Getting The Edge In Professional Selling
Terence A. Hockenhull

THE SALESPEOPLE I deal with on a day-to-day basis handle a diverse range of products and sell to a wide and varied client base. Each type of customer presents different challenges for the sales executive.

Firstly, there are those clients who are quite clear about their needs and approach our company (as well as others) to determine whether we have what they want and, if we do, how much we will charge for it. At the simplest level (and providing we have the right items) the issue is almost invariably one of cost and availability. Offer the cheapest price and terms and the business is pretty much in the bag.

This type of selling is known as commodity selling. It presents few challenges providing, as I have said, the price is right. The deal can be concluded quickly simply because the client is clear about his or her needs and needs no persuasion to buy.

Things start to get a little more complicated when the client know he needs something; he is just not clear about what he needs. Quite recently, the company I work for (which sells geotechnical products), was approached by a homeowner who had determined the slope behind his house was in imminent danger of collapse. He was clearly aware that something needed to be done and quickly. My salespeople were able to help proposing appropriate solutions. Since this was going to be an expensive undertaking, once can hardly blame the customers for checking out other vendors to supply materials to meet our design. We lost the sale in the end because someone else proposed cheaper materials. Frustrating for us since we had done all the hard work to help the client determine his needs.

Yesterday, I was faced by a client who had a clear idea of his needs but needed help determining whether new and innovative technologies would work better than tried and trusted materials and methods. Sitting in a face-to-face meeting with the client, I allowed my engineering staff to present an alternative solution and answer technical questions. Yes, we can provide the right materials in a timely fashion. Our solution is more cost effective and easier to install. Yet, listening to the highly technical conversation running the client’s engineers and my team, it became apparent to me that there was a lot more to sell. We needed to assure the client of our technical competence, experience in using the material on other projects, good documentation, appropriate software to complete design calculations and, lastly, on-site support during installation. Failing to address any of these issues adequately will likely lose us the opportunity of introducing this new technology to the client (and probably lose us the sale of all the other products and services needed on this project).

What is notable about the three types of sale I have discussed is that each escalates in complexity. Whereas the simple commodity sale may be accomplished with a single sales meeting followed up with a price quotation, the last example is going to take many months to come to fruition (hopefully). Proposals, counter-proposals, negotiations and lengthy meetings to agree on terms and conditions will all be undertaken before any money is paid.

Each one demands more time and more visits to the client. Although the rewards are significantly higher if we close this sale, the time and resources spent on this account will be significant.

As we have found out recently, a similar sale in which we have invested very significant amounts of money (P15,000 for each weekly visit to the project site) over many months has just been awarded to a competitor. This is frustrating especially when we suspect the award was made for reasons outside of the quality or appropriateness of the proffered products.

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.