An article for both buyers and sellers
There they stand, two fighters fiercely staring at each other across the Octagon, fired up and ready to pounce. The announcer's voice echoes through the arena: "Fighting out of the Red corner; representing the Sales Bull-pen. He’s light on his feet and known for his jabs and his uncanny ability to bounce up off the mat. With incalculable wins and unspecified losses, he's the prize-fighter from another time. He’s Sugar Ray Seller!" After polite applause dies down, he continues even louder: "And, in the Blue corner; years younger, heavier, and with a distinctive reach advantage. He's a Brazilian jiu-jitsu specialist with hundreds of wins and no losses. He’s the pride of his CFO. . . welcome 'Pugnacious Pete, the Prince of Procurement". The crowd roars, and with a yell of “Fight” the referee dressed all in black and nicknamed "The CIO", starts the match. Pugnacious Pete immediately flies at Sugar Ray locking him in an inescapable arm-bar and in just seconds, Sugar Ray is left with no choice but to tap out. Without question, Sugar Ray Seller should never have entered the Octagon with Pugnacious Pete. The Seller had no chance against the Prince of Procurement. Like Sugar Ray, today’s sales professionals are being confronted by new rules and new opponents. Anyone in the profession who cannot adjust will likely languish in mediocrity or like Sugar Ray, fade away like a washed up old has-been. What was once a waltz has become a fight-club that pits Buyer against Seller as combatants instead of as dance partners. In the past, supplier and customer would twirl and whirl happily across the floor gracefully progressing from an exploration of thoughts and ideas to an eventual informed decision. We understood and respected each other and while we danced, we talked and listened. We defended our positions and we protected our rights, and in the end, we either did the deal or we didn’t. It was a dance that some believe is now the stuff of folklore. Research shows that customers today are on average at least 60% on their way to a decision before they engage potential suppliers. Sales people who in the past were valued for their contribution are now only needed when it's time to be thrown into the Octagon and beaten into price submission. The reason is simple - sad, but simple: When there’s nothing to be learned from a supplier, there's no need to talk to them. In the good old days, customers readily welcomed supplier’s advice and assistance. Suppliers delivered helpful information while the customer offered their time and the whole thing worked in pretty good balance. But today with the Internet, customers have access to almost any information they need. In the good old days, suppliers seemed to be on everyone's dance-card, but now it’s rare for them to even be invited to the party. The age-old relationship-selling approach that served both supplier and customer so well in the past is today probably as effective as a tired old boxer in a UFC cage. In the new world of buying, the old rules of selling just don't work. Despite this change, many sales people stubbornly stick to their tried-and-true approach, desperately seeking out someone who will dance with them. When finally they think they have a partner, it’s too late to dance. And in a misguided attempt at demonstrating their value to the customer and to their employer, they focus all their passion and energy on managing the quoting or bidding process. Star sales performers know that this is a waste of their valuable time and skills. They understand that getting into the Octagon with Pugnacious Pete is not a viable alternative for being a valued contributor in the early learning phase. They know that they need to be a part of the early discussions but understand that to earn that privilege they have to bring knowledge that is unavailable to the customer through other means. At Compugen, we love change and this is no different. We recognize that this challenge is born out of a customer necessity to avoid time-wasting, and although we have always tried to focus on the business outcomes derived from technology, it is now more important than ever for every interaction between us to be provocative and impactful. Our account managers are experienced business people and committed to contributing to customers during the learning period. They try to highlight potential areas for optimization, efficiency improvements, and cost savings that the customer may not have considered. The following are the three most important principles for contributing to customer knowledge early in the process, long before Purchasing turns it into a pricing battle:
- Sharing relevant experiences from our other customers Customers tell us often that they want to learn from the experiences of our other customers. As a result, our Account Managers bring knowledge to a customer based on what other customers with similar characteristics may be doing or facing. Exploring the art of the possible can provide the customer with useful insight for planning and innovating. With over 2,000 customers and 30-plus years of experience, our account managers have a wealth of knowledge from which to draw.
- Providing business knowledge and expertise Technical expertise is readily available to anyone who wants it but despite common claims to the contrary it is usually biased by personal familiarity. In the early Learning-phase discussions, we try to focus more on business objectives, business priorities, and business outcomes, knowing that the customer will have plenty of time to consider the various technology options later on. Bringing technology into the discussion too early can lead to misguided conversations and impractical solutions. The ability to foster a sustained business conversation unbiased by technical specifics is probably the greatest contribution we can make as a Partner.
- Account Manager as Consultant Customers tell us that the sales people who contribute the most value are those who operate much like the best consultants. They are creative problem solvers with strong skills in analysis, listening, and synthesizing. They challenge the status quo and conventional wisdom, and have the objectivity to do all of this without undue bias and with the patience not to jump too early into solutions. We refer to this approach as Consulting-in-Advance.
The selling game is more difficult than ever before because the game has changed. Old tactics don’t work because old rules no longer apply. If sales people are to preserve their relevance in this new world they need to bring exclusive knowledge to the table during the time the customer is in a learning frame of mind. They need to be business-centric and consultative. Sugar Ray Seller might still be a great boxer but clearly the Octagon is not the place for him to succeed. He should train hard at what he does best and then find himself a boxing-ring where his skills and knowledge can be fairly tested and where he can have the greatest impact. I would like to hear what you think about the new paradigm of buying and selling, particularly if you're on the buying-side of the Octagon. Please follow me on twitter @sspence57