Buying and selling is not a war

Since the beginning of time people have been trading goods and services.

One party sells them and the other buys them. A simple transactional procedure, that should be relatively uncomplicated, as well as being mutually beneficial for both parties.

But there has been a step change in the past 10 to 15 years, which has made it harder for suppliers to engage and influence the sales process, which of course for them is critical in ensuring they can deliver efficiently and make a reasonable profit margin, ensuring they will survive to service their customers in the long-term, and not as a one-off.

Now it seems both buyers and sellers are completely at odds with one another. One seems entirely focused on getting the lowest possible price while avoiding face-to-face communication with suppliers at all costs. The other is desperately trying to build a business relationship, that is both balanced and worth pursuing, and preferring to do this in front of the buyer.

These two approaches have obviously become incompatible, and the gap between them is getting wider and wider each year. Where once it was considered an honour to announce you were a supplier to a large supermarket chain or a major public sector department, now it can bring a frown, a sharp intake of breath followed by a response of “good luck with that” from others.

In our organisation we work as consultants specialising in sales, procurement and marketing, working with buyers and sellers both in the private and public sectors. So we have a balanced view of the sales process and can see the challenges from both sides.

But more and more we are hearing various forms of the following statement from sales directors: “We are keeping away from tenders and proposals and focusing on doing business with organisations we can form a long-term business partnership with, not just being part of the procurement ‘lottery’ which even if our bids win, the margins and service levels are so onerous, it makes us very vulnerable.”

Because of this change, we have had to react and rethink selling, by developing new approaches that work around these blocks. One such process is the ‘The Forensic Sales Expert’, which allows suppliers to manage and influence their sales strategy once again.

But we take a balanced view, so for every new development, we consider all stakeholders. This ‘forensic sales’ process will deliver overall cost effective and more efficient ways of doing business with customers, not just focusing on selling products or services to them.

But the biggest change is it bypasses the buying departments and targets other senior decision-makers. But this shouldn’t be feared, it’s not designed to deceive buyers, it’s just another approach that has evolved and its only aim is to enhance the customer’s end-user experience. So delivering a win-win for all.

Most professional salespeople relish the opportunity to discuss what they can offer buyers and to have an in-depth face-to-face business conversation with them.

My hope is that one-day large organisations will remember buying and selling are compatible, as both are fully dependent on each other, not all products and services are a commodity. And this trend of avoiding meetings will change and dialogue once again will return between buyers and sellers.

You cannot build a mutually beneficial relationship in a PQQ, RFP or a RFT, but you can build resentment.

Philip Peters is MD at Leading National Training

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