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Successful Selling: Some Useful Tips

November 4, 2010

Today I participated at an event organized by Huthwaite, a leading provider of negotiations training. The theme of the conference was ‘Winning With Procurement’ and its objective was to assist Sales organizations to better understand Procurement and how to work with them, rather than against them.

Huthwaite presented the findings of research that confirmed the largely negative view in which Procurement is held by Sales. The perception of a rules and process-driven organization, focused on cost to the exclusion of value, was a dominant theme, not convincingly dismissed by the presentations of several senior Procurement leaders. Their protestations of growing professionalsim and commercial judgment often appeared to reflect aspiration, rather than the day-to-day interactions experienced by most in the room.

However, the session raised broader questions about Sales behavior and the extent to which commercial teams are taking actions to better equip Sales. For example, competition is  not just about terms and conditions,  it is also about having the data to back them up. We market value – but do we quantify it? Do we commit to it? Do our commercial terms inspire confidence in our ability to deliver – or undermine it? Do we strive to enable Sales to answer questions and display knowledge – or do we constrain them and thereby frustrate the customer?

A clear message from the event was that Sales must stop avoiding Procurement – such behavior seruiously threatens win rates. But to engage effectively, Sales must understand and support the Procurement agenda. As with all stakeholders, you can fight them or you can make them your ally. To become an ally, it is essential that you respect and respond to their agenda – make them look good. So if we want Procurement to understand value (rather than simply make judgments based on commodity cost), we must provide hard data to support the value proposition. If we cannot quantify our ‘added value’ relative to alternative suppliers, how is the customer supposed to do so?

A common theme of the Procurement presentations was the feeling that many Sales presentations are flaky and lacking substance. Contracts and commercial must increasingly work with their Sales teams to ensure substance and to support meaningful commitments.

There were useful pointers on many other subjects, including an attempt to answer the question ‘Is it worth bidding?’ Survey results show that if you have no pre-existing executive contact and are not being offered access, you are wasting your time. So don’t bid without access; demand it as a condition of participating. If it is denied, don’t bid.

Another important lesson is that successful sellers involve procurement early and understand their needs and how they can assist them. While this is in part  a responsibility of Sales, it is noteable that high-performing contracts and commercial groups are increasingly taking a lead in these activities, to ensure they are also engaged earlier and provide more direct business value in understanding and responding to customer needs, establishing the framework for a successful Sales negotiation.

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