Getting The Edge In Professional Selling
Terence A. Hockenhull
I THINK most salespersons will agree that it can be difficult to meet directly with decision-makers, who can make instant decisions without recourse to others. Usually, numerous sales meetings are held with more “junior personnel,” culminating in a request for a proposal presumably to be passed on to the ultimate decision-maker. The chances of winning such a sale depend on a number of factors.
Firstly, much depends on the sincerity and integrity of the individual who you have been meeting with. An American gentleman who used to write for this newspaper once told me that he had a term for people who rendered an unneeded service. He called them “gap fillers”, and I believe he was referring to (amongst others) those pesky individuals who leap off the sidewalk to assist you in your parking maneuvers when you are quite competent at parking on your own. Oftentimes, these parking “aides” actually get in the way and make it more difficult to park.
So, too, with more junior employees who can do little to influence a decision, are unneeded in the general scope of the sale, and, lastly, often make it more difficult to access the right people who can make decisions.
The next issue is whether the company’s criteria for the purchase are met. Let me try to explain this and illustrate why meeting with the wrong person may often cost the salesperson the sale.
Imagine a company is interested in purchasing a high-speed photocopier for the office. Until this point, the company has been leasing units but now feels that quality, capacity, and speed are not being met by lease units. Further, to network the printer and have it interface scanning, printing, and fax operations with desktop computers, the company will have to invest in cabling, which may become obsolete if the leased unit is changed. So, a decision is made to spend a budgeted amount on a suitable machine.
The middle manager who meets with the salesperson may favor a particular brand (having previous experience with their printers). This will undoubtedly cramp his enthusiasm for other brands. Perhaps he is excited about acquiring a high-speed machine that will copy A3 size in color; the company may have pre-determined that most printing in the office is monochrome, and the small amount of large-format color printing can be outsourced to a nearby print shop.
And, let’s not lose sight of the fact that the decision-maker may well have his own preferences. Just last week, I informed a contractor that I was more than happy with their proposal and they would, in all likelihood, be awarded the contract. The boss took a look at my recommendations a couple of days later and chose another, previously unconsidered contractor he had experience with in the past.
In my consultancy business, I frequently meet with training or sales managers to discuss sales training programs and seminars. With my experience (and hopefully some sales ability!), it is not too difficult to uncover the need for quality, customized, professional sales training. However, senior management often make the final decision. And all too frequently, management demand that the programs of other consultants be carefully evaluated before a decision is made.
In today’s repressed markets, cost becomes is invariably a factor. Sad to say, I have lost contracts in the past because management has been driven by cost implications rather than the quality or effectiveness of the program. Perhaps training personnel are “flattering” me when they tell me, “We really liked the program you were offering but you know how management are. They are the ones who insist that we use a cheaper vendor.”
I am inclined to believe there is an element of truth in what they say. The people who make the decision have not sat through my “presentation” and rarely have a good feel for the program. Sadly, my program is evaluated on a comparative basis, focusing on easily quantifiable factors such as cost, content and format, program length, and number of participants per program.
A personal meeting with a decision-maker is always the most effective way of selling. I agree that this is not always possible. Too often, I hear of my sales team being directed to the purchasing department rather than getting to meet the senior engineers they need to be talking to. But, let me also suggest that many sales people are less than aggressive when it comes to setting appointments. Rather than targeting a specific individual within a company, they turn up prepared to see anyone who is willing to entertain them — often gap fillers, I’m afraid!
We all make mistakes in selling. The one highlighted serves to remind salespeople of the importance of identifying the right person to sell to and taking every step possible to secure an appointment with that person. Otherwise, there is the possibility that the sale may be derailed by someone who never really had a say in the purchase decision.
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.