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Blog #90 Marketing or Purchasing; Do You Want to Sell or Just Participate in an Auction?

Getting an order is no easy thing, thus is the life of the B2B sales professional. We’re all under pressure, whether self or otherwise imposed. Deadlines loom, and management seems always to be asking more and more of us. We look for opportunities, be they with existing clients or from those we’ve yet to meet. We want renewal business, new business, and let’s be frank, any business at all really.

As sales professionals we have become experts on our product or service. We understand not just the features and benefits of what we sell, but perhaps more importantly, how our product can help and enhance the customer experience. We’ve much to offer, and given the chance, we’ll influence and impact the mindsets of those who are charged with bringing a product to market.

There’s a difference between bringing influence to a purchasing decision, as opposed to just taking an order. When we influence we become involved, often at the “incubator” stage, and intimately contribute insights and perspectives that a client likely hadn’t considered. We’re involved in the “planning” phase, before the purchasing continuum, offering advice that impacts how our product or service might enhance the client’s user experience, as well as their end goal taking it beyond that which our competitors might offer.

To do this, we must be involved at the stage and with the people who are charged with the creation and innovation of the product, the people who own the overall viability for the product or service offering. We have to have a voice with those who care about how the actual product will perform, from getting out the manufacture’s door, to the point of sale, and ultimately with the end consumer and thusly the experience they enjoy, or not. These are the people that actually care about the fulfillment of a customer’s expectations and consistent customer satisfaction. In short, these are the people whom are tasked with the success of the brand, product, or service.

Engagement at this stage of the buying cycle requires patience and stamina. We’re a long way away from the actual purchase of our product, a long way from the purchase order being issued. But the advantage we gain by becoming involved early on is that we’re able to fully explore and “sell” the often hidden value of what we offer, beyond face value, beyond price, beyond that of our competitor’s solution.

Now, on the other hand, we have “Purchasing”. These are the people that become involved “down stream” if you will. The designs are done, the strategy is set in stone and the cycle has reached the stage where the specifications and components required to produce the product have been determined, it’s now only a question of price.

No more influence, no more consideration for the subtleties that differentiate your product or offering from that of your competition. We’re finally at the juncture where pretty much all that matters is price. Who will be the lowest cost provider, full stop. Price and price alone will determine if you win or lose. In many cases the bidding process is merely a stacked façade as the vendors who have favour by those further “up-stream” have submitted their quote. The subsequent bidding process becomes only an act of due diligence to justify the favoured vendor. Once you’re engaged in a bidding process, all leverage and advantage has been lost. You’re just a commodity. You’re reacting, not pro-acting.

The irony here is that far too many seasoned and talented sales people spend an inordinate amount of time targeting and catering to purchasing managers. I want it, and want it now. The client is about to pull the cord on a purchase, and I don’t want to miss out. Gone, gone, gone, is any chance of advantage. Gone is the opportunity to sell based on any unique selling proposition or edge.

The notion here of course is not that purchasing departments can be ignored, because to do so would be folly. Rather, a stratified plan that reacts – read purchasing – when the ship has sailed but in tandem with being proactive and ahead of the competition by engaging when the ship is still on the naval architect’s drawing boards, long before it’s been launched. By doing so, the sales professional who adopts this approach secures an advantage that will leave their competitors behind. More engagement, better engagement, and consistent engagement with those who concern themselves with the real net value of the product or service versus price alone will be the most successful sales people of all.

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