Getting Beyond the Buyer!
One of the most common questions I receive from my clients and those I coach is, "how do I get past the buyer to the real decision maker". This is clearly one of the most important questions for any sales professional to answer because so much rests on reaching the real economic buyer. Only the true decision maker can understand the total value that your offering brings to their company. Only the true decision maker can appreciate that a partnering relationship with your company may be the best way to reach their goals. Only the true decision maker can redefine their own needs based on your input and, as a result, end up buying something completely different from the initial specification. Buyers live to satisfy the written definitions of others. True decision makers live to solve problems for themselves and their companies.
This age old problem had been made easier to solve as the complexity of the sale has increased. Here are two techniques that take advantage of the complexity in a sale to help you get to the real decision makers.
1. It would be irresponsible
Too often the buyer presents us with an RFP (request for proposal) or specification that someone else wrote. In the mistaken belief that they are doing their job, they attempt to block access to those who actually wrote these documents. You know you must get through!
Step one is to review the requirement:
Determine what the original decision maker might have been trying to accomplish when they wrote the specification. Imagine, for instance, that the specification is for new accounting software. While the specification calls out the requirements, it does not detail the problems that the company is attempting to solve. I may not mention the new SEC requirements or changes in their Board's policies. Furthermore, the buyer could not possibly answer detailed questions about these issues.
Step two is to define the rules of business:
Rather than being a vendor of a simple product, define yourself as a provider of comprehensive solutions to complex problems. As such, you and your team are obligated to make the following request: "Since this software covers areas of legal and corporate compliance, it would be irresponsible of me to sell you something that might not comply. For that reason, we are required to conduct a brief needs analysis with the ultimate decision makers."
This technique can work in a wide variety of situations. The power rests in your honest ability to position yourself as more than a vendor. By creating a situation in which the buyer feels obligated to connect you with the real decision maker, you gain an advantage over all others. Warning: Be sure to make the buyer a hero in the process. Let it be known to the higher-ups that the buyer's astute awareness to the ramifications of this purchase made it possible for you to do a better job for the client.
2. Muddy the waters
Another approach to getting beyond the buyer is to create a buying opportunity that requires authorization that they do not have. For example, the buyer may be authorized to purchase individual parts but not pre-assembled sub assemblies. By presenting a compelling case for the purchase of pre-assembled sub assemblies, you create a situation that requires the buyer to put you in touch with other decision-makers in the organization. You also may create a perfect excuse for going around the buyer. Since the buyer only buys parts, you must make other contacts to sell your assemblies.
This approach is ideal for companies who are combining several divisions with a Team Selling approach. Complex multi-divisional offerings usually look more like partnerships than purchases. For that reason, they must be addressed to higher level decision makers.
What's in it for you?
1. In a market where me-too products are subject to fierce price pressures, differentiation will allow you to stand out from the crowd. As such, you will have an opportunity to sell your value and gain both margin and market share.
2. If the competition continues to sell to the buyer and you sell to the higher level decision makers, you win. Higher level decision makers always trump buyers.
3. Complex sales result in unique, longer-term relationships and contracts. These higher margin deals lock out the competition.
4. Higher level relationships lead to broader opportunities and deals. When you are seen as a problem-solving resource, you will be given other opportunities to serve the client. What more could you ask for?
Try these techniques on a tough client this week. You'll be amazed at how well they work!
Stephen Waterhouse is Principal and Founder of Waterhouse Group. They specialize in helping companies increase their sales and profits. He can be reached at 1-800-57-LEARN or email@example.com.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Stephen Waterhouse is Principal and Founder of Waterhouse Group. They specialize in helping companies increase their sales and profits.