Parties to a sale

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Getting The Edge In Professional Selling
Terence A. Hockenhull

WHEN PRODUCTS or services sold to customers are of high value, it is rare for a salesperson to close the sale in a single meeting.

Since the purchase will probably have a significant impact on the client’s business, the decision to buy is rarely made quickly. Very occasionally, a client may be in a desperate hurry to buy and be forced into making a rapid decision. If the client has a trusted vendor, that vendor will win the order. A strong brand name and good reputation will also help in this situation.


Interestingly, however, price is rarely a determining factor! Having said this, the client will, once the crisis has passed, return quickly to a decision-making process that sets price, value for money, and a good return on investment as very important criteria.

To give a client the opportunity to make an informed and sensible decision, a salesperson will often attend numerous sales meetings over an extended period of time. At each meeting, he may be faced by a different person or group. High-value sales can take more than a year to close and necessitate frequent meetings with clients.

Essentially, there are four categories of people who may influence the decision to purchase or use a particular vendor or supplier. Being able to identify these individuals or groups and apply an appropriate strategy is an important aspect of complex selling.

Perhaps the most important are the decision-makers. A senior corporate officer or company employee will make a decision after reviewing information and talking to subordinates who can give him accurate information. (The higher the cost of the purchase, the more senior the decision-maker.)

Interestingly, the salesperson may never meet this individual because the decision-maker may rely on others to keep him apprised of what is happening and help him make the decision rather than spend time sitting through lengthy sales meetings. Notwithstanding this, it is important to understand that he will authorize expenditure, and without his approval, there will be no chance of closing a deal.

The second category or group are users. This group is composed of those who will operate, use, service, install, or manage the product or service. They are the group who will suffer the most if the wrong product is bought.

Companies are beginning to recognize the importance of having the user groups involved in the buying process. It is interesting to think that many companies used to purchase without consultation between the decision-maker and the user groups. Business was given to a select group of suppliers irrespective of whether their products met the demands of the ultimate users. Nowadays, companies are aware of the need for internal consultation to ensure that money is spent wisely.

Technical experts are a third group. Rather like the user groups, companies increasingly rely on their technical expertise to apprise the product or system. They are looked to for specialist knowledge and technical advice. Often, they will have experience with similar products or services and the technical or professional training to be able to evaluate one product against another (comparing technical parameters and performance).

The sponsors are the last group. Sponsors are individuals or groups who have some vested interest in your company (or you) winning the business.

Many of us are familiar with individuals who look for a reward for helping facilitate or move a project forward. Sponsors may be those who wish to replace an existing vendor (perhaps because of perceived poor service) or someone who believes in you and your product, service, or company. They may seek to enhance their own position by being seen to be someone who endorses the best product.

Those who have a personal friendship or relationship with you or members of your company may also be valuable sponsors. Sponsors can be extremely useful and play an important part in facilitating meetings and keeping projects alive during the long drawn-out decision- making process.

The first approach is often made to the users, although it may be a sponsor who contacts the seller in the first place. If the sponsor is the person who has identified the need for a particular product or service, he will often reveal with whom to set up the initial meeting. When technical equipment is being sold, technical experts will play a very important role.

Internally, user groups may persuade management about the need to make the purchase. They will try to sell the concept of new or replacement equipment. If successful, the management will become involved in reviewing budgets and financial matters. It may even form a review group to look at several different vendors. Technical groups will become involved once the project has been given the go-ahead and there is available budget for it. The decision-maker need not necessarily be involved at this stage.

The time comes when firm recommendations are made to the decision-maker. Based on a review of proposals and discussions with user groups and technical people, he may decide to attend a product demonstration or meet the salesperson to ask one or two questions.

Since the decision-maker’s choice is based on the recommendation of user and technical groups, the salesman must be able to sell effectively to both groups. Technical people like to have data, statistics, performance parameters and technical specifications. User groups want to see, touch, feel, and try the product. They want to know what it will do. Decision-makers are interested in cost projections and effects on productivity.

Don’t talk technical to a decision-maker! Don’t worry about financial projections when meeting with user groups, and don’t describe the cosmetic appearance of equipment to technical personnel!

Projects sometimes go cold because the right questions have not been asked or proposals have not reached the right person. The sponsor can follow the progress of a project from the inside, keeping it alive. Although not involved in the selling process, he nonetheless makes things considerably easier for the seller.

Terence A. Hockenhull is a long-term resident of the Philippines. He is an accomplished sales consultant who currently holds an executive sales position with an Italian geotechnical company.