Getting The Edge In Professional Selling
Terence A. Hockenhull

LAST WEEK, I discussed how complex sales which offer big rewards require a significant investment in terms of time and money. The salesperson who is in a position to sell simple, low-cost products to a client has a much easier time of it. However, as a general rule, the more complex the sale; the higher the rewards!

One of my Australian friends sells industrial lighting to major developers. His company invests heavily in research to find out which projects are in the planning, design, construction and fitting-out phases and make their approach to key decision makers. Nonetheless, they also know that once initial interest has been shown in their products (usually no more than an invitation to tender, bid, or provide a quotation) they will have to deal with developers, architects, interior designers, electrical contractors, structural engineers and a host of other people whose involvement in the project will be sought.

My friend’s company enjoys a high degree of success and perhaps one of the reasons for this is that they treat each sale like a major campaign. They are fortunate to the extent that in building projects, installation and fitting-out (when their products will be used) is scheduled many months (sometimes a year or more) in advance. They know that there are a number of steps involved and can set cut-off dates within the project timeline allowing them to keep the sale on track. For example, importation of some of their products means that they must have a purchase decision eight weeks ahead of the time that the lights are actually needed. If they pass this point they know the project is no longer viable (unless their client has fallen behind schedule).

The company also recognizes that each of the “buyers” or interested parties is working to a different set of criteria, needs and requirements. The developer is primarily interested in quality and cost whereas the architects and interior designers are more interested in the aesthetic appearance of the product. The electrical contractor is more concerned with the ease of installation, safety, and the loading on the building’s electrical circuits. Engineers set specifications regarding the weight and size of the lights, and when lighting consultants are involved, they consider the intensity, color, and coverage of the lights.

Before a decision can be made, representatives from each of these groups will have to meet with salespeople from a number of different lighting companies and discuss their products. Then they will sit down together to discuss the products and package offered by each vendor. The company’s sales executives know they must meet a representative from each group and establish their needs and requirements. They also know that it will be impossible to meet everyone’s needs. For example, they may be dealing with an architect who wants the latest high-tech products that are only available as 110-volt units. (Not so good if the electrical contractor is specifying 220-volts throughout the building!) Again, the chosen lights may be sold at a premium contrary to the wishes of the owner who wants his building completed at minimum cost. No single vendor will be able to come up with the perfect solution. The one that wins the business will be the one with the “best-fit” product or service.

It makes sense to plan sales calls well in advance of the first call to the client. Interested parties should be identified and suitable time set for a meeting to discuss requirements. I would love to be in a position of stating that the initial plan will run like clockwork with everyone agreeing to meetings as and when the salesperson wants them. The reality of course is that it will be impossible to follow the schedule. But at least the forward planning gives the sales executive a road map through the long (and sometimes tedious) sales process, allowing him to see when critical points in time are in danger of being passed, and, of course, to take remedial action to get the sale back on track.

Professional selling is not easy. Most salespeople are quick to comment when a sale is closed with relatively little effort or when a client provides a purchase order without the salesperson having to go through the usual round of meetings and presentations. In some ways, I am envious of the salesperson who enjoys a short selling cycle and deals with easy-to-sell, commodity type products. Yet to me there is also something satisfactorily challenging in understanding how the client will make his purchase decision and taking steps to manage this process successfully.

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.