved. So I invite you to use these questions to take stock and consider your intentions and aspirations for 2013.
The Year Past:
1) What went well?
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Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?
|Sales Tips - Sales Tips|
|Written by Jill Harrington|
If you sell to large organizations I’ll bet you are required to work with purchasing and procurement specialists. And I’ll wager it’s not on your list of “favorite things.”
You’re frustrated by the formal purchasing templates that require you to squeeze your unique value into standard boxes. You’re baffled when you get limited opportunity to ask your best questions, the answers to which are then shared with your competitors. Purchasing specialists seem only to care about price … and they make it impossible for you to demonstrate your differentiation!
And to make matters worse purchasing’s involvement in the buying of both products and services will continue to expand. Why? Because organizations continue to be under intense scrutiny with regard to “how” and “what” and “where” they spend.
Because this is such a pervasive struggle for sellers I’ve made it a mission over the past eight years to interview purchasing and procurement executives to better understand this specific breed of buyer. Think I’m crazy? Think again. It’s been fun … yes I said fun. It has been eye-opening and mind-shifting for me … and for the sales teams who have attended my workshops on the subject.
So in the interest of your mental health I’m using this month’s issue to debunk three of the top myths about the role of purchasing.
Myth #1: Decisions are based solely on price.
OK yes. There are circumstances when cost is the predominant criteria in the decision making process. But there are also many when it is not. The mandate for purchasing is not simply to get the lowest price but rather to optimize the purchasing process, to assure fairness and equity. And to avoid unnecessary spending.
In the purchase of strategic services and products, for example, buyers are looking for long-term high-value partnerships and yes… coupled with savings opportunities. From the mouths of purchasing, “Companies that will save us money over the longer term, reduce risk, provide greater value in context of our business interests …will frequently win over the lowest price. But relatively few demonstrate this in their proposals. It inevitably comes down to price when the seller hasn’t done their homework.”
Myth #2: The template prevents us from demonstrating differentiated value.
Let’s be clear about the intent of the template. It is to assure an open and fair process. Purchasing professionals can be audited on the process and there are severe penalties for any evidence of bias. If a requirement on the form is irrelevant to your situation, contact the purchasing officer to question it. Do not ignore it or substitute it. You can be disqualified for an incomplete submission.
As for the issue of demonstrating differentiated value here’s how the purchasing professionals weigh in on this issue… “We assume the seller is the expert on their business and that they have done their homework to understand our organization. We expect them to add fresh and relevant ideas that provide specific strategic value and save money in context of the bigger picture. Too many proposals are filled with ‘marketing fluff’ straight from the company’s website. Or meaningless statements like ‘we have the most experienced team…’ When we receive 5 proposals saying the exact same thing the default becomes price.”
Myth #3: Purchasing specialists are not interested in building relationships with sellers.
Purchasing executives take a different view. They need to be connected to sales pros because they must source options. But they require a different kind of relationship.
They are not interested in connecting with the self-serving seller whose intent is simply to find a way to beat the system or get an advantage over the competition. Nor will they accept invitations to dinners, tickets to the game or gifts. Remember their mandate is to assure an unbiased process.
And while their conversations with you during the formal bid process need to be documented and shared to assure complete transparency, most are open to having a telephone conversation – when there is no formal RFP on the table – to help you understand their process and priorities. My own experience confirms this. While they may prefer poring over a spreadsheet to chatting over a cup of coffee, they are generous with their time and knowledge to those of us who are genuinely interested in learning about, and supporting, their mandate.
And an added word of caution … Every client is different. This perspective may not reflect the opinion of every purchasing specialist. The information I have shared is based on interviews I have conducted across industries in the North American market over almost a decade. Commit to learning about the purchasing professionals who buy from your industry. Also … never lose sight of the fact that the purchasing specialist is usually one member of a decision-making panel. Other key stakeholders contribute to the final decision. It is your job to know who the stakeholders are and to understand their view point.
There are over 6 billion people in the world and over 6 billion perspectives. And while sales pros and purchasing specialists live at opposite ends of the perspective spectrum remember your underlying objective is the same … to contribute to the success of the buying organization.
The struggle between sellers and purchasing has been an ongoing challenge. When the same questions and frustrations continue to defy us it’s time to look at the issue from a fresh perspective. And there’s no better place to start looking than from the perspective of the client.
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